By Anya Shukla
“When I woke up, the first thing I noticed was that I wasn’t in my house. I was in a cold and dark forest. I did not know how or when I got here.”
With this eerie first paragraph, Mariama Diallo begins a short piece for class. Her descriptions of her character’s surroundings—old trees, with wood colored “dark, almost like black”; “leaves that crunched with every movement I made”—draw me into the story. Although only 13 (on the younger side of our teen features), she has a talent for the craft.
Mariama started writing when she was in fourth grade, starting with horror stories—which came as a surprise given the quiet girl I met—after a teacher assigned her a free-verse writing project. “I tried to make it scary,” Mariama said, reflecting on her first piece. “Now that I remember it, it wasn’t the most scary… and it didn’t make much sense.” Regardless, that horror story sparked a literary interest.
Mariama started a writing club with some of her school friends. Like in Anne’s writing group in “Anne of Green Gables,” they would create stories and share them with one another.
Mariama soon found herself writing whenever she could: “Sometimes I used to do it in the middle of class,” she laughed. With practice, she grew more adept at developing realistic endings for her pieces and finding her literary style, branching out from horror to fantasy short stories as well.
Despite having chores to complete and family members to take care of, Mariama always tries to find time to write… and read. She draws inspiration and learns about literary techniques—how to write descriptions, scene settings, and more—from authors such as Erin Morgenstern (writer of “The Starless Sea” and “The Night Circus”).
Over the past three years, Mariama’s work and literary goals have grown. She tends to gravitate towards serious topics in her writing, and her dream is to write a fantasy book that incorporates serious themes like mental health: “That stuff is really important to me,” she notes, but “I hide those topics… so people don’t notice.” Her sophisticated approach feels reminiscent of Ursula Le Guin—an author who used the sci-fi genre as a tool to explore real-life social issues.
As her literary ambitions have grown, so has Mariama’s outlook on writing. “When I started to take writing more seriously, I started to think: is my story going to be more popular or less popular because of my race?” she noted. “It made me feel a little bit insecure.” Luckily, Mariama found comfort and support through social media. “People said, ‘no matter how different you are, you matter.’ So I started to get that mindset.”
After all, “I put hard work in there,” Mariama said, commenting on her short stories. She spends time with her pieces, shaping and refining them as she learns more about her craft, and she doesn’t want anyone to disregard her effort and skill.
Mariama tells teens of color: “don’t feel pressure” to change your writing based on one person’s feedback, “because everybody has different opinions about art.” Mariama admits that she likes getting positive feedback on her work, and often shows her work to friends and family. However, she has learned to avoid chasing validation by adapting her style.
Additionally, teens of color “shouldn’t feel like their work doesn’t matter because of their race,” Mariama said. If you write whenever you can, read whenever you can, and keep creating, your hard work will shine through.