SmokeLong Quarterly

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Thank You to SmokeLong Fellow Pegah Ouji

July 7, 2024

The interview below is the last of four exit interviews with the January-June 2024 SmokeLong Emerging Writer Fellows. We were impressed and thrilled with the engagement and commitment each showed during the fellowship. If you are an emerging writer (yet to have published a book-length work), our next fellowship application period will begin in October 2024 for the January-June 2025 fellowship. 


First, thank you so much for all the work you’ve done during your fellowship. You’ve read nearly 500 submissions, which is a ton of words. What have you learned from reading the SmokeLong submissions queue?

One of the most educational parts of reading the queue was seeing the comments from other editors. In a sense, their comments taught me to see a piece with more sensitive eyes. I learned to notice, to pay attention to where the energy of a piece waned and where it sang. Over time, I noticed that qualities I admired in the works in the queue slipped into my own writing, infusing it with a new energy. Having to articulate what is working and what is not in a piece helped me to eventually read my own work as though it belonged to someone. This way I am learning to spot gaps and catch missteps in earlier drafts. Reading the queue made me a better reader of my own work.

SmokeLong fellows commit to sending two drafts each month for feedback from our senior editors. Were you able to keep up with this pace? How has your writing life changed during the fellowship?

At first this was the aspect of the fellowship that I was most anxious about. Before the fellowship, I had only written three pieces of flash fiction which I submitted in my application. Writing flash was new. The demands of the form scared me. I genuinely doubted I could ever write any more pieces of flash. But knowing that I had the opportunity to receive feedback from senior editors gave me the nudge I needed to generate more work. It also was helpful to be part of the Fitness community, with prompts and lessons that unlocked new pieces I wouldn’t have written otherwise. So over time, to my own surprise, I generated more work than I could ask for feedback on.

I was always amazed by the feedback of senior editors. To me, it looked like senior editors could see exactly what to work on in a draft so other pieces, like dominos, can fall into their place. They could see through the draft and identify leverage points. I still don’t know how to do this, but I am so grateful to have had that chance to be a recipient of their comments.

What good things have happened to you as a writer since you began the fellowship?

So much! Most importantly, I am not the same writer. When I look back at drafts of my stories from before the fellowship, I see so much fluff that can be taken out, places that could be written with more potency, urgency, even tension. So I think the best thing that happened is that I grew as a writer. I have also had some of the pieces that I generated during the fellowship accepted for publication but to me that is the side-effect. The real joy has come from growing and feeling like I am a member of a community.

Thank you for your enthusiastic engagement in SmokeLong Fitness during the fellowship. Your energy really benefitted the workshop. Can you share a bit about your time in SmokeLong Fitness?

I think giving feedback is a difficult art to learn. It requires patience, generosity and kindness. It also requires that we have compassion for the works of other writers, see their words just as urgent as our own. And to do all this online is extra difficult. But I have been so impressed by the kindness, honesty and energy of the people in SmokeLong Fitness. There is a wonderful mix of writers, some who have published many works, won prizes and some who are just starting. And somehow, everyone is oriented towards learning and encouraging each other. That is invaluable for a writer. The writing journey is hard, self-doubt a constant companion, so having the encouraging space of SmokeLong Fitness was instrumental to helping me create new work and learn to give feedback.

There is really something about quantity in creating art. Outside of Fitness, I can obsess over a short piece for months but in Fitness, there is no time to obsess–it’s a new week, with a new task. And I noticed over time, that by generating more work, my perfectionist tendencies faded to some degree.

As your fellowship nears its end, what are your plans?

I am hoping to stay engaged with the SmokeLong community through Fitness primarily. I am also applying to MFA programs this winter. Other than that, more daydreaming, writing, revising and hopefully helping to create an uplifting literary community in whatever space I find myself in.


Pegah Ouji is an Iranian-American writer with short stories and poems in Farsi and English. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Isele MagazineHamilton Stone Review, and Fugue. She is a writing and editorial fellow at Roots, Wounds, Words, currently working on a short story collection set in various regions of Iran.


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SmokeLong Fitness--The Community Workshop

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Included in the price of SmokeLong Fitness:

The Community Workshop in small groups
One live Zoom webinar each month with killer workshop leaders (recorded for participants unable to attend).
One open-mic party each month (or other live Zoom events)
Discounts on intensive workshops
Discounts on senior editor feedback
Surprises (good ones)