12 Stories of Homecoming: paparouna

Editor’s Note: Earlier in June, Lighthouse finally moved into our exciting new home. The 12 Stories of Homecoming is a series of stories written about creatives from all walks of Lighthouse that have made us who we are today. We are endlessly grateful for the support from our community and eager to welcome you home so we can open the doors even further, together.

paparouna is drawn to the untold stories. They’ve always been one to notice the paintings that weren’t in the museums, the gaps in texts not studied in school. In short, they’ve always had the makings of a writer. One unafraid to explore the silenced narratives. 

Four buildings ago, paparouna first walked through Lighthouse’s doors at Downing Street. Like so many of us, they first started taking classes here and there and often found themselves in Harrison Fletcher’s workshops. But as is the case with many writers, time had a way of shrinking wherever they picked up the pen. 

But in January of 2017, paparouna signed up for a Speculative Fiction class with Courtney Morgan, a fairly new subject for Lighthouse at the time.

“I loved Courtney’s class; it just clicked for me,” said paparouna. “I grew up reading Greek Mythology and learning of stories that dealt with the choices we make when we have power (like the gods) and when we don’t (like humans). Mythology explores constraints, it speaks to community and accountability, where self-realization and the self is found. How limits and accountability are actually what give us freedom. Things you still find in fantasy and the speculative fiction genre.” 

paparouna decided during that class to give it a real go and pursue writing in earnest for a whole year to see where it would take them. 

“I’m fortunate to have been in a place where I was able to focus the time,” said paparouna.  

That year, paparouna attended Lit Fest, the Grand Lake Retreat, and took workshop after workshop in many different genres. In  2018, they were accepted into The Book Project, a year after an idea for a book grew out of Morgan’s speculative class. After a few years of putting pen to paper, paparouna finished with a draft of a spectacular novel. 

“I’ve always been interested in how we form our chosen family,” said paparouna. “The way we make connections in otherwise dismal world settings. How would language evolve if we had queer communities that existed across generations? How can we find beauty in life even when the world around us is on fire? I’m exploring all these things in my novel through five characters from five different parts of the world.” 

paparouna’s novel moves through places that resemble our past and offer insights into our future, true markers of good speculative fiction. 

“In Spec, we have the capacity to actually touch what is deeper in our world,” said paparouna. “Ursula Le Guin points out that when authors who don’t generally write Spec fiction want to address deeper social issues, they often write into the spec realm. Like Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale. Something about the genre allows us to dive much deeper into what is going on and imagine futures as well as exploring our present and past. Fantasy can give us the tools to dive much deeper into our realities than ‘realistic’ fiction, but also to bring in voices from the margins.” 

In fact, paparouna’s imaginings of new realities in their writing have moved far beyond their novel. Their ability to help others look at what is being silenced, areas that are missing, and the way things should work in our world has had a substantial and lasting impact on Lighthouse’s programming. 

paparouna has been an instrumental part of Queer Creatives, a collective of LGBTQIA+ writers and makers who connect through collective story-making and story-sharing. The group hosts monthly meet-ups and has a dedicated retreat each fall

“I want to first acknowledge that Queer Creatives exists because of all the work that was done in the Writing in Color program,” said paparouna. “Queer Creatives allows folks who have been pushed to the margins the chance to reimagine what storytelling and story-sharing looks like. Sometimes, when we’re writing from a perspective that is not from a dominant narrative, workshop conversation tends to focus on the novelty of the content rather than the craft of writing. In groups like Queer Creatives, the shared experience allows us to get the kind of feedback we need from the people we are writing for.”

In fact, some of paparouna’s favorite memories of Lighthouse are not just the workshops they’ve participated in or the many events they’ve graciously volunteered at. 

“The communities that are created and then fostered out of the classroom—those are the moments I’m grateful for,” said paparouna. “There isn’t anyone at Lighthouse who isn’t writing about life. So finding that camaraderie, like the Spec cohort, Queer Creatives, people on staff at Lighthouse, faculty, and more… you know it’s successful when the conversation moves outside of the classroom.” 

Currently, paparouna is attending an MFA program in Fiction and Translation at Antioch LA,  and continuing to work on their novel while also pursuing their other passion, translation. 

“I don’t believe I made myself,” said paparouna. “We come from communities, ancestral and geographical. So, if I’m going to talk about myself, it’s important for me to talk about the people that made me, the people that supported me and corrected me when I was wrong. I give a lot of credit to Lighthouse for getting me where I am today and for what they’ve done for my youngest kid too, who went through the Young Authors Collective and is now finishing a creative writing degree at Bard.” 

When thinking about Lighthouse’s future, paparouna shared, “I think we need to continue focusing on removing barriers, physical, financial, but also barriers that come in the form of unconscious and unchallenged gatekeeping, or narrow conceptions of what makes good writing and good literature. Programs like Queer Creatives and Writing in Color are going to continue making those barriers more visible.” 

I, for one, am grateful to have a voice like paparouna’s in our midst. One that isn’t afraid to imagine a better future and write it into our present.