Every afternoon, when the bell rang for lunch and his classmates’ stomachs growled at the thought of potato chips in their lunch boxes, Braxton Williams slung his backpack over his shoulder and headed off to reading class.
Throughout elementary school and until Williams was a freshman in high school, the 2020 Ball State poet and sociology alumnus struggled with his reading and writing skills. His teachers took extra time with him to catch up, working on his comprehension and reading skills while other students played kickball at recess, but Williams found it hard to feel confident about what he was writing.
“Everyone writes little notes and things in their notebook, but mine was never artistic or metaphorical or anything like that,” Williams said.
In fact, Williams’ mother, Lenetta Williams, said she remembers when Braxton was 3 years old and she “forced” him to lead the psalm at her church.
“It was so much fun because I just didn’t want to do it,” Lenetta said. “Simply put, we had a beautiful church and he was leading the psalm, but I laughed out loud because, looking back, I was thinking, ‘The arts just aren’t his thing.’”
Braxton’s active annoyance and frustration led Lenetta, and the rest of her family, to believe that the arts were not her calling, and she said she never had confidence in her writing skills until her senior year of high school when she took a course. of creative writing. with one of the school’s English teachers, Miss Mustafah.
“That’s when I started writing creatively and artistically,” Braxton said.
When Braxton moved from the southern suburbs of Chicago to Muncie and began her college career as a nursing student in 2017, her focus was more on studying for the Clinical Performance Assessment Tool (CPAT) than expressing herself through stanzas. . But after two and a half years of lessons on anatomy and how to insert catheters, Braxton discovered that her passion lay elsewhere.
“I took the CPAT and didn’t pass it,” Braxton said, “but it didn’t make me sad. I took that as a sign that I probably wasn’t passionate about nursing to begin with.”
After talking to a friend about his interests, Braxton decided to change his major to sociology. Lenetta said that because Braxton has always been an active listener and participant in conversations, her move made more sense to her than nursing.
“I was so into it, and it was a wonderful thing,” Lenetta said. “It just helped open up other areas in her own mind and her writing and her inner feelings.”
Braxton immersed himself in classes on race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and women’s history, learning topics that he said made him feel empowered and mentally exhausted, and from there, his understanding of the world began to unfold. While his realizations helped inspire him to pick up his pencil and write again, the more knowledge Braxton gained about the world, the more he struggled to accept how negative he could be.
“With sociology, not only do you learn a lot about the world, but that also reflects learning about yourself, something I had never really thought about until I started taking these classes,” Braxton said. “They really opened me up to a world outside of me. They opened my heart to accept myself and accept others.”
After changing majors, Braxton realized he had more room in his schedule for electives, so he decided to take a creative writing class with Michael Begnal, an assistant professor of English. One course opened the door to dozens more, Braxton said, so he decided to take up poetry writing with Peter Davis, an assistant professor of English.
“He was fantastic,” Davis said. “Obviously he was a very nice guy, he came to class, but he was also willing to share his thoughts and participate. I knew even before he finished class that he had something else to say: the motivation and desire to [say more].”
After 16 weeks of writing different types of poems, Davis instructed her class to compile a series of 10 to 15 of her favorites in a chapter book, a short collection of poems and images by an individual in a small paper book. , as his final project. Each student had to bring at least five to trade with others in the class.
“I took it to the print lab in the library, printed a bunch of copies, and hand-sewn the seam in the middle to hold it together,” Braxton said.
Once her chapter book was complete, Braxton shared it with her family and classmates, and Lenetta said her writing “blew up.” [her] mind.”
“I was so excited. I just cried,” Lenetta said. “Just to get into my baby’s head, you know, just to hear him and his voice. It really surprises me when I revisit his book.”
Braxton decided to share a photo of her work on her Instagram story and the response she received was unexpected, she said. He started selling copies of his chapbook for $5, then $10, until he ran out of money to print it at the Bracken Library.
“I never did it again,” Braxton said, “but [sharing my writing] It came from there.”
