Ever since English major Zani Meaders was little, she had a passion for reading and writing. In the episode of “The Welcome Table with Sydney and Tatum” below, literary journalism majors Sydney Charles and Tatum Larsen talk to Meaders about how she got into writing, her dreams of becoming a fantasy author, and how she became involved in track.
Sydney Charles (0:09–0:13): Hi guys. Welcome back to another episode of “The Welcome Table with Sydney —
Tatum Larsen (0:13–0:14): And Tatum.”
Charles (0:14–0:19): Today we’re sitting with Zani Meaders, who is a third-year English major. How are you doing today?
Zani Meaders (0:19–0:21): Pretty good. How are you guys?
Charles (0:21–0:32): Doing pretty well, doing pretty well. We’re super excited because this is our first student interview as we were explaining before, so super excited. Before we get started, though, we’re going to do a little show and tell. So we’re going to go first.
Larsen (0:32–1:09): So for show and tell this week I brought this book called March and it’s a comic book that was actually co-written by John Lewis and Andrew Ayden. Yeah, it’s really cool. My boyfriend got this for me a little while ago and it’s very beautifully illustrated and encapsulates his entire journey and obviously major parts of the civil rights movement. It’s really cool. In his honor, I just wanted to bring this today. Also, a shout-out to my boyfriend for being cool.
Charles (1:10–1:14): What did you bring to share with us?
Meaders (1:14–1:46): I actually couldn’t decide what to bring. So I decided I would just show this notebook that I started writing in recently. I started using it to work on some of the short stories for classes over the summer. I also decided to bring this decorational baton, that you can’t read because it’s backwards in the camera. It’s my name and my little sister’s name. She just started attending the school and she’s also on the track team now, so I’m very proud of her.
Charles (1:46–1:48): Yeah, you must be, you already said it, super proud.
Larsen (1:48–2:14): Literally carrying the torch. So cool. To start out, we just wanted to get to know a little bit more about you and we wanted to ask, what has your journey been like as a student at UCI and how did you get into being an English major? Is that something that you always wanted to do? Have you always had an interest in reading and writing? Can you just go into a little bit about that?
Meaders (2:14–2:46): Yeah. So I knew I wanted to be an English major by the time I got into high school, because by that point, I had already exhausted every other career choice I wanted to be as a kid. I was like, I want to be a police officer and I was like, no, I don’t want to do that. I want to be a lawyer and then I don’t really want to do that. Maybe I’m good at math and I was like, oh, I’m not good at math.
Charles (2:44–2:46): Felt that one!
Meaders (2:46–3:07): So by the time I was in high school, I was like, what am I good at? All I’m good at is reading and I do like to write. Is that a career? And then I looked it up, and I was like, yes, I could be an English major and minor in creative writing and start taking that type of avenue your life. So I was like, oh, I guess that’s what I’ll be.
Larsen (3:07–3:10): What did you grow up reading when you were a kid?
Meaders (3:10–3:30): When I was a kid, I would read everything, from fictional books to historical autobiographies. Like, I read anything I could get my hands on. I used to have dictionaries that I would just flip through because I thought there were so many cool words. I’ve never heard of these before.
Larsen (3:30–3:33): You’re giving me Matilda vibes.
Meaders (3:33–3:44): Now that I’m older, I mainly just read fantasy books because that’s the genre I wish to write myself, so that’s what I tend to read now.
Charles (3:44–3:52): Ok, fantasy books. So did your track life start in high school then?
Meaders (3:52–4:16): Kind of. My parents started me with track when I was eight years old and I did it for like a year or two before I went off into other sports like tennis, or I tried golf, fencing, a bunch of other crazy sports. Then by the time high school came, I was like, I guess I like track. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since and I’m glad I chose it.
Charles (4:17–4:22): That’s awesome. And at UCI, how does your track life intersect with your academic career?
Meaders (4:22–5:08): Well, track allows me to have a lot of opportunities for my academic career, such as study resources. One of my favorite things has always been the study center by the athletic facilities because they have printers that we can use and faster computers. So it’s really nice. On the more day-to-day life type of thing, track is an everyday thing and it keeps me on task for my academic studies because I know I have practice from about 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. depending on the day. And I’m like, okay, so I need to get my homework done by this time, or I need to study by this time. So it gives me a nice little regimen to stay on top of my studies.
Charles (5:09–5:11): It keeps you on track, literally.
Larsen(5:12–5:50): We’re keeping it going with the track puns. So many.
So on the topic of being an English major, I think as fellow humanities majors, we know that the canon isn’t very inclusive sometimes. It mainly focuses on white men. Let’s be real. There’s not a lot of POC and women representation. We wanted to ask, has that been your observation as well? And do you believe that there should be less tokenism within the English canon and more inclusion? What do you think about that?
