When I first read through “Nice Little Blonde Girl” by Emma McMain, my gut told me this was the one. Drowned in what seemed like a lifetime of submission reading already, I was one of the initial readers on this piece of nonfiction. Among my group, I was known to be one of the harsher reviewers on the prose team from early on. I expected the best for our fairly new magazine, and I wanted my prose team to follow that example, to strive for perfection in our prose for Levitate.
“Nice Little Blonde Girl” is a piece that examines each individual aspect of the speaker’s identity and how they all mix and mingle together into the maternal features of her personality that shines through in the first section. The speaker characterizes herself as someone wanting to be a mother from a young age even when adults around her believed she should have had greater ambitions. Through each section, the reader’s understanding of who this speaker is morphs into a full figure beyond just a silhouette, a fleshed-out person of reality who is defined at times by the societal expectations of a woman that looks like her.
McMain writes, “Being small, being nice, being blonde-therefore-white are my frustrations. They are also my lived privilege,” addressing the frustrations of the labels while also recognizing the privilege that comes with it. There is admiration for one who recognizes their privilege enough to write about it. Especially as an editor on a magazine the strives for diversity, this piece gives a voice many of us may have already heard through a different lens, a different spotlight.
Beyond the content of the piece, craft is essential, the lack of which could easily deter us from accepting a piece. In McMain’s piece in particular, the form is the way she allows herself to break down each adjective that has described her all her life. The piece is sectioned off into each of the adjectives of her being, pulling different anecdotes and meditation together though the reader can see that most of the piece is chronological, following a path from childhood to now. By using the subsections, McMain is able to make each adjective stand out and why the stereotyping affects her though somehow she has put it together to make the entire piece flow as a single entity.
When the submissions first started, I don’t think “Nice Little Blonde Girl” was a piece I dreamed of fitting into our magazine. Of course, I was a fan of the craft McMain uses in this piece because I see a lot of the craft in how I aspire to write my own creative nonfiction. Yet it was the fact I wanted racial diversity in our magazine that blinded me in seeing that diversity comes in all shapes and forms. A piece like “Nice Little Blonde Girl” tackles diversity in a way that I did not expect, adding a great nuance to our magazine.
Haley Cao is a senior Creative Writer at the Chicago High School for the Arts majoring in Creative Nonfiction. Her work can be seen in Big Shoulder Books’ Write Your Heart Out, and her chapbook titled We (2018). She has won various awards for her writing including Scholastic Art and Writing Gold Key and the Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Award of 2017 and 2018. In the fall of 2019, Cao will be attending Columbia University with intentions to study Creative Writing and Applied Mathematics. She is currently the lead prose editor for Levitate Magazine.