Quarto Magazine, the official undergraduate literary magazine of Columbia’s creative writing department, named Cathy Guo, CC ’17, as the winner of its annual chapbook contest for her series of poems about her experiences as a first-generation immigrant.
Quarto’s chapbook, published each fall, is a short magazine consisting of a longer work by a single author, as opposed to a traditional literary magazine’s format of short pieces by multiple authors. Though the magazine typically hosts a reading with its winners at the end of the fall semester, it was held at the beginning of the spring semester due to time constraints.
Guo’s poems, titled “Exile//Exegesis,” are largely based off of interviews she conducted in Gansu, China, about Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the ensuing disruption of history and memory. The entire series, which includes 11 poems, reworks some of her older pieces from as early as seventh grade.
“The first part [is] mainly poems on exile—this sense of estrangement from my past, estrangement from my identity, that I think a lot of hyphenated or cultural minorities as well as immigrants feel,” Guo said. “The second part, Exegesis, is the interpretation of religious texts. … It was this idea that I had to go and formulate my own interpretations of the texts and the memories that made up my history.”
Guo said she hopes that her work sheds light on the different ways by which people can develop a multicultural American identity despite the current fraught political climate.
In addition to Guo, the two runners-up of the contest, Emma Arett, BC ’17, and Isabella Nilsson, CC ’20 and former Eye staff writer, had their works performed by proxy readers. Arett’s piece detailed the author’s own sexual assault two years prior, while Nilsson’s piece examined the relationship between music and sexuality through the story of a piano teacher and student.
The three winners were selected from over 25 submissions, which were read and judged by members of Quarto’s undergraduate editing board.
“The chapbook really gives you a chance to showcase a portion of something bigger that you’re working on,” Priyanka Mariwala, CC ’18 and Quarto’s co-editor-in-chief, said. “It’s a chance to see the kind of different projects that come out of the community.”