Kate Kotlyar staff writer
Content warning: mentions of rape, domestic abuse, suicide, depression, self-harm
Writing can be a hobby, a coping mechanism or a life’s passion. To junior Kate Lewis, it’s all three.
Lewis began creatively writing in 2nd grade, but started to hone her craft in eighth grade after she took a mandatory creative writing workshop in school. In 2018, she submitted a story called “Cherry Springs” into a Flash Fiction competition. That was her first published piece of literature. Lewis also has an anthology called Raw Temptation, published by Lulu publishing company in 2019. Currently, she is working on a new anthology called Cigarettes and Mistresses.
Lewis’s middle school English teacher recognized her writing capabilities and suggested she publish her works. After getting published, she continued writing because it was “therapeutic” for her to write every day and express her emotions.
“In middle school, I was going through a really tough time at home. I wanted to go to boarding school, I wanted to get away and I saw a lot of other people turn to many different things to cope. I had a friend who turned to art, and for me writing was my kind of coping [mechanism] for everything that I was going through in middle school,” Lewis said. “So when someone actually recognized that I was decent at it, I was like, ‘Wow, I could just keep doing this and this can be really something good for me.’ I actually got to find my niche with it.”
Lewis was new to Beverly Hills Unified School District her freshman year of high school, but with the help of writing and a nonprofit organization, WriteGirl, she made friends outside of school before making friends at Beverly.
“I knew not a soul at that school…and my parents wanted me to continue my writing and they decided I needed an outlet. So we did some research and we found this phenomenal nonprofit called WriteGirl. I went to my first meeting and instantly I was in love. I was surrounded by supportive women, supportive girls, all sharing the same passion of writing, of really just loving writing, loving being with a piece of paper and a pen and just love that connection,” Lewis said.
Through WriteGirl, Lewis collaborated with other girls in the group in a book called This Moment, which was published in 2019.
After getting a taste of being a published writer, Lewis found that she wanted to get her writing “out there even more.” So, she looked to competitions to submit her works.
“I went to go submit in these competitions, [and] I realized that they were all censored, that people under 18 couldn’t submit or they could [but] it had to be very specific, very happy, no curse words and no serious topics like any violence, rape, domestic abuse, suicide, nothing. And I was very saddened and angry. I was really angry. I was like, ‘Why can’t younger voices or anyone talk about these things which are sadly a normal part of life?’ I got very angry and I was sad that artists, talented artists, besides just myself, were being censored on such a mass scale,” Lewis said.
Because of this anger, Lewis decided to create her own collection of work and publish it in her first anthology, Raw Temptation. The anthology covers topics such as sex, domestic abuse, suicide and depression. Due to the extremity of the topics, Lewis received some backlash.
“I got some backlash, especially from relatives who bought it, read it to support, and they were like, ‘This is terrible. This is a terrible book, this is a teenager writing this, she’s satanic and why didn’t [I] get a warning?’ You open this book and immediately all this baggage spills out onto the paper. My grandmother in particular was so furious and at first I was like, ‘Why is this 60-year-old woman critiquing me?’ and then I took a step back and I realized, ‘No, Kate, you need to need to tell people before they read this really sensitive material, it can be triggering.’ And it can be triggering for me when I reread my own stuff,” Lewis said.
To alleviate the trigger factor in Cigarettes and Mistresses, Lewis included a content warning in the forward, as well as mental health resources like hotlines, charities and websites in the back of her book.
While her writing content troubled her grandmother and other family members, one of Lewis’s mothers, Kelly Caves, is “proud of her” and of her content.
“I think it’s amazing that she can grasp some of these concepts and turn them into remarkable pieces of art, and that’s what they are. The topics might be very difficult, but they still need to be written about and talked about and communicated. The only way to get through some of these issues or to help other people get through them, is by writing about them and talking about them. That’s the only way we’re going to create awareness, so I’m super proud of her,” Caves said.
Her freshman English teacher, Nickolas Henggeler, agrees with Caves. Henggeler is “happy to see that she’s pursuing” writing as a productive outlet, despite the “dark topics.”
“I remember there were some pretty dark ones, but she’s got a way with words. She’s probably one of maybe three students in my five years of teaching that has gone out of their way to show me their personal writing. Just the fact that she takes the time and sits down to write and… she’s had them published and she has sent them out—that takes a lot of confidence,” Henggeler said. “And I think some of the best artists have dark subject matter, tortured souls. I don’t know what’s torturing Kate Lewis, but she’s definitely got an interesting point of view, and a really strong and clear voice as the writer.”
Despite the backlash, Lewis has received positive feedback from the public as well.
“When I first published my book, I got some astounding messages from mothers who had lost their sons from suicide or people who had experienced domestic violence or who had friends who’ve gone through really hard experiences. I just received some of the kindest words about how my writing just made such an impact on them, or I’ve witnessed people cry over my words because it was just so moving, and that is such a surreal experience. When you get to see someone have such a visceral response and someone be so touched by your own words, it’s really cool. I think that’s something that definitely just keeps me going every day,” Lewis said.
Lewis’s new upcoming anthology, Cigarettes and Mistresses, is about domestic abuse and is split into three sections: Love, Abuse and Goodbye. She chose those topics because they are “expansive” and something that “people go through.”
“You go through love, [but] after the initial love, the initial lust, it can wear off. After that it can be abuse. Abuse to each other or you can have abuse with yourself, you can self harm or go through disorders where you’re beating yourself up internally. And then hopefully at the end of the day, you can really sit down with yourself or sit down with whom[ever] you’re having problems with, and say goodbye and end this and really step away feeling okay with yourself and happy,” Lewis said.
Lewis never experienced domestic abuse, but she has spoken to multiple domestic abuse survivors, therapists and psychiatrists to gather information about the topic.
Lewis named her second anthology around common vices that help people deal with difficult times.
“My first book, little did I know, actually has a lot to do with porn and sexual topics. So I thought, ‘Why not continue in this vein? Why not continue in Cigarettes and Mistresses, which has a lot of porn references?’ It’s not why I was writing it,” Lewis said. “I chose ‘cigarettes’ and ‘mistresses’ because at the time everything that I was writing was surrounded by cigarettes and mistresses and in particular vices, things that people use—unhealthy coping mechanisms. So it’s really just unhealthy vices that people have been using, that’s what I want to use to represent…and their temptations. I mean, cigarettes are a temptation and mistresses are a temptation, which I thought was a nice nod to [Raw Temptation].”
While Lewis does not plan to pursue writing as a career, she hopes to pursue it throughout her life because she loves helping people through her writing, and her work is “powerful” to her.
“Keeping in mind that your words can have such an impact, keeping in mind that you, alone, are really powerful,” Lewis said. “You have to remind yourself, everyone, it’s not just writers, we’re creators or artists, everyone is powerful with whatever they do on this Earth.”