IALA introduces the participants of its 2023 Mentorship Program

This year, the International Armenian Literary Alliance (IALA) celebrates a record number of talented and diverse writers who were selected as mentees for its third annual mentorship program, which will run until August 31. Twenty-one Armenian writers have joined the program from across the world, including from Artsakh, Armenia, Europe and North America, working on novels, short stories, poetry and, for the first year, literary translation. 

IALA’s 2023 mentee cohort includes Sarkis Antonyan, Karine Armen (Kurkjian), John Ohan Danho, Sarah Elgatian, Carolina Gazal, Juliette Hagobian, Pattianna Harootian, Sarah B. Ignatius, Byurakn Ishkhanyan, Alexia Kevonian, Michelle Khazaryan, Rafi Mankassarian, Roza Melkumyan, Vera Mkhsian, Sarah Mnatzaganian, Asbed Pogarian, Rachel Sona Reed, Marina Terteryan, Lilly Torosyan, Lusine Vanyan and Alen Voskanian. 

To help the selected writers hone their craft, 19 inimitable Armenian authors are serving as mentors—some of whom are donating their time for the second or third year in a row. They will read and provide feedback on their mentee’s writing and speak with their mentee virtually throughout the program to discuss the writing life, the mentee’s work and how to navigate the publishing industry. At the end of the program, IALA will host an Emerging Writers Showcase to feature the mentees’ work.

The IALA 2023 mentors include Nancy Agabian, Dr. Nyri A. Bakkalian, Susan Barba, Dr. Tamar Marie Boyadjian, Gregory Djanikian, Arminé Iknadossian, Aris Janigian, Olivia Katrandjian, Arthur Kayzakian, Dr. Hrayr Varaz Khanjian, Lola Koundakjian, Dr. Jennifer Manoukian, Arthur Nersesian, Veronica Pamoukaghlian, Jen Siraganian, Victoria Harwood Butler-Sloss, Dana Walrath, Alene Terzian-Zeitounian and Aida Zilelian.

“Mentors are an invaluable resource to emerging writers, not only in giving feedback on work, but in providing encouragement and guidance in what’s otherwise an often solitary practice. Persistence is vital to a writer’s journey, and we pair our mentees with authors who believe in their power to create, inspiring them to persevere through inevitable periods of self-doubt,” says IALA’s founder and director Olivia Katrandjian. “We hope that bonds between our mentors and mentees will last beyond the length of the program and transform into mutually supportive relationships that will only strengthen our writers and the Armenian literary community.”

Subscribe to IALA’s newsletter and follow their social media outlets for updates about next year’s mentorship program and more.

The Mentees of IALA’s 2023 Mentorship Program

Sarkis Antonyan is a nineteen-year-old poet and multidisciplinary artist from Los Angeles, California. His work appears in Peach Magazine, Olit, Revolute, h-pem, Pollux Journal, The Round and elsewhere. He is a winner of the International Armenian Literary Alliance’s 2021 Young Armenian Poets Awards. A poetry reader at The Adroit Journal, he spends his time admiring the color yellow, brewing peach tea, collecting frog sculptures and knitting. He is dually attending Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Karine Armen (Kurkjian) is a teacher, photographer, social worker and writer. She was an elementary school teacher in Glendale for 32 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in photography and social work and a master’s degree in Education Administration. She enjoyed teaching creative writing and poetry to her second-graders. Karine has written several articles for the Armenian Reporter, Armenian Weekly and Asbarez. In 2010, Karine translated her mother’s self-help articles from Farsi to English and published them in a book called Inner Heaven

John Ohan Danho is an Armenian-American educator, editor and writer. He holds a master’s in English Literature. When he isn’t serving as an adjunct teacher at community college, John Ohan often spends his time composing poetry and penning his manuscript, a fantasy novel using pre-Christian Armenian mythology as its foundation. He has been the poetry editor for HyeBred Magazine for several years, a now-annual digital publication that has featured some premiere expressions of art, poetry and prose from the Armenian community during its tenure.

Sarah Elgatian is a second-generation Armenian-American writer with a lot of questions. Her work has appeared in Crab Fat, Beholder Magazine and print anthologies including These Interesting Times: Surviving 2020, the Iowa Writers’ House We The Interwoven and Fifth Wheel Press’s Flux. A Marketing and Program Specialist at the Midwest Writing Center, Sarah facilitates the bi-monthly workshop group Writers’ Studio and bi-weekly webseries Write More Light in which she interviews literary figures and gives brief writing lessons. She likes bright colors, dark coffee and long sentences.

