“How to Speak Latin” by Julia Daricek 

Julia Daricek is an international studies major at Colorado State University. Her creative nonfiction piece “How to Speak Latin” has won the 2020 Western Regional Honors Council award for nonfiction. Continue to read Scribendi’s exclusive interview with her! 

What was your purpose or inspiration for writing “How to Speak Latin?”  

I was studying abroad in France at the time, and it was pretty late into the semester. I was feeling homesick and nostalgic, and my Latin classroom is a place that always felt like home to me. I felt like it deserved an ode of some kind, but since I can’t write poetry at all, this story is what came out instead. 

Has your relationship to Latin changed since writing the piece? 

I’ve always loved foreign language, and at my university I’m majoring in French and minoring in Russian. There’s a part of me that’s sad I’m no longer studying Latin, but it will always have a special place in my heart. When I see Latin written somewhere, I look at it the same way someone might look at a picture of their beloved dog who passed away a long time ago—with sadness, affection, and a sort of acceptance. While more and more random Latin grammar constructions and vocabulary words flee my mind every day, the happiness and the comfort I felt in that classroom I remember perfectly. 

What do you enjoy most about the creative work that you do?  

I love finding small moments in my life that I’ve never reflected much on, and writing about them. Some memories I have are seared into my mind, but I like finding the ones that aren’t—I’ve realized after writing about them that some of those memories are the most valuable ones I have. 

What is your first memory of creating art? 

My grandma taught me how to sew when I was pretty young—around seven or eight years old. While I probably shouldn’t have been handed a needle at that age, I used this newfound superpower to sew clothes for my Polly Pocket dolls. They definitely weren’t the most fashionable dolls around—their clothes consisting of poorly sewn scraps of old T-shirts—but this was the first time I felt the pleasure of sitting in the same spot for hours at a time, and creating something by myself. 

When did you start getting into creative writing?  

I never tried to do any kind of creative writing until about a year ago, when I took a beginning creative writing class at my university. Before then, I had always burned my way through other people’s writing, but felt too intimidated to write anything myself. This class gave me a new philosophy to overcome this fear—just write something. Even if it’s horrible and makes no sense, just write something and it probably won’t be as bad as you thought (and if it is, you can just edit it later). 

Have you continued to write since being published?  

Not as much as I would like to. One of the worst things about me is my procrastination—if I don’t have a deadline, it’s almost impossible for me to force myself to write anything. However, I’ve started working on a short story that’s partly inspired by this piece and partly inspired by the novel Circe by Madeline Miller. It’s a retelling of the Greek myth of Callisto, a follower of Artemis who is tricked into sleeping with Zeus and turned into a bear as punishment. Greek myths were not kind to women, and I think it’s too easy to read myths like Callisto’s and not dwell on it for very long, except to say “oh, that sucks for her.” I’m hoping that by rewriting the myth from Callisto’s perspective, the reader can actually feel the grief and injustice her situation brings. 

Why did you submit to Scribendi?  

The honors program at my university sent out an email about Scribendi and I was immediately interested. I love creative writing, but I rarely get a chance to do so for any of my classes. My horrible sense of procrastination almost always prevents me from writing in my free time, even when I want to. Scribendi provided something I desperately needed in order to write this story—a deadline. 

What was your reaction to finding out you were getting published?  

About a week or so before I got the news, I remembered that I had submitted this story quite a while ago, and had never heard anything back. I checked Scribendi‘s website, and for whatever reason I thought that the story I submitted was supposed to be for the 2019 edition. When I saw that the 2019 magazine was already published, I assumed my work hadn’t been accepted and I just never received an email confirming it. However, about a week later my jaw literally dropped when I saw the email notification titled “congratulations.” I was elated, especially because I had already assumed that it wasn’t accepted in the first place. 

What is your favorite type of art to consume, as opposed to create?  

Books. Books, books, books. Consume is an accurate word here—I think I’ve spent at least 1/3 of my life with my eyes traversing the pages of a novel and my mind transported somewhere else entirely. I think if I tried to write an ode to anything other than Latin, it would be to books. 

What’s your favorite fact you’ve learned since getting into Latin that you don’t get to share enough?  

In 218 AD, the reign of my favorite Roman emperor, Elagabalus, began. He was barely fourteen years old when he became emperor—and he acted exactly how you’d imagine a fourteen-year old emperor would act. His reign was full of scandal; he created a new religion that forced everyone to worship a black stone he found in Syria, married a Vestal Virgin, often wandered around the palace in women’s clothes, and as for my favorite fact—invented the first whoopee cushion. 

What’s one of your favorite quotes?  

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” —Cicero 

If you could recommend absolutely anything to our audience, what would it be?  

After some intense brainstorming, I could only think of two answers for this question: 

  1. If you ever have the chance to visit Prague, do so. It’s the most magical city in the world. 
  1. Try putting lemon in your ketchup—it adds some much needed pizzazz, in my opinion.