Devotions: an Interview with Tara Monjazeb
By Alice Maher
This issue, we speak with final year literature student Tara about her creation of Devotions, a weekly digital newsletter of personal essays. Inspired by her favourite poet Mary Oliver, Tara has created an intimate publication that celebrates the small details of her everyday reality. In the following interview, Tara explains the inspiration behind her project, the importance of being present on multiple formats and her desire to be a part of the publishing industry.
Where did you get the inspiration to create Devotions?
“I turned to poetry to ground myself during the pandemic, and it pretty much changed my life. The whole genre is ultimately focused on deep observation; it encouraged me to pay attention to my feelings and surroundings. I was in search of purpose, and being vulnerable has led me to build so many special friendships throughout the pandemic, so I gave it a go. It’s mostly for myself, as a form of therapy, but it’s the responses to it that keeps me going.”
You say that Devotions is a homage to your favourite poet, Mary Oliver; is there a specific poem of hers that you felt particularly inspired by?
“Yes! The title is a reference to her anthology Devotions, which guided me through a rough time. She wrote in an essay that ‘Attention is the beginning of a devotion,’ and I consider that a mantra; paying attention to small things is the first step towards living a meaningful and devoted life.”
What type of content can you expect to find if you are a reader of Devotions?
“I write a personal essay every week, and I always incorporate poems or excerpts of literature. Towards the bottom, I give book and poetry reviews/recommendations and general reflections on things I’ve been enjoying that week.”
Why did you decide to format Devotions as a newsletter?
“When it comes to vulnerability, I think intimacy is really important. So many important relationships in my life have thrived through one-on-one conversation. I want to recreate the effects of that, to make people feel like they have a space where they can open their hearts for a few minutes once a week, even if it's just to self-reflect on their own.”
How can we access Devotions? Is it print or digital? How can somebody subscribe to the newsletter?
“It's digital on Substack! The link to subscribe is at the top of the webpage and at the bottom of every post on devotions.substack.com. All the posts are formatted in a blog-style on the website, though, so you can view the posts before you subscribe and read older ones, which I like about the platform. I do hope to publish a print version at some point!”
I’ve noticed you extend your ‘public diary’ onto other platforms including Tik-Tok and Instagram; how important do you think it is to be accessible on multiple platforms/different formats?
“I've always loved capturing small moments in my daily life and immortalizing them. Overall, my newsletter is a reflection of me and adding more digital layers to that can make me seem more approachable and human. I love when people reach out to me, and sharing my newsletter on social media (and vice versa) has led to some special connections.”
Have you faced any challenges during your process of setting up the newsletter?
“Substack is an accessible and user-friendly platform. Content-wise, it can be hard to be vulnerable on the internet. I've had my doubts. You can view your statistics on the Substack dashboard and when a post doesn't do as well, it can be hard not to take it personally. But the growth has been natural, so I try not to focus on numbers too much. What matters are the individuals behind the numbers, who have taken the time to subscribe and let me know they enjoy my work. That always means a lot to me.”
What skills have you developed during this process?
“I do think my writing has gotten better… I've also learned a lot about self-discipline and time management… What I didn't expect, though, is that I've been refining my people skills. The conversations I've had, with people of all ages and disciplines, have been the most rewarding part of the process.”
Do you want to have a future in the publishing industry? If so, why? What about publishing inspires you?
“Yes, I do! I've always loved reading and literature, but something I learned recently – through writing Devotions, mainly – is that although the act of reading is private, it's not always a solitary act. I find so much purpose in sharing literature and putting it in the hands of people who need it. The publishing industry is full of kind, collaborative people who are dedicated to the production of something meaningful. There are so many layers to it, but I think it all lies in that same general philosophy.”
We would like to thank Tara for taking the time to speak with us. To stay in touch with Tara and Devotions see the below socials.
Instagram – instagram.com/tvm_ok
TikTok – tiktok.com/@tatajpg