Serene Almehmi said she “gasped really loud” when she found out she had won a 2022 Thomas Wolfe Scholarship.
The Birmingham, Alabama, native is one of two winners of the four-year, full-ride scholarship from the department of English and comparative literature. The scholarship is awarded to talented first-year students interested in creative writing. This year’s additional recipient is Alex Gast.
Almehmi initially intended to attend the University of Alabama, so she was surprised when she realized that she had earned a merit writing scholarship to UNC-Chapel Hill with her 50-page manuscript and application.
Now over a month into her first semester, Almehmi has begun planning for her time at UNC. While she is pursuing a creative writing minor, Almehmi said she hopes to major in business. She said she prefers to write when and what she wants without the pressure of others’ deadlines and expectations.
Almehmi said that she does not plan to publish but would not be surprised if it accidentally happened. Instead, her future plans include working in marketing while keeping her own writing as a personal, sacred practice.
For Almehmi, writing has an organic nature, so a rigid schedule interferes with her craft. Attending a middle school that focused heavily on creative writing made her realize that allowing herself the freedom not to write is the key to her writing success.
Almehmi prefers to jot down notes on her phone when the inspiration strikes. She said she believes that it is a love for the craft of writing, not a certain number of hours spent writing, that makes someone a writer.
“I think I just learned that you don’t have to write all the time to be a writer. It is OK to take breaks, and being a writer is still a part of your identity.”
At UNC, Almehmi said she looks forward to exploring new literary genres through screenwriting and nonfiction classes. She also anticipates taking classes that focus on fiction writing, which is her preferred genre.
Within fiction, Almehmi said she gravitates toward writing about the mundane aspects of human life because those things are universal and, thus, relatable to all readers. “I think I’m fascinated enough by people as they are that I just like to write about realistic things,” she said. “Because I think life is interesting enough as it is.”
One of Almehmi’s favorite original pieces is inspired by her experience working in a restaurant and is filled with the ordinary and relatable.
“Nothing very monumental happened in it at all, but it’s a piece I’m very proud of, just because it’s just very human.”
A career in literary publishing is one of her top options post-graduation, Almehmi said.
She had the opportunity to meet professionals working in the marketing and design side of the publishing industry at a ceremony in New York for a writing scholarship that she won in high school. She said she would love the opportunity to work in social media and design within that industry.
In both her writing and career goals, Almehmi treasures the human experience.
She wrote in her application, “… there are beautiful, meaningful facets to the human experience, and it would be a disservice to life if I didn’t try to encapsulate some of them into stories or poems or even mere journal entries.”
By Andy Little ’24
Enjoy an excerpt from Almehmi’s “Why I Write” application essay:
I usually base stories on the things I know well, on the places I frequent. All the mundane things, all the menial parts of the every day, deserve a kind of spotlight — even whole novels of their own. I like to read books that I can connect to, books that I can really feel. Fantasy and magic and the imaginary are fun to explore, but there is something so compelling about the real, raw human experience. An aspiration of mine is to create something, anything, a book or an anthology of poems, that people connect to, that they really feel. I want to celebrate all the joy and pain and guilt and shame and glory that is life, that is the human experience.
Read about Alex Gast, who is also a 2022 Thomas Wolfe Scholar.