A new Albright graduate, Carmen Johnson ’22 is using her education to pursue a career as a novelist, although she is also interested in exploring the realms of editing and publishing.
“I really want to go into publishing and writing … the route Toni Morrison went where she was an editor and then she finally wrote her own books, I would love to do something like that.”
In reflecting back on her Albright experience, Johnson says she has dabbled in a variety of mediums, and primarily funnels her artistic energy into writing and photography.
Pursuing a co-major in English and Spanish, and a minor in photography, Johnson does not limit her sincerity to her art. Rather, she is known for bringing her vibrant, candid personality everywhere she goes, including the multiple clubs and organizations in which she participated as an Albrightian. Johnson was a Spanish and math tutor for three years, and was also an active member of Albright Christian Fellowship.
Most important to Johnson, however, has been Albright’s literary magazine, Agon, where she served as president for two years.
“Agon has been my rock, especially because of COVID — it really just ran through a lot of the art organizations on campus,” she said.
During Johnson’s time as president, Agon experienced a rebirth. By fall of 2021, the magazine had gained three new staff members, and the club hosted several writing circles and multiple coffeehouse events throughout the year (with considerable turnout). Submission rates steadily increased, and by fall 2021, the magazine filled roughly 30 pages. The following spring, Agon received so many submissions that the staff had to cut longer works for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and those submissions came predominately from students rather than staff members.
The literary magazine benefits from the support and guidance of Albright faculty, including the organization’s sponsor, Lesley Goodman, Ph.D., and Albright’s resident creative writing professor, C. Dylan Bassett, Ph.D. But that’s not to say that the organization depends on faculty. Rather, Johnson heavily encouraged students to take ownership of the magazine.
“I always tell my staff, ‘This is our magazine. So, if you want to change the colors, if you want to change the formation, you have the autonomy to do that.’ It almost feels like we have the ability to start up something and we have a safety net in which we can do it.”
Beyond Agon magazine, Johnson has constantly sought new growth opportunities. At the start of her junior year, she began an internship with Picture This Post, a culture magazine that draws attention to overlooked artists of diverse mediums through captivating photography.
Additionally, last spring she submitted research to the Higher Education Council of Berks County conference, which features undergraduate research papers that utilize creative thinking. Her essay, “The Deconstruction of Family: How It Can Ruin a Child,” was accepted, and she presented her work at Penn State Berks.
On top of all that, she has a novel in progress.
With so many responsibilities and projects on her plate, Johnson found herself experiencing burnout in her last two years of college. Especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has come to realize the importance of prioritizing time for herself. Johnson has decided to shed some responsibilities for the upcoming year in order to dedicate time to graduate school applications — and of course, her writing. Ultimately, her goal is to gain acceptance into a Master of Fine Arts program for creative writing, such as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
“I’ll have some time to just focus strictly on my writing and focus strictly on reading more,” said Johnson. “I feel like having that time to just not have any other classes will be really nice, and then I can hone my writing skills a lot more than I was able to before.”
As she marks her own path, Johnson continues to look back to the artistic icons that inspire her work — namely Toni Morrison, a novelist and critical essayist whose writing formed a key component of Johnson’s literary studies, and photographer Carrie Mae Weems. She recognizes how their works have inspired not only her art but also her mindset.
“[Their work] kind of just reflect the realness that I want to communicate with all of my art, like with my writing and my photography: this is my real, raw life. You don’t have to cast judgment on it, you don’t have to judge these different members of my family or these people in my community, but this is the way things are, and this is how I’m showing it to you.”