Braxton said she contacted Begnal, who told her the best place to start would be to submit poems to literary magazines and online publishers.
After a series of denials, no comment, and complete silence, Braxton said, “since no one is giving me the chance, I’ll give it to myself.”
He began researching the self-publishing process and discovered Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program, which allows users to self-publish e-books and paperbacks for free. He took the opportunity to write in his spare time, publish at his own pace, and pay as little as possible to make his book a reality.
Braxton reached the peak of her work in the summer of 2020, but an unexpected visit to the emergency room halted her progress: Her kidneys were working at 7 percent of capacity.
“I was diagnosed with kidney failure, which was a big change in my motivation to do the things I really wanted to do,” Braxton said. “I want to do everything possible before I die.”
After a month of dialysis, Braxton was healthy enough to start writing again, and on September 18, 2020, he posted “The Infinite Horizons” on Amazon. In 124 pages, Braxton aims to capture the importance of “the natural balance of good guys and bad guys” in a paperback book packed with poems, photographs, and pages to write and reflect on his words.
Braxton said he defines endless horizons as the balance that many strive to achieve in their lives, the beauty of our favorite city’s skyline, and how the clouds dance with the sea. There are endless horizons in the emotions we mask, the tears we don’t shed, and the smiles we don’t show. Through analyzing and understanding these infinite horizons, Braxton said, it is possible to develop a better understanding of life and who we are destined to become.
“If you can find a horizon to look at, what lies ahead are infinite horizons: multiple worlds align,” he said. “It’s something that takes your breath away, a place where you can see everything.”
When Braxton began writing “The Infinite Horizons,” he said he set himself the goal of “creating a feeling” in infinite horizons, one that explores what life is really like.
“Sometimes it is scary to look at the horizon. It feels vulnerable, but it’s so beautiful, so diverse and fascinating,” she said.
Looking back on reading the poems Braxton submitted for the class, Davis said one thing that always stood out was the feelings Braxton conveyed through his words. While most poets tend to write about struggle and hardship, Davis said, Braxton always hoped for happiness.
“His poems tended to be positive in an uplifting way,” Davis said. “I really appreciated the positivity in what [Braxton] I was doing, and it seemed to me that I was consciously trying to add something beautiful to the world.”
Lenetta said Braxton has been “an atmospheric change from the moment he was born,” in his life and in the lives of the people he meets, and while he hopes he’ll “write 50 more books” to keep changing others, “if that it’s not in his heart, that’s fine too.”
“He has so much to give people,” Lenetta said, “and [his books] It may never make it to the bestseller list, but I firmly believe that whoever [his book] encounters, will change their lives”.
In his letter to the readers of his book, Braxton said he doesn’t think the time is right—you don’t know when to look to your infinite horizons—but he thinks there is a right time to read the right words. There is a time, he said, when what you read will resonate with you on a level strong enough to impact the decisions you make, and that is the day your journey to find your infinite horizons will begin.
“Trust the ride,” Braxton said. “Sometimes, you have to carve out your own opportunities. Life, especially at our age, is constantly filled with something new. You really only have one life. I want to do my best and create and express as much as I can and hopefully help other people along the way.”
Lenetta said she knows Braxton sets high expectations for himself, so she thinks it’s important to remind him to take things one day at a time and remember that change doesn’t happen overnight.
“Put it in writing. Let people hear your story, and I promise to reach whoever it is destined to reach,” Lenetta said. “It’s going to change lives, but we’re doing it one at a time. We can’t change the world all at once, but if we reach one person at a time, that’s all that matters.”
The main way she sets out to help others, Braxton said, is by writing relatable words. While we all live different lives, in the end, Braxton said, we’re all the same. Although we may be divided by social constructions, we share the emotions we experience.
“In the end, I want people to say, ‘I relate to this poem,’” Braxton said, “which, in relationship, means you relate to me. You will eventually find a part of me in you.”
Contact Taylor Smith with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tayescribe.