Veronica Clay, '19

Veronica Clay sits in front of books in the library

Senior Veronica Clay has been passionate about writing poems and spoken word since she was young. The love she had for learning and writing lead her to publish her first book, Mile Marker 17, and later attend Rockhurst. Read her Q&A from this past spring below for more.

Q: What’s your major and grade?

A: I am a junior majoring in English with a concentration in both writing and literature, and I transferred here so it’s kind of been my freshman year here, in a way.

Q: Where did you transfer from?

A: I transferred from Maple Woods Community College.

Q: Where did you go to high school?

A: I was actually homeschooled.

Q: How did you end up at Rockhurst?

A: I graduated at 16 and went to Maple Woods Community College. I knew I wanted to major in English and I knew I wanted to get my bachelor’s degree but I didn’t know from where. I just focused on my grades, and then got into the honor society. Then, I found out that Rockhurst offers a $23,000 scholarship that’s automatic for members of that society. Then I found out that they have a competition for the Phi Theta Kappa full tuition scholarship. I competed for that and I actually won the Hummel Family Scholarship which ended up being full tuition and books and fees and so I was like, “Oh, I’m absolutely going here.” Basically how I ended up going here was by pursuing scholarships. To be fair, I did research Rockhurst because I didn’t just want to go to a school for money. I wanted it to be somewhere I knew I could learn. I researched Rockhurst’s English department and I saw their success with the English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta, and that they had received some really great awards previously and I kind of wanted to be a part of that.

Q: Were you looking at other schools?

A: Yes, I was. I was looking at a few schools. I had been accepted into a couple and was waitlisted on some other ones. Rockhurst’s English department won me over and with the scholarship I was like, absolutely, I’ll be here.

Q: When did you first start writing?

A: I first started writing when I was really little. I didn’t really realize that I wanted to write more until I was in middle school. I wrote a spoken word with encouragement from my mother, and she always knew that I was going to be a writer, but I didn’t necessarily agree. After performing that spoken word, I realized how much I enjoyed it. She kept encouraging me and eventually I decided that I was going to write. This was going to be my job, my life, what I wanted to do.

Q: Do you remember the first thing you wrote?

A: Oh, absolutely not. Part of that is because I wrote so young. I mean, I know I have a whole bunch of terrible poems that I wrote as a child; practicing haikus and limericks and little things I learned in elementary school, starting off with the “roses are red.” I’m guessing the first thing I wrote was probably on a birthday card to a family member. The first real piece that I wrote would have been sixth grade and it would have been a spoken word.

Q: What was the first thing you wrote that you were really proud of?

A: Well, that spoken word was probably the first thing that I wrote where I felt like it was good. Part of me learning how to become a confident young woman is learning to appreciate my art in its form, even if it’s not perfect. I try to tell myself to love the work as you’re making it, instead of, “Oh, I like that one piece and everything else is garbage.” I can’t say that there was ever a time where I was like, “Wow, this is the piece, the one to crush them all,” but I do have some favorites. The spoken word I performed here recently at the Rockhurst English club open mic and also the Black Student Union open mic was a spoken word inspired by Martin Luther King. That one I’ve had a lot of success with and I even got that one published in Kansas State University’s Touchstone as well. That one is pretty important to me. I try to like all of my writing, not in an arrogant way, but in an encouraging, “You’re a good writer, keep trying.”

Q: You wrote a book. How did that come about and what did the process look like?
A: I was writing a lot of spoken words, and I was performing them in a lot of places; churches, schools, open mic events, everywhere it seemed like. I started having people request my spoken words, but they weren’t copyrighted so there was no way of proving they were mine if someone was to turn around and try to copyright them. My family encouraged me to publish them. Then I started talking with a couple authors who told me I needed to publish my work so I could share it and make it more public. I started collecting my work in the summer of 2016. I started grabbing all of my journals, getting all the writing into computer files, Word docs. That took forever. We were organizing it, organizing it, formatting, formatting and reaching out to the publishing company. That fall, so the fall of 2016, before I turned 18, we published the book. We released it in 2017. It was a long journey, but it was worth it.

Q: What’s the name of your book?

A: It’s Mile Marker 17.

Q: How did you find a publisher?

A: Writing is complicated. It’s a very messy project. Because I didn’t have a literary agent, it was self-published. I had a friend, Anthony Butler, who is a self-published author and he has multiple books. He did it through Mira Digital Publishing. So, I reached out to them and I just started asking questions. I just asked them how much would it cost, what would I need to do, what do I need to have prepared, what I need to know. I tried to look around, but because I was so new, I depended on that writer because I trusted him and I didn’t want to get taken advantage of. Then we found that company.

Q: Do you sell your book?

A: I’ve sold over 150 copies, which is crazy. It is really cool and unexpected. I’m still selling them, but I’ve been focused on school so much that I forget I’m an author and I forget to sell myself and my product. Instead, I’ll think I’m just a student and then someone will nudge me and be like, “You’re an author.”

Q: If someone wanted to buy a book, would they just come to you?

A: Yeah, or they can go on Amazon. I have a website, which is veronicaclay.com and you can find information on where to buy it, but honestly, if you know me I would just say come up to me. I probably have one in my car.

Q: How do you think coming to Rockhurst instead of another school helped you grow as a writer in the past school year?

A: I love Rockhurst. Especially because of their English department. They have invested in my life so much and in my writing that I know I wouldn’t be where I am as a writer right now if it weren’t for them. Even though I’ve only known them for a year, they have pushed me to be better. Elizabeth Barnett, (Ph.D., assistant professor of English) told me to submit my work to literary magazines. I didn’t even know about literary magazines and she said, “You need to submit your work.” And then, Jason Arthur (Ph.D., associate professor of English) was the one who sent us the information about Touchstone and so I was like, “OK, I guess I’ll try.” Now, I’m working with Dan Martin (Ph.D., associate professor of English) and he’s really pushing me to be better. I think that their department really cares about the success of the writer beyond school. It’s not about classes and grades, it’s about personal growth and success. They’ve mentored me, they’ve taken me under their wings, which I think is crazy, because I know that I wouldn’t have had that opportunity at other schools.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome as a writer?

A: I’m really young, and I didn’t have a ton of connections because I am young. In many ways, my family and I are starting this from scratch. There are no other authors in our family, it’s just us. It’s so new. It’s not something where I have an aunt or an uncle who write. It’s so new and I have to learn the writing aspect of it, but also the publishing and the connections — how do you network, how do you sell yourself, how do you speak at events, how do you get connections with people who will help you recognize those moments, or how do you market yourself? It’s just so new and foreign that it’s just been like jumping into a whole new world and I’ve been trying to figure out how it works. Really fast. That’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun. It’s been hard sometimes and a little bit discouraging because, you know, you realize, “Oh, I should’ve done this,” or, “I did this, but I should’ve done that.” That can be discouraging, but it’s a learning process so it’s worth it, it’s just a lot of work.

Q: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?

A: I’d say, don’t be timid. I kind of walked in fear of other people’s opinions, and I didn’t market myself because I didn’t think that my writing was that great. I didn’t think that it was going to be impactful, or that other people would really appreciate it, especially because I am so young, and a female and a minority. I’m just in all of these really small, minority categories, that it’s easy to get overlooked. There were times that I’d be discouraged, and I’d go back and tell myself, “Don’t be afraid. You can do this. You have an amazing support system. You’re going to be able to do awesome things. You just have to believe in yourself and go pursue that and be brave.” If you have a dream or a passion, work really hard and keep dreaming. Don’t shut it down just because you aren’t met with success immediately.