ODESSA HOTT, 17
Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Odessa Hott has always spent her days inventing new ideas for stories, cooing over a variety of different celebrities, scouring clothing racks for 80s gems, and searching for the next opportunity to host the world's best dance party.
Since she could hold a pen, Hott has been filling notebooks with imaginative stories and thoughts. As the years progressed, she found her fanfiction gaining popularity on websites like Quotev and Wattpad. To this day, she refuses to be ashamed and still writes a few flicks from time to time. In the summer of 2017, Hott accomplished one of her life-long dreams of publishing a book. Richmond Young Writers’ annual program, The Picture Book Project published Melting Tears, a Japanese folktale about an author and her quest to cure one lonely king's melancholy. Hott is involved with Girls For A Change, an organization devoted to empowering Black girls and other girls of color in Central Virginia, and regularly volunteers at The Broad, Richmond's local co-working space for womxn.
Hott studies American Sign Language, Japanese, and Korean at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. She looks forward to learning from the other bright participants at this year's conference for the International Congress of Youth Voices and hopes they will learn something from her in return.
An Original Folk Tale
by Odessa Hott
High in the mountains of ancient Japan, there lived a small girl made completely of rice paper. Her name was Shousetsu, which, in Japanese, means ‘story.’ Shousetsu was a storyteller and a fine one at that. She thought up all sorts of tales; stories about love, about war, about life and death. There was no topic that she hadn’t written about, no ending that she feared.
Alas, Shousetsu kept her marvelous stories all to herself, though not because she wished to, but because she was made of delicate rice paper, she absolutely could not get wet. Rain fell nearly every day and every night in the mountains where she lived. Her exposure to the rain had slowly begun to take its toll. The humidity warped the tips of her fingers and her hair was now slightly rain-speckled, stained from the few times the wind had snatched the protection of her hood from her head. Her feet were wrinkled from the dampness that would occasionally sneak inside her boots. However, she would brave the storms and travel down to a nearby village so she could tell her stories. Because she was small, her voice could not easily reach the ears of the bustling passersby. Even when she was noticed, people cared not for what she had to say. Eventually, she ceased her excursions to the village and stayed in her house all alone. She was terribly sad, for she believed that no one would ever want to hear her tales.
Meanwhile, far away in a golden palace, a king ruled. The years had not been kind to him. He had fallen victim to a crippling melancholy. His eyes were seldom without tears. No one could think of a reason for his suffering, for he had a happy childhood. Yet, as time passed, his responsibilities grew and grew, weighing down on his shoulders. He barely had time to care for himself anymore because he was so busy worrying about the kingdom he ruled. Isolation and loneliness had become his closest friends.
When asked what would deliver him from his misery, he said, “If only someone would tell me a sincere story to bring some light into my heart, I might smile again.” And so, a notice was issued throughout all Japan: anyone who could tell the king a story and bring him happiness would be rewarded. Soon, a line of people from every corner of the kingdom, young and old, stretched for miles outside the palace gates.
As each person told their tale, the king barely paid any attention. He sunk further into his throne. He knew that all the people wanted was to claim the reward, so their stories were haphazard and careless. Finally, everyone was sent away without so much as a word from the king.
Now, high on the mountain where the rain still fell in thick, wet drops, Shousetsu sat in her little house alone, composing a new story. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew in from the east, rattling the tiny windows of her house. She looked up to see a curious slip of paper plastered to the glass. She scurried over to inspect it. Her eyes grew wide as she read the king’s notice. Something inside her little paper body awoke. She thought to herself that, finally, someone, might need and want to hear her stories.
Promptly, she buckled her satchel for the journey, bundling up to protect her delicate body from the rain. She knew this expedition would be dangerous for she had never traveled so far, but she believed it was well worth the risk.
She traveled for thirteen nights and twelve days. The journey was long and difficult, but she had some help along the way. When it rained, the trees bowed over with their leaves sheltering her. Poor Shousetsu narrowly missed being drenched when an old woman thoughtlessly discarded a basin of water from her window. Fortunately, a dog sped by chasing after a cat, knocking her out of the way. A few days before she would meet her journey’s end, provisions ran dry. She had nothing to eat. The berry bushes whispered to her, offering gifts of fruit, just enough to save her from starvation.
Finally, on the thirteenth night, beneath a blanket of stars, she arrived at the palace gates, cold and weary. A triumphant smile came to her paper lips. She pulled the bell string and moments later a guard ushered her to the throne room where the king sat stone-faced. As soon as Shousetsu saw him, her heart wept.
She stood small and unnoticed in front of him. She opened her mouth and began to tell her tale. The king did not look up. Yet as she went on, his posture straightened; first a little, then a little more. Shousetsu told of a lonely ruler, who only wished for someone to ask him one simple question; what was it that made his heart so heavy?
The king did not speak when she finished. He stared at her, his eyes brimming with tears. Shousetsu knew that she had failed. But slowly, the king stood and approached her, bowing to meet her height. He smiled and took her in his arms. All he could say as he cried from his happiness was a quiet thank you.
Shousetsu did not try to wriggle free to avoid his tears. Joy welled in her little paper heart. And as she melted away, her smile only grew.