Carolina Gazal is a Peruvian-Armenian writer and communications specialist based in Queens, New York. She is currently a writer for the AGBU Magazine where she covers timely topics on Armenian identity and culture. She is also a freelance lifestyle writer at Insider, where she was previously a Freelance Fellow editing articles on food, entertainment and travel. She also covers food stories for newly-founded Armenian publication MIASEEN. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and communications from Boston College with a concentration in creative writing.

Juliette Hagobian (she/her) is an eighteen-year-old poet and writer from Los Angeles, California. She has been published or is forthcoming in h-pem, Corporeal, Surging Tide and The Howl. She works as a poetry/prose editor for Kalopsia Literary. Juliette is a 2023 poetry mentee of the Adroit Journal’s Summer Mentorship Program. She loves fruit-flavored gum and will challenge you to a game of Just Dance. 

Pattianna Harootian grew up in Reading, Massachusetts, living an idyllic childhood in a big house that was always filled with friends. She lists her parents as her heroes and credits them for influencing her to start a charity that empowers girls and women. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is a high school English teacher in southern California where she lives with her two sons. Her grandmother, an Armenian Genocide survivor, inspired her to write the historical fiction novel, My Grandmother’s Tattoo.

Sarah B. Ignatius is a creative writer and lawyer and served as executive director of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research until the beginning of 2022. The Devil’s Kaleidoscope, her novel-in-progress, is historical fiction about a twelve-year-old boy Arakel living through the Armenian Genocide who must rely on people he thinks are his enemies to survive. Previously, she worked as a lawyer and executive director in Boston and Seattle, representing asylum-seekers pro bono fleeing from persecution throughout the world. She taught immigration and asylum law at Boston College Law School. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in anthropology and juris doctor from Georgetown University Law Center.

Byurakn Ishkhanyan, an Armenian writer based in Copenhagen, Denmark, has published short stories in Armenian literary magazines, some translated into English. Her writing delves into themes of identity and belonging, inspired by her childhood in post-Soviet Armenia and her adult life in Europe. She is an active member of the Aarhus Women Write collective and has performed her work at the LiteratureXchange festival in Aarhus. Currently, she is preparing her debut novel Tote Bag for publication. Byurakn holds a doctorate in psycho- and neurolinguistics.

Alexia Kevonian was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to parents of Armenian descent. Immigrating to Los Angeles at the age of four, she became a part of the American immigrant experience. Early on, she discovered books by Roald Dahl, as well as the Nancy Drew series, and a love affair with the written word began. In due course, she started to write short stories and essays for herself. Professionally, she pursued clinical psychology, using words to improve the lives of others. In her personal life, she married her best friend, Kevon, and they have three children, Atam, Sophia and Neshan.

Michelle Khazaryan is an Armenian-American writer born and based in Los Angeles. She received her bachelor’s degree in English with a focus on creative writing from the University of Southern California. She writes fiction and poetry focused on the lives of working-class Armenians in East Hollywood, gendered labor and caregiving, and the effects of climate change on her community. She is currently working on a short story collection.

As a lifelong fan of fantasy and science fiction, Rafi Mankassarian was always drawn to the prospect of creating worlds of his own that moved others in the same way that the stories he grew up with moved him. As a third culture kid growing up abroad, coupled with a love of all kinds of storytelling, he was exposed to a different cultural milieu, which he hopes gives him a different perspective for artistic endeavors. He hopes to bring a written voice that incorporates both his traveled nature and his Armenian heritage in imaginative and fantastical settings.

Roza Melkumyan is a U.S.-born journalist, creative nonfiction writer, amateur linguist and avid traveler who splits her time between Yerevan and Washington D.C. She is dedicated to amplifying the voices of those whose stories might otherwise go unheard. She currently works for Freedom House in human rights and democracy and previously worked as communications manager at the nonprofit ONEArmenia. She writes for various publications including EVN Report and FF2 Media on arts, culture and technology and runs a personal Substack blog. She earned her bachelor’s degree from New York University in 2018.

Vera Mkhsian is an 18-year-old college freshman pursuing a career in writing and teaching. She was born in Los Angeles and graduated from Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian school. She is a counselor at the AYF summer camp, teaching kids about Armenian culture, her ancestors’ amazing accomplishments and how she can continue their legacy. She likes to hike, take pictures and write poetry.

