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Meet Austin Lack

Today we’d like to introduce you to Austin Lack.

Austin, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
The ceiling was popcorn when Ms. Milczewsky handed me a writing assignment that changed my life. I was homeschooled, and so there were a few other kids in the room with me too, with those white bread, inside out peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. I’m still not sure if Ms. Milczewsky even had her teaching credential.

I walked out of the room, complaining about having to read and write and think about things besides problems and math. I liked both at the time. I dragged my feet to the car with the book in my hands. It was J.R.R. Tolkien’s, “The Hobbit,” a book I’d only heard of. It wasn’t love, but I was still changed.

Despite barely reading the thing, I had to write a paper on it. I had to use highlighters and point out specific words. I had to use sentences, certain types of sentences, and then break it up into five paragraphs, and then use a phrase from my last sentence and make it my title. By the end of it all, I was so satisfied with my counting and breaking up that I’d accomplished math all over again. I think the style of writing is called IEW writing, but I wouldn’t bet money on that because I’m not really sure.

To explain, I was at a school of sorts. It was a charter school that I attended twice a week. It’s not worth explaining everything. But by the time I entered my sophomore year of high school, writing began to click for me. I took a class called The Inkling’s with a teacher named Mr. Patrick Grafton-Cardwell. I’ve never forgotten that name. The class fulfilled the standard English Literature requirements, but was supposed to be an advanced way for kids to learn in a forum environment. We read C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayer’s, Sheldon Vanauken, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and discussed.

I wrote more than I’d ever imagined in that class, and then I started writing more. I wrote limericks, thinking they were easy, and a poem or two. I wrote short stories about abstract concepts like time, or love, and personified them in things like the sea, or a giant, floating light. In a “monkey-see, monkey-do” sort of way, I was a sixteen-year-old desperately trying to write like an educated British intellectual, and it sounded like it. I did this for a couple of years, with only a few friends and a bunch of word.docs on my parent’s dead computer as proof.

I’d fallen in love with writing, and I would have majored in English if I hadn’t met a Princeton graduate who told me not too. She was an author, a mom, and incredibly rich because of other things. She told me that an English major was a waste of time. I heard Princeton and took her advice. I didn’t know enough about writing, or my love for it, to see past what she was saying, but i never strayed too far from it. I ended up majoring in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Rhetoric and a Minor in Religious Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara CA.

Because of how college works, I found myself wrapped up in engaging, time-consuming assignments that took me away from my creative endeavors. But my professor’s introduced me to incredible ideas and authors, and encouraged me to make those authors my friends. I read Flannery O’Connor, Alan Lightman, Kurt Vonnegut, Chaim Potok, Thomas Merton, Oliver Sacks, Fisher, Mark Forsyth, Shusaku Endo, Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, and others. I also studied incredible theological works by Miroslav Volf, Leslie Newbegin, J.K.A Smith, and Timothy Keller. By the end of it, I had only a little “creative” work to show for myself, but I had a growing love for writing and the art of storytelling.

This time of focused study solidified my passion to write, and write well. I don’t regret college, or my choice of study, only that I believed the lie. The lie I think anyone can believe: that we are too busy with our assignments to work on anything else. Assignments in school, work, life; work we stare at until it becomes the reason we have too little time. We let the papers pile up, and then we say that the pile is too big to do anything else. I also met my wife while I was in college, and so I wouldn’t change a thing, because I wouldn’t change a thing. Our wedding was November 25th, 2018.

What makes me a writer today is the love and care that teachers put into their work, which gave me the itch. They refused to spoon feed me, but made me burn with hunger. Since then, almost two years ago, I’ve written and grown. I’ve learned from my experiences and never stopped creating along the way.

Last November (2017) I began working at AMP Los Angeles, a Creative Youth Development program that teaches youth in North East LA about the Arts. I began as one of the Creative Writing instructors, but after some changes, I was promoted to Program Director, and that is now my part-time job. Working with youth is an incredible honor. They are some of the most talented kids I’ve ever known, but any time dedicated to the creative arts presents its challenges. The kids can often hate their ideas and would rather ignore them then pursue them. They need constant reinforcement and encouragement.

But I have an incredible team of mentors, and its true that often times the most difficult things are the most rewarding. They inspire me, as I too am difficult, and in need of constant reinforcement and encouragement. We all are! I would count them in the category of teachers who brought me to where I am today. The picture is of me with all of our students… well me ruining their group photo at least!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As a writer, life’s challenges and obstacles are like fuel. Times where things are raw, painful, or difficult, are often when I need writing most and when I am most inspired. Obstacles are more interesting to read about anyways. I’ve definitely bounced around since graduation.

I think the most challenging times are times like now, or when I was in college – when things are moving along well and seem to go off without a hitch. Moments when the noise is quiet enough not to bother anyone. Those stretches of time are the most difficult to write or be inspired, or instruct the kids.

When things are falling apart we finally understand what they are made of and how beautiful, ugly, intricate or incomparable they are. When they are intact, we pass them by and take them for granted. Nobody appreciates a perfect plane until it breaks. Nobody really cares until they have too. My biggest challenge is caring every day.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
As a writer, I work all over, and you can find my work most published in LitUp or the Creative. Cafe on medium.com or medium.com/alack. Separate from my own writing, I work as a Program Director at an After-School program.

AMP Los Angeles is a Non-Profit Creative Youth Development Program based in Highland Park dedicated to amplifying opportunity for the youth of Northeast L.A. through group mentoring & arts education. As the Program Director, I specialize in Youth Development, primarily in organizing the program, working with the kids, creative direction and instructions, and directing our professional instructors and mentors.

As an organization, we strive to serve under-resourced youth and be a community-driven organization. Our goal is to develop youth through group mentorship in the Creative Arts. To give them opportunities to learn from professionals in the industry, so that they can get a hands-on learning experience.

Our creative backdrop for the year is chosen by our students so that we can be a program that empowers and listens to its youth. This year our backdrop, or theme, is “Overcome” and we are currently entering post-production on three different films that embody our youths perspective on what it means to “Overcome.”

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Appreciating the mundane and learning from failures. Having a sense of humor about myself and my work.

Remembering that inspiration is only possible because this world is made up of things bigger than me and my ideas.

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Image Credit:
AMP Los Angeles 501c3

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