The Craft: How Ioana Litra Tells Her Immigrant Family's Story Through Folktales
Happy Tuesday-before-Thanksgiving! We’re already dreaming about all the delicious treats we’ll be smashing into our faces in just a few days. Welcome to The Craft, Novella’s monthly series where we talk to women like you and do our favorite thing: geek out about writing. We spoke with Ioana Litra, a recent college grad working who is committed to developing a fulfilling personal writing practice.
Interview by Lourdes Avila Uribe
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TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 20
The Craft: Ioana Litra
What’s your name and what do you do?
My name is Ioana Litra, I’m an actor and writer - more truthfully I’m a woman with a newly minted degree trying to figure out what that piece of paper actually means for her as an artist, now that the dust has settled.
I do a lot of different kinds of writing, I allow myself a lot of freedom of genre because really the only person who sees my writing is me. When I was at NYU, I took creative writing classes in both poetry and fiction writing, and now most of my writing fluctuates between the two. I'd describe the writing coming out of me now as lyrical stream of consciousness, almost folktales-y stories.
My family and I emigrated from Romania, so there's a lot of folk tales in our culture that are very dear to my heart, and I would love to be able to use this style to write a larger piece about my family's history. That's probably my big goal over the next couple of years, to write this story of my family that's just starting to come together as a little baby idea.
You’re a recent graduate from NYU Tisch, with a BFA in Drama and a minor in creative writing – tell us how your work in theater has influenced your writing practice.
As much as I love acting, doing it exclusively in such an intense setting for three years made me realize that it wasn’t enough for me, that I desperately wanted to tell my own stories as well. For a while I tried to stifle that yearning to write because I felt as if I had failed somehow, as if wanting to write was a sign that I didn’t love acting enough. Thankfully I’ve met some really wonderful people in the theatre community, and they encouraged me to let go of any shame or guilt, to express myself every which way I like. Also, theatre kicks your ass and you learn to be disciplined quick. I may be letting myself be a bit more free-spirited in my artistic exploration postgrad, but that mentality of working hard at what you love, leaving it all out there, will always be with me.
Do you have an object you keep by your side to inspire you while writing?
My books! I have a pretty large collection of books for how small my apartment is, and it grows almost every week (I have no self control when it comes to bookstores). I’ve arranged my work space in a way that my books, old notebooks, and record collection kind of envelop my desk in a creative bubble. Maybe it’s hokey, but I believe that the energies of these stories, the words that I love so much must have an effect on me and my own creativity. I actually just reorganized them to try to give them more of a structure, but really what’s most important to me is that they’re close.
In what ways is your personal writing practice therapeutic for you?
Things can get so loud and busy in this head of mine that I need a way to exhale it out, and I do that by journaling. It’s a way for me to lay it all out, then look back and pinpoint what the problem really is. When I haven’t journaled in a while is actually when I know I’m avoiding or repressing something, so it’s a way to keep myself accountable, it helps me face my demons.
How to you think your writing practice will evolve over time?
I’d love to write a novel or a play, I’d love to make a living off writing and acting, but also I think there’s merit to letting myself be for a bit after graduating. I spent so long being afraid of claiming the writer in me that for now I’m taking baby steps by writing almost every day, strengthening the muscle. Letting go of fear and instead letting myself find joy and light in it. I haven’t been published – I've just now started thinking of writing as a part of my career instead of just something I studying in school for my own enjoyment, so I don't know much about the publishing world. I'd love to have a career like Joan Didion's, she wrote in many different styles and it all seemed to flow naturally for her. More recently Issa Rae and Danai Gurira are inspirations for me, Rae writing and acting in her own show, and Gurira acting in these amazing blockbuster while also writing amazing plays. I don't want to be held back to any one genre, freedom in my work is I think the most important thing to me. At 22, I'm very aware of how young and green I am – I want to cultivate space to grow in any which way I please.
Where do you like to write?
My desk, mainly. It’s in my bedroom, so I have my bed and a couple reading chairs as an option too, but usually I stay at the desk because it helps me focus a bit more. Or if I’m feeling extra sentimental, I’ll set up camp in front of my window so I can stare out at the world, it’s the closest I can get to sitting outside without actually leaving the apartment.
Do you have any favorite writing supplies you can’t live without?
The Muji pens that everyone has, the 0.7 size in black specifically, they’re amazing! I’ve been using them exclusively since high school, I can’t imagine not having one on my person and at least 5 on my desk at all times. I also love having blank notebooks around, but I’m very particular about the ones I use. I don’t like notebooks with really any embellishment, quotes or anything like that, the busy-ness of them seem to clash with my own busy thoughts. I like the Moleskin ones that come in packs of three for that reason, they have really brightly colored ones that make me smile, but still feel like mine and mine alone.
What’s your favorite/dream holiday activity?
Laughing with the people I love. But because it’s a holiday fantasy, we’re all wearing plush turtlenecks and drinking something festive, like spiked hot chocolate. Also there are puppies and kittens present, with little holiday ribbon collars on.