Sarah Mnatzaganian is an Anglo-Armenian poet based in Ely, U.K. Her debut collection, Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter, won the 2022 Saboteur Award. Her poems have also been featured in PN Review, The Rialto, Poetry Wales, The North, Magma, Poetry News, Poetry Ireland Review, The Frogmore Papers, Poetry Salzburg Review, Alchemy Spoon and Pennine Platform. Sarah was highly commended in the 2019 and 2023 Mslexia Pamphlet competitions and was awarded first prize in the Spelt Poetry Competition 2021. Sarah has read for the King’s Lynn Poetry Festival, Poetry in Aldeburgh and for the online Cheltenham Poetry Festival and Live Canon. 

Asbed Pogarian was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After graduating from Armenian elementary school, he pursued his education at Melkonian Educational Institute in Cyprus and then at Swarthmore College in Philadelphia, earning a degree in engineering. Upon settling in Los Angeles, he embarked on a career as a utility consultant. In addition to his professional career, he also pursued writing, producing three screenplays and a novel. Asbed is married and splits his time between Los Angeles and the village of Gosh in Armenia. Alongside his wife, he is actively involved in revitalizing the village, contributing to its development and growth.

Rachel Sona Reed is an anthropologist-turned-nonprofit consultant from southern California clinging tenuously to her Armenian heritage through food, family and fiction. She has written novels since 1994, but has yet to finish one. Rachel’s essays, micro-fiction, book reviews and mediocre poetry have appeared in Anthropology & Aging, The Literary Review, Rose City Sisters, Language in Society, Angels Flight: Literary West and Contemporary Contempt, where her reflection on Armenian-American identity remains her most widely read piece.

Marina Terteryan is a California-based Armenian immigrant who is an innovation executive and educator by day, and a writer and community leader by…later that day. At night, she dreams of her homeland. She uses creative nonfiction to inspire love, hope, empathy and healing for communities who live at the intersection of identities. Her first self-published book is titled Sh!t My Armenian Grandma Says. It is a collection of short stories and the witty, profound and loving thoughts of a quirky and kind Armenian grandma, exploring themes of intergenerational friendship, immigrant culture and aging with dignity.

Lilly Torosyan is a freelance writer based in Connecticut. Her writing focuses on the confluence of identity, diaspora and language – especially within the global Armenian communities. She has a master’s degree in human rights from University College London and a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Boston University. Her articles have appeared in publications such as the Armenian Weekly, h-pem and EVN Report. She is currently working on her inaugural poetry collection. 

Lusine Vanyan writes stories about unique, war-torn Artsakh and its local charm and struggle, where she was born and raised. She absorbs the stories during cozy family talks, university classes, socio-cultural events or while eavesdropping on the road. The stories reveal the dedication, courage and purity of heart in isolated and forsaken Artsakh, which, if overlooked, will descend into oblivion. Lusine started writing as a scholar and translator, having worked as a tourist guide, an English teacher and a curator in the lore museum.

Alen Voskanian is a practicing physician, author and the Chief Operating Officer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Network. He is board-certified in Family Medicine as well as Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Alen is passionate about improving healthcare for all. Alen earned his bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and his medical degree from UC Irvine Medical School. He completed his residency at UCLA, followed by a fellowship in HIV. He earned his master’s in Business of Medicine from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

The Mentors of IALA’s 2023 Mentorship Program

Nancy Agabian is a writer, teacher and literary organizer who works in the intersections of queer, feminist and Armenian identity. She is the author of The Fear of Large and Small Nations, a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, published by Nauset Press in May 2023. Her previous books include Princess Freak, a collection of poetry and performance art texts, and Me as her again: True Stories of an Armenian Daughter, a memoir honored as a Lambda Literary Award finalist for LGBT Nonfiction and shortlisted for a William Saroyan International Prize. In 2021 she was awarded Lambda Literary Foundation’s Jeanne Cordova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction.

Dr. Nyri A. Bakkalian is an author, journalist, historian and accomplished raconteur, a Beirut-raised Sendai Armenian by way of Philadelphia and New York, based in Pittsburgh. She hosts the podcast Friday Night History and co-hosts the podcast Cleyera: Conversations on Shinto. She is a staff writer for Unseen Japan, and the author of the novels Grey Dawn: A Tale of Abolition and Union (Balance of Seven Press, 2020) and Confluence: A Person-Shaped Story (Balance of Seven Press, 2022). 

Susan Barba is the author of Fair Sun, which was awarded the Anahid Literary Prize and the Minas & Kohar Tölölyan Prize, and geode, a finalist for the New England Book Awards and the Massachusetts Book Awards. She is the co-editor, with Victoria Rowe, of I Want to Live: Poems of Shushanik Kurghinian, and the editor of American Wildflowers: A Literary Field Guide, which won the 2023 American Horticultural Society Book Award. Her poems have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Poetry, The New Republic and elsewhere. She works as a senior editor for New York Review Books.

