SHE may be coy about whether she found love when she was a student in Cork — but American Jessica Militante certainly fell for the city itself.
“I love how it’s so community-based and how literature and writing is celebrated there,” says the 26-year-old.
We’re discussing affairs of the heart as Jessica is the author of the year’s first Summer Soap, which will run over 12 episodes every day in The Echo on Monday, June 29, and also as a serial online at EchoLive.ie
The subject of her story is speed dating and it’s set in Cork, where Jessica studied until heading home a few months ago.
Now in its fifth year in The Echo, the summer soaps are chosen from work submitted by students of the MA in the creative writing programme at UCC.
Jessica’s soap, called Cork’s Quick Coupler, is about a girl called Julia from Chicago who is attending UCC. Her Cork flatmate and best friend sets her up on a speed dating night to try and help her to find love. But each date is stranger than the one before. Will our heroine find true love?
Jessica, a California native, was the recipient of the inaugural Choctaw Ireland scholarship, which commemorates the connection between the Choctaw and the Irish, forged during the Famine.
On her mother’s side, she is of Choctaw (a Native American tribe), Creek (also Native American) and Irish descent. Her father is of Cuban and Filipino descent.
Jessica did dip her toes in the dating scene in Cork city while she was here — not necessarily for research purposes.
And even though she is of a generation for whom online dating is the norm, she thinks connecting with someone through dating apps is “such a strange experience”.
She adds: “When I was growing up, my parents talked about going out and running into their significant other in real life. I find online dating really weird.”
What does she think of Cork men?
“I love the accent. That’s always a plus. I thought it was really interesting that the guys from UCC all have the same hair cut. (She’s referring to floppy hair worn over a half-shorn head.) I found everyone so friendly. They all want to know about America.”
Not giving away anything about whether she found love in Cork, Jessica did fall in love with the city.
“There are all the different festivals and I loved going to Ó Bheál (the regular poetry evenings in the Long Valley). I really felt at home in Cork. I was so disappointed having to leave early. I hope to return next February for my graduation.”
While the pandemic and lockdown “is kind of crazy”, it is allowing Jessica to focus on her writing. She is working on a collection of short stories for her thesis which is due in September. The stories are inspired by the No One Dies Alone programme in American hospitals.
“It’s a programme whereby people sit with dying patients who don’t have family members. I think it’s interesting. A lot of people don’t think about death if they don’t have to. It can be a time when people want to share their stories to make sure their history is remembered.”
Jessica had planned to volunteer with the programme “but then the pandemic happened”. However, she has interviewed people who have volunteered with the organisation.
Always interested in writing, Jessica’s undergraduate degree is from Stanford University. She majored in English with the emphasis on creative writing. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for seven months.
“I learned about ten Japanese words — all to do with food! The Japanese were all eager to practise their English. I found them incredibly helpful and friendly.”
She has also worked as a second grade teacher in America. Her ideal career path would be to write young adult fiction as well as writing for television.
“All my characters are usually teenagers and young adults in their early to mid-twenties. I have a lot of short stories I could eventually turn into something bigger.
“I really think the young adult genre is important because that’s when people are trying to find themselves. If they read a book about someone similar to them, or even someone different to them, it can help.”
Writing for television is something Jessica would love.
“I’m obsessed with TV shows so a combination of the two would be my dream.”
She binge-watched Normal People which got so much publicity here. The hit drama was about an intense relationship between two students.
“I loved it. I thought it was frustrating but it made me feel a lot of emotions. I was really invested in it.”
Some people say all the best writing these days is on TV and Jessica agrees.
“Even half-hour comedies that you can watch and laugh for a little while in the midst of all the craziness of the world right now are really important.”
Jessica is not a fan of her President, Donald Trump — “I really do not like that man” — and I ask her if he will be re-elected.
“I hope not. I’ll do anything I can that he doesn’t. I really have no idea.
“In his first election, I thought he had no chance and was extremely shocked when he got in.
“I grew up in the Bay area of California which is a very liberal place. You’re around people who think in a similar way to you. And then there’s a whole part of the country that thinks completely the opposite. So it’s hard to gauge.”
As for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations arising from the police killing of African American, George Floyd, Jessica is “really happy to see changes taking place”.
She adds: “I think it should have happened a long time ago. It’s horrible that it took (the deaths) of so many black people, but I’m encouraged to see so many people taking a stand in the Black Lives Matter movement.”