Sunscreen by Maithu Koppolu

Maithu Koppolu is a senior Creative Writing and Public Relations/Advertisement major from San Diego, CA. Her short fiction piece Sunscreen won the Editors’ Choice Award for Literature in our 2020 issue. Continue to read Scribendi’s exclusive interview with her!  

1. What was your purpose or inspiration for writing Sunscreen? 

I’ve always been intrigued by the way children view the world, and how the lens of an early adolescent has the ability to create a sort of vacuum within which people and places can function at face value, and nothing more. I grew up in an immigrant household, and my childhood was scattered with moments I didn’t fully understand; these moments I viewed in singularity, without context, and in a way that didn’t speak to the larger systems and constructs that may have inspired them. I wrote Sunscreen in an attempt to capture that naivete, and apply it to a mother daughter relationship that encompasses the intersectionality of race, gender, nationality and two generations.  

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

Writing for me is cathartic, as I would assume it is for anyone. Underneath that, however, is a sort of pedagogy that helps me view the world in a way that betters myself—I would hope—and the time I share with others. At its core, writing is a reflection of the self and, in that vein, a reflection of those we surround and occupy ourselves with. I’d like to think that practicing this art in any capacity, be it journaling or messaging or writing prose, helps me cultivate a deeper appreciation for the people I have in my life and, consequently, the communities from which I draw the inspiration for most, if not all, my first sentences.  

3. What is your first memory of creating art?  

Though it may have been before this, my first memory of creation came sometime in fourth grade, after a friend and I wrote and illustrated a “novel” about a young girl with a secret attic and a curiosity for what it held. I remember feeling excited by the blank lines on the wide ruled paper we were using, a feeling quite akin to the way I feel today. We folded it in half and stapled it together to create a book of our own, and I wish every day that we hadn’t handed it off to our teacher; Emily, the friend with whom I created it, and I are still close friends and we’d give anything to laugh at our fourth grade selves!  

4. When did you start getting into creative writing?  

I’ve always had an inclination toward English—always my favorite subject in school sort of thing. It wasn’t until I started applying to colleges and started noticing many offered a Creative Writing major as opposed to the English major I had initially assumed was the only option that I began considering writing creatively as a form of academia rather than a simple hobby. After starting at Chapman University as a Creative Writing major, I knew it was something I wanted to be doing for a long time, and am lucky enough to be continuing my education at Columbia University this fall to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing.  

5. Have you continued to write since being published?  

Yes, and will hopefully continue to do so for a while!  

6. Is there a writer or artist you find particularly inspiring?  

Though I generally stick to prose, I’ve always admired Ross Gay’s poetry. His prose work is spectacular as well, but the way he initiates discussion on race and disparity with as light a hand as possible has and will always be breathtaking. Toni Morrison, Fredrick Backman and Chris Cleave trigger the same awe with their fiction. I’m also the largest advocate of YA writing, and believe it to be one of the most underserved genres; authors like Gayle Forman, Angie Thomas and Scott Westerfeld have produced some of the works I adore most.  

7. Why did you submit to Scribendi 

I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by amazing students and friends in the Chapman University Honors Program, and am constantly inspired and blown away by the work my peers produce. When I heard Scribendi was accepting submissions, I read the latest issue and experienced a similar admiration—one I hoped I could be a part of.  

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

I was beyond excited! Like I said, reading previous editions alerted me in no time to the caliber of work in this publication, and I was excited—then and now—to be given the opportunity to be a part of that.  

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

I absolutely love watching TV. Though movies are fun too, something about the commitment required to get through a particularly long series has kept me interested for ages and will probably continue to do so forever.  

10. Do you have a favorite memory of someone reading and reacting to your writing?  

I’ve always loved reading my work to my parents. They’re honest, supportive, and are always willing to listen—regardless of how many times they’ve heard indiscernibly different versions of the same piece. I was lucky enough to be born into a family that supported my decision to pursue a field different from what most people with our cultural background choose to pursue, and for that freedom I couldn’t be more grateful.  

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

Consume everything! Watch all the TV, read all the books, scroll through all the social media and watch all the silly YouTubers. Never let anyone’s idea of how to appropriately learn inhibit the things you’re most interested in. The notion that certain genres of music or media or literature are invalid simply because of their popularity is perpetuated solely by those that cling to arbitrary markers of superiority, and it’s nothing if not silly! There is a certain type of happiness I glean from listening to One Direction, watching trashy reality TV, and clicking through Instagram stories of people’s favorite brunch spots, and I wouldn’t sacrifice it for anything. We are too often preoccupied with the desire to align with that which isn’t mainstream—or even the desire to sacrifice our pleasure for perceived uniqueness and individuality—but I believe it is within these widely shared and oftentimes incorrectly patronized communities that we find our most celebratory and excited selves.