Dr. Tamar Marie Boyadjian (she/her) is a poet and translator and teaches courses on medieval literature, poetry and translation. She thinks of herself as a sound-shaper and a wandering ašuł. Her work explores themes around movement, subjectivity, symbols and transmission—drawing from the threats imposed on endangered languages such as her native tongue Western Armenian. She has authored ինչ որ է ան է it is what it is, the vineyard of mirrors on Armenian and Afrofuturism, Ինքնակենսագրականութիւն Autobioliterature (forthcoming). She is also the editor of two out of the three extant anthologies of translation of contemporary Armenian literature into English: makukachu, and unscripted: An Armenian Palimpsest [Absinthe: World Literature in Translation].

Gregory Djanikian’s latest collection of poetry is Sojourners of the In-Between (Carnegie Mellon University Press). His poems have appeared in such places as The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, New Ohio Review, Poetry, TriQuarterly as well as in numerous anthologies including Best American Poetry, Good Poems, American Places (Viking), Becoming Americas: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing (Library of America), Poem in Your Pocket (The Academy of American Poets), Language for a New Century (Norton) and 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day (Random House), among others. Director of creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania for many years, he retired in 2015.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Arminé Iknadossian’s family fled to California when she was four years old to escape the civil war. After graduating from UCLA, Iknadossian earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing at Antioch University. The author of All That Wasted Fruit (Main Street Rag Press), Iknadossian’s work is included in XLA Anthology, Ruminate, Five South, Whale Road Review, Southern Florida Poetry Journal, MacQueen’s Quarterly and The American Journal of Poetry. She recently received a Professional Artists Grant from the Arts Council of Long Beach. Armine is on the Advisory Board of IALA and is also one of the Tlaquilx poets for Project 1521.

Aris Janigian is the author of five critically-acclaimed novels–Bloodvine (2003), Riverbig (2009), This Angelic Land (2012), Waiting for Lipchitz at Chateau Marmont (2016), WAITING FOR SOPHIA at Shutters on the Beach (2019)–and co-author, along with April Greiman, of Something from Nothing (2001), a book on the philosophy of graphic design. Holding a doctorate in psychology, Janigian was senior professor of humanities at Southern California Institute of Architecture, and a contributing writer to West, the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine. He was a finalist for Stanford University’s William Saroyan Fiction Prize and the recipient of the Anahid Literary Award from Columbia University.

Olivia Katrandjian is an Armenian-American based in Luxembourg whose writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the BBC, PBS, ABC and Ms.. Her first novel was awarded second place in Luxembourg’s National Literary Prize. Her short fiction has been nominated for the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize and listed for the Oxford Review of Books Competition, Bristol and Cambridge Short Story Prizes and Oxford-BNU Award. A Creative Armenia-AGBU fellow, Olivia founded the International Armenian Literary Alliance. She holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Oxford University.

Arthur Kayzakian is the winner of the 2021 inaugural Black Lawrence Immigrant Writing Series for his collection, The Book of Redacted Paintings, which was also selected as a finalist for the 2021 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry. He is the recipient of the 2023 creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He serves as the Poetry Chair for IALA. His work has appeared in several publications, including The Adroit Journal, Portland Review, Chicago Review, Cincinnati Review, The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review and Witness Magazine.

Dr. Hrayr Varaz Khanjian is a queer Western Armenian-ist, Yelamu-based (S.F.) twitter-poet, translator, linguist, flower photographer, empath, seks worker, emoji-er, dancemonger, a kweer community flagbearer. He’s a white non-disabled gay cis-male who writes with spelling freedoms and welcomes odar-words (non-Armenian words) putting aside amot (shame). Hrayr‘s first self-published bilingual poem pair collection #jivjiv #twitterpoem is now in its second printing, with a second volume out at the end of the year. He’s also translated and collaborated on language projects with the Armenian Creatives. Hrayr reads his jivjivs frequently in SF, LA and NY.

Lola Koundakjian has four collections: The Accidental Observer; Advice to a Poet (finalist – Orange Book Prize in Armenia); The Moon in the Cusp of my Hand and a chapbook of Armenian poems. Lola has organized readings for The Dead Armenian Poets Society and runs the Armenian Poetry Project. She was a member of the Editorial Board of Ararat, a literary quarterly, from 1995 to 2007 and since 2020 serves on IALA’s board. Lola has read her work at international poetry festivals in Medellín, Trois-Rivières, Ramallah, Lima, Buenos Aires and Santiago.

