Allison Epstein Photo (1)

Name: Allison Epstein

Age: 23

Location: Berwyn, Illinois (Western suburb of Chicago for out-of-staters)


Junior business-to-business marketing copywriter by day, managing editor at Adios Barbie by night. I write and edit articles about everything from eating disorders to rape culture to systemic racism. At my day job, I write copy about products you didn’t know existed for trade magazines you also didn’t know existed. (Ask me anything about galvanized steel conduit. No, go ahead, ask.)

Where did you come from?

Lansing, Michigan, home of several now-defunct General Motors plants, the state capital, and, at one point, Malcolm X.

A Fear: Settling. Choosing comfort over working for what intimidates and inspires me, professionally and personally. Also bats. Slit-nosed leather-winged furry demons. Nothankyou.

A Goal: Pay the bills by writing fiction. It can be one short story I sell for $20 to pay my electric bill with. I’m not picky.

A Memory: In the summer of 2013, I was studying abroad in Northern Ireland when my grandmother passed away from Parkinson’s disease. I couldn’t make it back in time for the funeral, but I traveled to the Antrim coast along the north of the island, and spent the day of the service on a cliff above the blue-green sea, watching the waves roll past and listening to seals barking on the rocks below. I don’t know what I believe about this life and anything after, but I’ve never felt more connected to the universe and whatever’s beyond it.

A Mistake: Backing out of opportunities from fear of what people will think of me. It’s an ongoing mistake, and one I’m working daily to correct.

A Hero: My parents and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

A Fault: You haven’t seen Type A until you see how I do Type A. My work-life balance is a hot mess, and I’ve always demanded more of myself than I can deliver. Someday I’ll be able to fall asleep with unanswered emails still in my inbox. Until then, I will lull myself into a false sense of security with lists, spreadsheets, and a flawlessly alphabetized bookshelf.

A Talent: I have a Shakespeare reference ready for almost any occasion. The number of friends and family members I’ve convinced to read / watch / attend a performance of King Lear is frankly alarming. I’m not sure if this is a talent or a nuisance.

A Prized Possession: My library of notebooks. I write longhand whenever I can, and haven’t thrown away a book since 2007. Everything before then is too embarrassing to be read, anyway.

A Need: Solitude. As an introvert, I’m like old film: For anything to turn out OK, sometimes I need to be alone in a dark room for a while.

I want More: Compassion. Locally and globally, for people we know and understand and for people we don’t.

I want Less: Coldplay.

What would you change about the world?

I want to get rid of the connection between food, our bodies, and our worth. There’s so much morality tied up in these issues when there just doesn’t need to be. There is nothing good or bad about food or bodies — they are what they are. The way you treat someone, whether or not you tip your servers, how you vote on social issues, how you support friends in need, there’s morality in that. In our thighs? If we could stop this culturally sanctioned long con, I’d be over the moon.

What do you love about yourself?

My writing voice. Whether anyone but my family, friends, or workshop group reads my work is beside the point (although if you’re searching for a novelist-for-hire, hit me up…). I’m closer emotionally to the main character of my novel-in-eternal-progress than I am to most people. He just understands me.



Name: Mariano I. Avila

Age: I’m XXXVII, born in MCMLXXVIII–that’s dead language for “getting old.”

Location: On the left (as usual) of the white sofa in my living room, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Occupation: Dad, Husband, Writer, Activist, Language Teacher

Where did you come from? Mom. We were in Mexico City that day.

A Fear: The bear that licked me some years back–long story.

A Goal: Nonviolence. More of it.

A Memory: The first summer I took a group of students to the Holy Land, an Israeli soldier wouldn’t let me into Bethlehem and had me stand in the noon sun (blazing at 100 ºF) because he was convinced I was Jewish–the middle “I” stands for Israel. It also didn’t help that one of the Dutch dudes in the group was Aaron Zachariah. I demanded to speak with the checkpoint commander when the soldier implied that he’d check us for circumcision if we didn’t convince him. After an hour they let us go without demanding more than paperwork.

A Mistake: This year, my friend and brother, Ben Bufford, woke me up on my birthday. It was 8 a.m., I had decided to sleep in. He sang his best rendition of Happy Birthday Mr. President complete with his Marilyn Monroe impression. I’m pretty sure he was in his cubicle at work. We talked for almost an hour. He said some very affirming things, assured me that God had plans for me, and suggested that we meet up very soon, but I was too busy for the next few days. A week later, at 1 a.m., I rushed to the hospital because he’d fainted, but when I got there he had passed away–he was 36. The last time I talked to him wasn’t in person. I will always regret that.

A Hero: Right now, Foucault.

A Fault: Whichever one shows up that day. Seriously, I think I’ve hosted most by now.

A Talent: I used to do a killer Christopher Walken impression, then my accent started reverting to Philly and now when I try it, folks say I sound drunk or tired. I don’t do it anymore.