Meaders (5:51–6:33): I definitely believe there should be less tokenism. As far as my experience so far, it wasn’t until recently that I really realized how many books on this campus were for white men, is the best way I could put it. I mainly took the creative writing courses, and within those courses I got to read a wide variety of different perspectives from different people. I was actually really shocked when I first came to this campus and I was like, what do you mean this wasn’t written by a white straight guy? Like, I was so surprised. Then I started taking more English courses and I was like, oh, these are all the stories I was expecting.
Charles (6:33-6:46): Got it. Going off of that, if you could choose any Black author, Black poet to add to the traditional canon of literature that’s circulated, who would it be and why?
Meaders (6:46–7:08): Let’s see. I would actually pick an author I have not read yet because she’s a fantasy writer and I personally have really wanted to read her books. She’s been a New York Times best-seller for two years. I’m going to mess it up, I know I am, but it’s like Tomi Adeyemi or something like that.
Charles (7:09–7:18): That was one of the books that we had on a reading list that we both created together. I’ve definitely heard a lot of good things about her and her writing.
Meaders (7:18–7:45): I definitely want her to be on the canon roster because not only do we need more diversity, but we need more diversity within genres as well, because I want to be a fantasy writer and we don’t really get to read a lot of fantasy books. We’re told to just go read Tolkien or George R.R. Martin. I’m like, no, I’m good. I want to read different books.
Larsen (7:45–7:49): What do you hope to add to the fantasy genre with your own writing?
Meaders (7:50–8:17): I honestly hope to add — I just want to tell fun stories and allow people to enjoy the stories. I want to tackle important issues, but I honestly want that to be the background of my stories. I want them to not even realize they’re learning something as they go through my fun story and just experience the world and characters I created.
Larsen (8:17–8:49): That’s something that’s very important because I feel like a lot of stories that are representative of marginalized communities sometimes focus too much, rightfully so, on the hardships that we go through. But it’s sometimes just nice to escape and just be in this fantastical world that is far from reality. And that’s okay, it doesn’t always have to be so heavy, but you can also weave in important topics as well. I think that’s really cool.
Meaders (8:49–8:50): Thank you.
Charles (8:50–9:01): On the subject of representation, what areas do you feel that UCI excels in? Have you found any safe spaces on campus?
Meaders (9:02–10:14): I think UCI excels in being willing to learn. From my other college friends on different campuses, it seems like those colleges aren’t as willing to listen to those students and work on those shortcomings as this school is. I’m not going to say the school’s perfect because I don’t think any place can truly be perfect in terms of safe spaces and diversity. But I definitely think the school is trying to head in the right direction and I really appreciate that. As far as safe spaces on campus, there’s actually this Creative Writing Club here on the campus. I go to it every Wednesday, I think is when it is. It’s so much fun. As a writer, I feel so safe there, just because no one’s forcing ideas down me. They’re not like, “Oh, because you’re African American, part of the Black community, you have to write this.” They’re like, “Oh you’re working on this? That’s cool. How can I help you with that?” or “I’m also working on this; let’s work together.” So it’s just a real nice place and I don’t feel like I’m judged based on my race.
Charles (10:15–10:23): Awesome. Can you tell me a little bit more? I’ve heard of the Creative Writing Club. What kind of stuff do you guys do?
Meaders (10:24–11:02): Oh, yeah. So in the first half of the meeting, they take the time to teach you different writing techniques. Sometimes we’ll focus on the actual writing itself, such as different sentence structures and how you can make different scenes with them. Other times, they focus more on like the different types of characters or tropes in the story and how you can use them in different ways. Then the last half of the meeting, which is like an hour, we spend time just talking, writing with each other, or occasionally we’ll play different writing-based games just to allow us to have fun and de-stress after finals or something. Just a real fun little place.
Larsen (11:03–11:11): What has been your favorite work of writing that you’ve worked on to date? It could be from that club or outside of it, whatever you feel.
Meaders (11:12–12:04): My favorite work of writing? Well, back in winter quarter—I don’t know, I’m bad with dates—there was this Writing 39C class, “Intro to Beginner Fiction.” I wrote a story that I called “Adriana.” It’s about this girl with two souls in one body who’s trapped in this basement. It was honestly just really fun for me to write because I got to really dive into the psychology of a little kid and how they would react to that type of situation versus how an adult would react to that type of situation. I got some really good feedback in that class and I felt like it was a really good piece of writing I’ve worked on, and thought, “this is great.”
Charles (12:04–12:15): That’s awesome. You’re talking a little bit about feedback. Do you think that there have been any influential teachers or influential mentors that have guided your work thus far that you can remember or think of?