Jennifer Manoukian is a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Irvine. She earned her doctorate in 2023 from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA. Her research focuses on Ottoman Armenian language practices and ideologies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She is also a translator from Western Armenian and presently at work on an English translation of Yervant Odian’s memoir 12 Years Away from Constantinople, an entertaining account of the writer’s exploits and escapades across Europe and Egypt between 1896 and 1908.  

Arthur Nersesian is the author of eight novels, including Chinese Takeout (HarperCollins), Manhattan Loverboy (Akashic), Suicide Casanova (Akashic), dogrun (MTV Books/Simon & Schuster), and Unlubricated (HarperCollins). He is also the author of East Village Tetralogy, a collection of four plays. Nersesian was the managing editor of the literary magazine “The Portable Lower East Side” and was an English teacher at Hostos Community College (C.U.N.Y.) in the South Bronx. He was born and raised in New York City and currently lives there. 

Writer, producer, filmmaker and editor Veronica Pamoukaghlian has produced more than 10 films, including two feature documentaries, and translated and edited more than 30 books, including Cambridge University Press publications and New York Times bestsellers. She is currently working on a novel and shooting a film in France about actress Solveig Dommartin. She is a Centre Pompadour and New York Film Academy alumna and a recipient of scholarships from Sundance Film Institute, Ibermedia, the Inter American Dev. Bank and Bankboston Foundation.

Los Gatos Poet Laureate Jen Siraganian is a writer, educator and literary organizer. She has served as managing eirector for Litquake: San Francisco’s Literary Festival, been nominated for a Ruth Lilly Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize, earned scholarships from Community of Writers and Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, has been featured in San Francisco Chronicle, The Mercury News and NPR’s KALW, and authored a chapbook titled “Fracture.” Her writing has appeared in Best New Poets, Cream City Review, Mid-American Review, Smartish Pace, Barrow Street, Southwest Review and other journals and anthologies.

Victoria Harwood Butler-Sloss is an Anglo-Armenian from Cyprus. She moved to London at 18, trained at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and began her career as a dancer then actress. She moved to Hollywood with her husband, producer William Butler-Sloss (1967-2018) and sons, Arum and Roibhilin, where she continues to work in voiceovers. In 2014, her diary about the 1974 war in Cyprus was exhibited and turned into a documentary Cyprus Summer 1974. Her book The Seamstress of Ourfa (2018) is the first in a trilogy beginning in the Ottoman Empire 1895 and following four generations of women.

Dana Walrath’s award-winning works include Aliceheimer’s, a graphic memoir about her mother’s dementia journey, Like Water on Stone, a verse novel about the Armenian Genocide, and The Book of Genocides, an interactive art installation that uses artists books to counter dehumanization. Her comics, poetry and essays have appeared in The Lancet, Irish Times, Slate, Foreign Policy and on Public Radio. She has shared her work on the healing power of story throughout North America and Eurasia including two TEDx talks. A Fulbright Scholar and Atlantic Fellow, other recent projects include the libretto for the Aliceheimer’s chamber opera, the picture book I Am a Bird, and a contribution to the anthology Menopause: A Comic Treatment, a double Eisner Award winner and New York Times Best Graphic Novel of 2020.

Alene Terzian-Zeitounian holds a master of fine arts degree in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry. In 2019, she completed her doctorate in education from Arizona State University in the Leadership and Innovation Program. She currently teaches creative writing and serves as the Humanities Department Chair at College of the Canyons (COC). She is also the faculty advisor of COC’s award-winning literary magazine, cul-de-sac. In addition to her work in academia, Alene is the chief advisor and senior facilitator at Culturally Intelligent Training and Consulting. Her first book, Deep as City’s Ache, explores the Lebanese civil conflict both environmentally and psychologically. Her poems have appeared in The Colorado Review, Mizna, Cordite, Levitate, Media Cake, Duende and Rise Up Review, to name a few.

Aida Zilelian is a first-generation American-Armenian writer, educator and storyteller from Queens, New York. She is the author of The Legacy of Lost Things and recipient of the 2014 Tololyan Literary Award. Aida has been featured on NPR, The Huffington Post, Kirkus Reviews, Poets & Writers and various reading series throughout Queens and Manhattan. Her short story collection These Hills Were Meant for You was shortlisted for the 2018 Katherine Anne Porter Award. Aida’s most recent novel, All the Ways We Lied, is forthcoming in January 2024 (Keylight Books). She is currently working on completing her short story collection, Where There Can Be No Breath At All.

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