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Headshot of Syki Barbee
Photo Credit: Rhane Mazzola

Syki Barbee '20

Syki Barbee is a junior English major, pursuing dual specializations in Professional Writing and Technical Communication (PWTC) and Creative Writing. She currently is a fiction editor for Jabberwocky and interns at the Dr. Seuss Museum.

Why did you decide to become an English major?

It’s funny because, while I always loved to read, and started writing in my late teens (I’m 33 now), I never considered a career in English. I used to believe the misconception that studying English was for teachers or authors, and I had no desire to be either at the time, so I set my sights on the military. My father was a Vietnam veteran and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I joined the Army National Guard and became a Water Purification Specialist. I went to college for Criminal Justice, desiring to be either a Military Police Officer, or an Interpreter.

During my service I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, major depression, and bipolar disorder. It was during this time and after my honorable discharge that I began to write and read in earnest. It was my sanctuary. Still, I didn’t realize, until I went to check out Holyoke Community College, that my passion for literature and writing could be a viable career path for me. They had a Creative Writing major available, and I felt a full-bodied reaction when I saw that. And there were more than a few jobs that piqued my interest. That was in 2007 or 2008.

I failed out of school the first time around. I hadn’t come to terms with my illnesses and took on too much. I didn’t go back to school until 2015. Even when I went back, I still had no clear idea of what I wanted. For a while, I wanted to become a librarian, but I knew that wasn’t my passion. It wasn’t until I took an honors colloquium that was a mix of history and English, that I started to think about the importance of representation. I kept taking courses that followed that thread of thought, and eventually found what I wanted to do. I want to own my own local publishing company, dedicated to the positive representation of the marginalized groups in our community. I am an African American woman, who has an invisible disability and is married to a Puerto Rican woman. I would have loved to read characters who I could see myself in, but unfortunately, I didn’t get that. So, I want to help create that space for people like me.

What specializations are you working on?

I am specializing in both PWTC and Creative Writing. I feel like in order for me to be successful in my business, I should be proficient in many different types of writing styles. PWTC challenges me because I am naturally more inclined to write creatively. However, through the courses I’ve already taken, I found an interest in grant writing. It’s both technical and creative and I love that.

Working towards a Creative Writing speciality, for me, is natural. I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd, so of course I dabbled in writing fanfiction. That led me on a path of writing my own original stories.

What other extracurriculars are you involved with for UMass?

Currently, I am a fiction editor for Jabberwocky. I commute every day from Springfield and unfortunately, that doesn’t allow me to participate in other activities as much as I would like to.

What are your responsibilities/day-to-day activities for working with Jabberwocky? Do you feel as though they are preparing you for your future career?

Every week we get a folder of submissions that we are responsible for reading before our weekly meeting. I love how each submission is anonymous to us, and we’re able to talk openly and honestly about our opinions. In the end we take a vote and majority rules. I love how everyone works with each other. It’s the kind of atmosphere I would like to create in my own company.

How does working for Jabberwocky impact your experience with the UMass community?

I’m not going to lie. When I first got to UMass, I hated it. It was too big and I thought I would get lost in the shuffle. I’m not a traditional student, and I don’t live on campus. It takes me two hours back and forth on the bus to get to and from campus. I didn’t feel at home here. But during the reception for new English majors, I learned about Jabberwocky and it gave me incentive to try to make myself a part of this community. When I got accepted as a fiction editor, I felt a certain peace. When I walk around campus, I realize I’ve come to love It here. I just had to find what worked best for me to make me feel at home here.

How about your responsibilities for the Dr. Seuss Museum Internship? Can you tell me more about what you do there?

Honestly, I’m in the really early stages of the internship, so we’re still figuring things out. As of now, I greet the families who come to the Dr. Seuss Museum and point them to any activities we are having. Even if you’re an adult without children, I would stop by the museum. I grew up reading Dr. Seuss and the museum is like walking into a Dr. Seuss’ world.

What kinds of writing do you enjoy?

Professionally, I enjoy grant writing. It’s both technical and creative, and I love the idea of being a part of the process that allows someone to fulfill a need in our community.

Creatively, I love creative non-fiction. I love writing personal essays. Writing has always been a part of my healing process. It helps me put things in perspective. It helps me tell my story and then look at it critically with a different eye. This semester, I am being pushed to be a better and more effective storyteller and I’m so grateful for it. It’s helping me in an area that if I ever wanted to be published, it would be in the essay genre.

Interview by Rhane Mazzola, Digital Communications Intern