Selina Foster wrote the WRHC Award-winning poem “Imitations (for Alan Turing).” Here, she answers some questions about herself and her work.
What is something a good friend would know about you, but an acquaintance wouldn’t?
One of my favorite passions that I don’t get to talk about all that much is musical theatre. I’m not much of a singer, but I’ve always thought music was an incredibly effective way to tell stories, so I try to see as many musicals as I can. I keep track of them in a database in Excel, so if someone asks me what my favorite is, I’m always prepared with an answer. My current favorites are Spring Awakening and Next to Normal.
Why did you submit to Scribendi?
A good friend of mine, Willy Palomo, who has also been published in Scribendi, encouraged me to submit.
How did you feel about being published, and winning such a prestigious award?
Both excited and grateful. I’m particularly happy that I won an award for this specific poem. It’s about a piece of history that’s incredibly important to me, and I’m honored to be able to share it with this audience.
Can you describe your writing process?
Honestly, I don’t have a specific process. I generally prefer being in revision mode as opposed to production mode because it’s more meticulous. When I do get excited about producing new writing, it’s usually because I came across a new idea that I couldn’t stop thinking about, so I write about it as much as I can, often in lots of different genres. Then, when I inevitably am back in revision mode, I have a lot to work with.
What can always be counted on to inspire you?
I have random spurts of writing-inspiration, sometimes as much as months apart, so there’s not a genre or topic that consistently inspires me. I’d say the top two contenders are probably spending time in the mountains and learning new mathematical concepts.
Do you prefer writing on a laptop or on paper?
I definitely prefer writing on a laptop. I love how organized it is. Specifically, I appreciate being able to move large sections of text easily and see how different structures affect a piece.
What was your purpose when creating “Imitations”?
When I learned about how Alan Turing died, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was haunting; it was that one historical event that I just couldn’t shake. I think this largely because it has personal significance to me since I am an aspiring mathematician, and I identify as queer. So I made an effort to learn more about the history, and a few ideas continually resurfaced: Turing’s obsession with Snow White, the ongoing history of erasure or queer people from their legacies, and the iconography of the apple symbol. I can’t get past the fact that one of the most prominent companies currently doing research in AI, a field that Turing largely created, uses his methods of suicide as their logo. There’s so much tragedy and quiet violence behind that image, and we interact with it every day, and that was so haunting to me that I needed to write about it.
Does your title hold special meaning?
When I think about an imitation, I think of an attempt at representation. When he committed suicide, Turing imitated a scene from Snow White. The Apple logo is yet another imitation of this action. But it is just that: an imitation, not a replica; it can never be the thing itself. And people interact with the imitation and the inevitable erasure associated with it so readily, but not with the actual history. A recent film, The Imitation Game, about Turing’s life does exactly this: it highlights all of the amazing things he accomplished while glossing over most of the tragedy. I’m frequently asked if my title is a reference to the film, and it’s quite the opposite. I wrote the first draft of Imitations prior to the film’s release and then, when I saw it, it actually drove me to work more on the poem, because it was one more imitation of this story; it should have been an acknowledgement, but instead contributed to an erasure. Thus the title is also ironic in that writing about this even (on an Apple laptop nonetheless) is still an imitation. I only hope that I’ve managed to acknowledge Turing’s legacy, including his identity, without erasing the tragedy.
Both your poem and your bio indicate interest in an intersection of mathematics and writing. Is this something you enjoy exploring? If so, how do you do it?
Definitely! I spend a lot of time trying to debunk myths about math and creative writing being mutually exclusive; I think they actually inform one another. Math requires creativity while poetry requires precision. In part, I incorporate math into my writing simply because I love it and spend so much time thinking about it, but also because I think the more I integrate the two, the more parallels I see between them. I don’t have a specific strategy; this is honestly just the way I think. But I can say that so much of math is poetic that it’s almost difficult not to write about it.