Illustration of a bird and flowers with text overlay reading “DREAMING OUT LOUD”DREAMing Out Loud is PEN America’s tuition-free creative writing workshop series for young immigrant writers, primarily those who are undocumented, DACA recipients, or DREAMers who came to the United States when they were children. This week, PEN America released a third volume of its groundbreaking anthology, DREAMing Out Loud: Voices of Migrant Writers, an annual compilation of literary writing amplifying the experiences of undocumented writers in the U.S. On this week’s episode of The PEN Pod, we sat down with Nicole Henry, one of the contributors for this year’s anthology. Nicole spoke with us about her contributions to the anthology, life as an immigrant, and her journey toward becoming a writer. Listen below for our full conversation (our interview with Nicole is up until the 8:24 mark).

On Her Contribution to This Year’s Anthology

“My contribution this year is actually a continuation of my previous year’s work. It was called, ‘I’m Not Okay.’ Last year’s version detailed my journey through becoming a naturalized citizen or resident of this country. This year’s contribution is, ‘I’m Still Not Okay,’ because even though everything is quote unquote, ‘okay’ residency-wise, the emotional effects are still there, you know? Still scarring.”

On the Importance of Migrant Voices and Stories

“I think migrants’ stories need to be told. When I was approached by my English professor to join [the DREAMing Out Loud program] as a way to creatively express myself, and to put emotion to paper, I thought it was a great idea. But most importantly, again, I think, migrants’ stories need to be told, because I think the average American does not understand just what we go through. It’s just a black-and-white issue for them. For us, it’s life or death, literally, you know, or for our families and friends. It’s like stuff that we don’t have anymore. It’s just a big deal. And so, I think that story needs to be told.”

On the Healing Power of Writing

“I think it was really therapeutic, honestly. During our workshops—I’ll never forget—I would always chat with the person running the program, privately in our Zoom meetings to say, ‘Um, I don’t feel comfortable saying this out loud, but this is what I feel, like every time I do it, I want to cry,’ you know what I mean? And her response is always like, ‘That’s fine, take your time, do your thing.’ Like it’s a very welcoming, healing type of group. It really is a good program. I’ve said this before, I’ve told people this, this was really a great program. You really got to work through some things in this program. . . . It’s really therapeutic, honestly, writing. Writing is really just powerful. Putting words to paper, whether it’s fiction or fact, it’s just a great way to work through some stuff.”

On Her Path to Becoming a Writer

“There are a lot of stories that need to be told, there’s a lot more stories that need to be told. . . .  I don’t think people understand how stressful it can be, not being in your own country—especially the last four years, with our former president literally painting targets on people’s backs. I don’t think people understand the stress, the anxiety, all of that. We needed some kind of outlet to release that, I think. And I think writing is a great way to do that.”