Meaders (12:15–13:20): Definitely the teacher in that class. He said something on the first day of class, and I don’t think he realized how much it meant to me. He was like, “I’m not going to tell you guys what to write.” Someone asked the question in the class about what genres we were allowed to write because usually they’re like, “Don’t write fantasy. Don’t write super heroes.” But he was like, “I’m not going to tell you what to write. You guys are all writers. You’re going to one day be professional writers, hopefully, either published authors or working at a publishing company. You should be allowed to learn how to write what you want to write.” And I was like, “whoa,” because at this point, everyone was like, “You want to write fantasy? Are you sure? You don’t want to write something more…normal?” I was like, “No, I want to write fantasy,” and they’re like, “well, I don’t really want to help you write that.” But he was like, no, go ahead and write anything.
Larsen (13:20–13:24): Is that story in the public sphere? Have you published any of your work before?
Meaders (13:24–13:41): I have not, mainly because I do not know how. I am going to be working this year on editing some of my short stories and some of my longer works and trying to figure out how to get them published, either here on campus or in another resource.
Larsen (13:41–14:04): Regarding your post-grad plans, you’re going into your junior year, I feel like near this time, everybody’s kind of thinking, what am I going to do when I graduate? Do you have any plans as to what you want to do? Are you thinking about going to grad school or just straight into the workforce? Do you have a rough outline of what you’re going to be doing post-grad?
Meaders (14:05–14:44): A little bit. I think I want to go to the M.F.A. program. I’ve heard great things about it, the fiction writing program. So I would really like to be a part of that and keep honing my writing skills after college. But after that, I know I definitely want to be either a published author and just do that full-time or work for different companies writing video game scripts or TV show scripts—something I also work on in my spare time. So I’ll figure it out as I keep continuing my UCI journey.
Larsen (14:45–14:47): You said you work on TV scripts?
Meaders (14:47–14:48): Occasionally!
Larsen (14:48–14:52): You’ve got to talk about that! What kind of TV scripts do you work on?
Meaders (14:53–15:50): They’re just stories that I work on in my free time. In my opinion, they’re not quite where I want them to be in order to show anyone yet. But one of them was just a fun story, like I said. The main character, I based off my little sister actually. My little sister, she’s a little ray of sunshine so I thought it’d be awesome to have a track-based anime based off of her. So the TV script is really more for animation type-stories. Within the whole genre of TV shows and stuff, there’s not a lot of sports animes that focus on track. So I thought it’d be very cool if I could write a cute story that was also a sports anime focusing on track with my little sister or my little brother as the main protagonist.
Larsen (15:51–15:53): Oh, that’s very cool. Do you take a lot of inspiration from your real life?
Meaders (15:53–15:55): Definitely, yeah.
Charles (15:55–16:18): I feel like us as well, as humanities majors, we have this duty to create a representative space for ourselves. I can see that you’re doing that. To conclude this wonderful interview, we wanted to ask the question that you should never ask an English major. If you could meet one author, one poet, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Meaders (16:19–17:24): Yes, this is a question you should never ask an English major! Because on one hand, I definitely want to meet every author I’ve ever read, just because I think that would be fun. At the same time, I kind of like the mystery of not knowing the person who wrote the story and trying to figure them out through the books they wrote. Just because I feel like it adds an extra level of fantasy and mystery to the actual story itself. But if I had to pick one person, it would probably be Tomi Adeyemi or something like that—I’m still terrible with names, just terrible. But I’ve seen a couple of interviews and she just seems like she’d be a really interesting person to talk to about writing and how to start a writing career or even just bounce fun, fantasy ideas off of each other over a cup of tea. It sounds like she’d be fun.
Charles (17:24–17:31): Oh, that’s amazing. Yeah, because she’s in the genre that you are as well, I’m sure that’s why you look up to her as well.
Meaders (17:31–17:32): Indeed.
Larsen (17:32–17:34): That’s awesome.
Charles (17:34–17:46): Well, thank you for coming to talk with us. This is again, like I said, wonderful. And we’re so lucky to be able to talk with another, creative that, you know, that’s like a person of color. I really appreciate that.
Meaders (17:46–17:51): I appreciate it too.
Larsen (17:51-17:52): That was great. All right, bye, it was nice to meet you!
Meaders (17:52–17:53): Bye, guys. Have a good one!
Larsen (17:55–17:59): Thank you guys so much for watching another episode of “The Welcome Table.” This has been Tatum.
Charles (17:59–18:00): And Sydney.
Larsen (18:00–18:02): And we will see you guys next week.
Watch all episodes of “The Welcome Table with Sydney and Tatum” here.