A Prized Possession: The rollerball Meisterstük pen that my wife, Kate, gave me when I got accepted to Warren Wilson’s MFA, but a close second is the Olivetti Valentine (typewriter) that my friend, Brent, found for me in Portland.

A Need: Wisdom to raise my daughter to fight the patriarchy, practice nonviolence, love herself, love others, love God, and hopefully me too.

I want More: Time to read and write

I want Less: Stuff in general or at least the need for it.

What would you change about the world? Violence, I’d do away with all forms of it–verbal, physical, systemic, economic, cultural. But, I’d settle for a general ban on war and having all international conflicts solved either through extreme Jenga matches or Angry Birds (the latter because my six-year-old nephew, Luisito, would soon become supreme commander of the known universe) .

What do you love about yourself? The space I tend to occupy in relationships I value. I can’t think of a better way to say it. It’s not so much who I am on my own, or achievements, or habits. Rather, in my relationships with others, I tend to be given a space in their set scheme of social roles, needs, or wants.



Name: Erin McKelle

Age: 20

Location: Columbus, Ohio

Occupation: Freelance writer, social media strategist, communications whiz, and badass feminist blogger

Where did you come from? I was born in Columbus and adopted by a family who lived in the suburbs of Cleveland, where I grew up and spent the entirety of my childhood.

A Fear: That I won’t reach my professional goals. I’ve always been very ambitious and been successful in my ventures, but I’m always thinking about what’s next. I want to make my passions my career, which I’ve been able to do so far at a young age. Even writing this, I’m realizing my fear may be irrational or more likely a part of the high standards I set for myself.

A Goal: To revitalize my physical fitness and not let working out fall by the wayside. I truly enjoy the rush I feel when I exercise and want to cultivate that more consistently.

A Memory: During the end of my first year of college, I was walking to my dorm after a particularly great therapy session and work day at my university’s LGBT Center, where I was interning. I remember seeing the tall trees and the pretty brick buildings and thinking to myself that if God existed, this is what it would feel like. Since then, it’s been hard to call myself an atheist.

A Mistake: I don’t believe in regrets or mistakes- if you learn from something (and you can learn from any experience), it becomes valuable. But I would say that I’ve made the mistake of being too self-conscious and not putting myself out there because I feared being rejected. It’s amazing how a subtle shift in your attitude can make all of the difference in the quality of your life.

A Hero: Kacy Catanzaro, the first woman to ever complete the qualifying course on America Ninja Warrior. I remember seeing the clip of her conquering the course last summer and being so inspired- she truly embodies the power of womanhood. She also connects me back to body positivity, as she used her height and small stature to her advantage, when others insisted it would bring her down.

A Fault: I’m often passive-aggressive and it’s something that I’m trying very hard to let go of. It’s a behavioral pattern I picked up during my childhood and never realized how it’s affected my relationships until recently. Also, it’s usually better to be direct with people- I find it creates a lot less stress.

A Talent: Writing. From a very young age I’ve always loved to write and it’s been a talent I’ve been complimented on since I was in elementary school. My writing is usually what connects me to people and what I’ve found has been the most impactful to others, which has been such a blessing.

A Prized Possession: My teddy bear Daisy- I’ve had her since I was an infant! She’s a classic looking bear with black eyes, a red bow, and brown fur. We’ve been cuddle companions for twenty years and I never plan on abandoning her! She’s been with me through everything and I still sleep with her in my bed to this day.

A Need: Privacy and personal space. I’m very introverted, so I naturally need to have my alone time away from other people. If I don’t get this, it’s hard for me to really concentrate on anything. Being alone revitalizes my spirit!

I want More: Face to face contact. Up until recently, all of the people I’ve dated have been long-distance and most of my friendships were as well. I now value seeing and being with someone in real time, offline and want to bring more of this into my life.

I want Less: Job insecurity! Since I’ve decided to pursue freelancing full-time, it means that I don’t have a salary or anything to really fall back on if things don’t work out. This makes me work that much harder, but it would be nice to not have to worry about what I’ll be doing six months from now or how I’ll pay the bills if I don’t find another contract after one ends.

What would you change about the world? I would eliminate violence as a whole. We’re so quick to insult, ridicule, hit, curse, and beat on others and it’s very disturbing to me. I see more and more violence in mainstream media and it’s perfectly acceptable to violate others if it means getting what you want. If we could stop using violence in our lives, including verbal and emotional violence, we could repair so much. I know that for me, most people will use my size as a weapon against me when they are trying to hurt, but because I’ve embraced who I am and what I look like, it’s transformed this negative into a positive. I want to see that same thing happen for a whole host of issues.

What do you love about yourself? My passion and enthusiasm for life. It’s something a lot of people notice when they interact with me and I think it’s a quality that isn’t cultivated enough in our world.