From Wanderer to Rising Voice

Yana Kozukhin writing as a little girl.

I fell in love with words in the second grade. The first “big-girl” story I ever wrote was entitled “The Wanderer,” and it recounted, in various inappropriate fonts and overly bright colors, the adventures of one adorable stray puppy. I have now entirely forgotten the story’s characters and central plot points. I couldn’t tell you what that puppy looked like, or how he became a stray, or even what his silly, made-up name was. But I can remember how that imaginary puppy made me feel. He was mine, and I came to cherish the time I spent crafting his world. I loved the sensation of letting thoughts spill out through my fingertips, unadulterated and uncensored (two words that I certainly did not know at the time), and then going back to tweak and refine and rephrase and read sentences aloud over and over and over until they stuck on my tongue and I could properly and perfectly pick them apart. I learned to choose just the right words in which to dress a sentence, where to place a comma in order to flatter its figure, and to find the adjectives that made it happy in its own skin.

“Yana, dinner!” Mama would call from the kitchen upstairs.

“Just let me finish my thought!” I would shout back with an edge to my voice, because I simply couldn’t pull myself away from the keyboard. It was then that I learned how addictive it can be to fall in love with your own words.

Shortly after I printed out that childish masterpiece, my second grade teacher got her hands on it and insisted that I should read it aloud to the class. As much as I loved putting my letters and words and sentences together and feeling them for myself, I was equal parts excited and terrified to wonder if my classmates would love the story as much as I did. After I read it, my back straight and my voice proud, my teacher went on to ask the children questions about it. What did Yana do that was good? Did her story have a beginning, middle, and end? Here I was, an example for my class. Here I was, being truly and indisputably good at something. Here I was, making other people think and feel, just by sharing my thoughts.

My experience with Rising Voices has, in many ways, mirrored my early writing experience as a little kid. Blogging was a foreign medium for me, and writing for JWA meant making my work available to a larger audience than ever before. I will admit that, at least at first, the fellowship was scarier than I had anticipated. My writing, my leisure activity to unwind and relax, suddenly became something that must be turned in on a certain date and made permanently available to the world. It was daunting. The concept that anyone at all, from my synagogue or my school or my family or the college admissions offices that I apply to next year, could and would read my opinions, changed what it meant for me to “be a writer”: I had always identified as a writer, but I had primarily written for myself. This year, I have learned once more that my words do not have to be just for me; they can be for others as well. And when a friend or family member reads one of my blog posts and tells me what it made them feel, that, to me, is more beautiful than I could ever express in words.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

Topics: Writing
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How to cite this page

Kozukhin, Yana. "From Wanderer to Rising Voice ." 24 June 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 25, 2021) <>.

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