Artist of the Week: Maya Kikuchi ’20 On Writing in Many Forms

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Courtesy of Nara Enkhtaivan

Running into the practice room 426, Maya Kikuchi ‘20 tossed her stuff down and apologized profusely for coming late. 

“Blame it on Omar!” she said, referring to Omar Camps Kamrin ‘20, music director and score writer of “A Sticky Situation,” a staged musical in which Kikuchi plays a prominent role. Kikuchi had been rehearsing for four hours — the first two with the a cappella group Mixed Company and the next two with Camp-Kamrin — but she was in great spirits meeting with me for her interview. Laughing, I waved her off — in truth, she was only about one minute late. But her entrance was a great illustration of the kind of person Kikuchi is: considerate, hard-working, and immensely dedicated to the arts.

An artist of many different expressions, Kikuchi has received much praise for both her work as a writer and performer. Winning poetry competitions and receiving lead roles since a young age, Kikuchi explained to me exactly how she got her start in both writing and performing.

“Like a lot of people who write, I started with reading. As an elementary school kid I had weekly library runs, and I was always really excited to get a stack of books. I kind of remember wanting to be an author of a novel from around kindergarten,” Kikuchi added. “As a child I always thought it would be cool if I were one of those child authors, and I just slowly ran out of time and then became an adult,” Kikuchi finished laughing.

A little later in elementary school, Kikuchi discovered she also had a knack for writing poetry.

“For poetry, my start was when I was in fourth grade. There was a poetry contest, and the prize was $50. So I entered, and I won that year! And I was like ‘woah’! So I continued to write poetry and enter the contest, and I won a couple more years, and I just fell in love with poetry.”

Now an avid writer of poetry, Kikuchi had been published locally in Philadelphia and here at Swarthmore in campus journals like Small Craft Warnings. While she is inspired by many different individuals and themes, Kikuchi says that locations hold a special influence on her work.

“I write a lot about Hawaii, which is where I’m from, and Japan, because I also have ties to Japan. Poetry is often more explicitly personal. If I’m writing poems, I will find myself often writing about place as a way to describe my own identity or experiences.”

In addition to poetry and fiction writing, Kikuchi discovered quite early that she had a passion for singing and performing.

“I started doing musical theatre around seven years old, and in second grade I started doing choir. So, singing in choir and singing in musical theatre was my start in music. Now, I sing a lot of different genres,” Kikuchi explained. “But I will always have a place in my heart for musical theatre.”

In fact, Kikuchi has been involved in musical theatre here at Swarthmore, too. Back in the fall of 2017, Kikuchi starred in the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” as Olive Ostrovsky, a serious and tragic character, who sings the gorgeous “The I Love You Song”.

“[The musical] was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done at Swarthmore. It was intense and a huge time commitment, but it was so much fun and the cast was really small so I got to become really close with everyone in the cast. [Olive] gets to sing a really beautiful and heartbreaking song. That was a really fun experience for me, and I think [it] stretched me as a performer.”

Kikuchi continues to be involved in many musical endeavors, singing with the chorus, taking vocal lessons as part of Music 48, soloing in the a cappella group Mixed Company, and performing regularly. In addition to all that, Kikuchi is currently writing a novel as part of her creative writing emphasis in her Honors English major.

“Last summer, I got a stipend to do a fiction project, which I’ve been continuing to work on my senior year as an independent creative writing project. It is hopefully going to be a novel that will be published one day!” Kikuchi said, smiling. “It’s scary to talk about because I’ve been very vague with people — it’s kind of about cultural differences, it’s about ultimate frisbee, it takes place in Japan, and it’s a story about solidarity.” 

Kikuchi’s goal for the future, she says, is to be a full-time writer. 

“I want to be a published author — that’s the lofty goal that I have,” Kikuchi says laughing. “I want to be a writer of fiction, poetry, maybe even songs.”

For now, though, Kikuchi is content with doing anything that allows her to write and to travel.

“After I graduate, I’m hoping to get a scholarship to be a creative writing research student in Japan, and continue working on my fiction project and poetry projects, and beyond that, I’m open to teaching English in Japan and in the US.”

One thing’s for certain, though; wherever Kikuchi decides to build her career and plant her roots, she will continue to write and perform.

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