Diversity, Publishing, and a Whole Lot of Cake: the World of Siel Ju

"Cake Time" and DePauw alum, Siel Ju. Photo courtesy of @DePauw_English from Twitter.

On Oct. 5, 2022, Siel Ju made an appearance as the second visitor of the Kelly Writers Series for this semester. Ju is the author of “Cake Time,” the winner of the Red Hen Press Fiction Manuscript Award. “Cake Time” follows a smart girl who makes risky choices about men and sex in Los Angeles. Aside from “Cake Time,” Ju’s success does not stop there as her stories and poems have appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Southern Review, Confrontation, and a long list of publications. 

Ju was once an English major at DePauw University before she graduated in the Class of 2000, where one of her first poems was published in the Spring 1997 issue of A Midwestern Review. Since time has passed since Ju has been back in Greencastle, Indiana, there was a certain surreal feeling being back on the campus where it all began.

“I haven’t been here in so long,” Ju said. “I feel like I got in last night then woke up and went to class. I feel like I haven’t gotten much of a feel for DePauw yet.”

“The campus looks mostly the same [and has] the same vibe. I think probably the student body is somewhat more diverse, and the classes today seem more interesting than the ones I’ve had,” she continued.

When asked if, as a student, she ever expected to return to DePauw––let alone as a published author or visitor for the Kelly Writers Series––Ju did not expect it in the slightest.

“It wasn’t a dream. But, when the book came out [five years ago], I do remember writing Joe [Heithaus] being like ‘Hey, my book’s out if you’re doing a reading series.’ I wasn’t dying to come back to Indiana, but it was nice to be able to visit in a very different role,” Ju added.

Earlier in the day, Ju had the opportunity to meet current students majoring and minoring in English writing and literature and described the experience of interacting with students in the space she was once in.

“It’s cool…It feels like not that long ago when I was a student [here], but obviously, it’s been a while. I think the thing that crosses my mind is [how] you meet students during or after class, and you get very much like a surface-level sense of their interests and life here that might have very little resemblance to how they might be feeling at any specific moment or what they’ll think of it later once they’re out of this tiny little fishbowl place,” Ju said.

She continued, “[Students] seem [to be] so engaged, interesting, and excited about the future. Then, on the other hand, I wonder how they really like it.”

With “Cake Time” being one of Ju’s most notable publications, she discussed how it came to over the course of the time she worked on it. 

“‘Cake Time’ didn’t come together as a planned out thing I wrote from beginning to end. I had a number of stories that I was writing randomly, and then once I decided I wanted to put a collection together, I looked at the stories that could go together and eventually be edited from the point of view of the same narrator,” Ju said.

“[I] then wrote additional stories to create like a story arc, and if I were to say there was a goal, the goal was the way it was to look at key moments in the female young adulthood,” Ju concluded.

In discussing the themes in “Cake Time,” the exploration of relationships was a major factor in bringing all the pieces for the collection together.

“I feel all stories are about relationships. It’s interesting because people ask that question a lot, and I almost feel like those themes came back [by] accident. If you were to [ask] me what ‘Cake Time’ is about, I would say it’s more about a woman living life, but I have come to realize that’s not necessarily what readers feel,” Ju said.

“Part of it might be that I think relationships love sex. Those are core elements of life. On a certain level, it’s like, why wouldn’t I? Every [and] any novel about life would deal with those things in a way. At the same time, I do recognize that not all novels take that as their center,” Ju said.

For English and non-English majors alike, Ju offered a nugget of knowledge about how the future looks in going to graduate school for creative writing and publishing their longer-form works.

“Going into [graduate] school for writing and even by the time I wasn’t writing that seriously. [Graduate] school is great for a lot of things, but there’s a sense that if you’re getting A’s, you’re doing all right. But, getting an A in a writing class is very different from writing a publishable work or developing a life as a writer. Those are very extremely different things,” Ju said.

“I think I didn’t realize until at least a few years out of graduate school how much focus it would take to actually have a writing career. I would say, my trajectory has been circuitous, and also, I think as I‘m getting older, I think there was a time when I felt very do or die about writing. Now, I see it more as one aspect of life,” Ju said.

For more information about Siel Ju, visit her website linked here, and to purchase her acclaimed collection “Cake Time,” follow the link to purchase here.