Panelists from left to right: Julie Altesleben, Justin Coates, and Sam Dylan Finch.
Panelists from left to right: Julie Altesleben, Justin Coates, and Sam Dylan Finch.
Panelists from left to right: Julie Altesleben, Justin Coates, and Sam Dylan Finch.



In celebration of the National Day on Writing, the Writing Program, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Honors Program hosted “Writing in the 21st Century,” a panel discussion featuring UM-Dearborn alumnus Sam Dylan Finch, and panel respondents Julie Altesleben and Justin Coates.

The first to speak during the discussion, Finch graduated from UMD with a degree in anthropology and women’s and gender studies. An activist and freelance writer, he gained worldwide recognition when his blog, Let’s Queer Things Up! went viral in 2014.

Finch spoke about his optimism regarding the myriad of opportunities for contemporary writers.

“I’m optimistic because we are in a historical moment in which the playing field is increasingly diverse, as young writers, queer writers, writers of color have more access to these platforms than they ever have before,” Finch said.

Finch spoke in particular about the profound effect that he believes the Internet has had on the field of writing.

“The Internet — for better, and sometimes for worse — has in a sense, democratized writing. Anyone can publish their writing, anyone can go viral, anyone can leverage social media to build their career in writing, and with online writing leading the charge, millennials are now the driving force behind contemporary writing,” Finch said.

Because of this democratization, voices that were previously marginalized can now be heard, Finch said.

“My optimism for this century of writing, and really this last decade in particular, comes from the fact that I can go online right now and find a viral article or video created by an indigenous woman, a transgender man of color, or a recovering addict and mother of three. While there are certainly still barriers in writing, there is more potential than ever for diverse voices and dynamic storytelling to happen as we reclaim what it means to be a writer and who gets to call themselves a writer.”

Second to speak was Coates, a psychology major at UMD. A gothic horror writer, he has used his career to cope with the trauma that resulted from serving in the military during two deployments to Afghanistan.

Coates recently had his short story, “Breach” published by Flame Tree Publishing, a UK-based independent publisher. Emphasizing the importance of writers remaining persistent, Coates noted that he suffered 32 rejections before he was successful in getting his story published.

“That was hard, the first time someone comes back to you from a larger magazine and says ‘no, this isn’t what we’re looking for,’ and you hear the same thing from somebody 32 times in a row — it can be disheartening,” Coates said. “But, that one time you hear somebody say ‘yes, we’ll take it. Congratulations. We’re gonna print it and send it to you’ — that’s absolutely worth it.”

The third panelist, Julie Altesleben, graduated from UMD with a bachelor of arts in communications and has had a career in print journalism for ten years.

Noting the fact that anyone can publish content online, Altesleben implored aspiring writers to continue to treat the profession as a craft.

“The number one lesson I have learned is: no matter what you’re doing — if you’re writing online, if you’re writing for print — it starts with being real and writing well,” Altesleben said. “You have to write well. Just because you can throw something up on the Internet right away doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be good. You need to learn the craft. You need to learn how to craft a sentence and then break the rule, if you want.”