Tess Kelly, 17

Rachel Tess Kelly is an activist, sister, and writer from Cleveland, Ohio who practices Reform Judaism. Even though she lives in one of the largest Jewish communities in the United States, Kelly still experiences misinformation and animosity based on her religion. She responds with education about the different types of Judaism and encourages awareness of the use of misconceived labels. Kelly attributes her ambitions to improve the world through language and shared experiences to Lou Stokes, who was a cherished friend of the Kelly family, a community figure in Cleveland, and an inspiring social justice advocate.

Descriptions are what Kelly loves best about writing—conjuring images and emotions for her readers to evoke scenes, images, and characters. In 2016, Kelly placed third in the Scenario Writing regional competition and her short story published by Teen Ink was voted Best Science Fiction for a month. Kelly prefers to perform most of her work, showcasing her voice in many stand up poetry events in Cleveland.

Kelly believes in the goodness of all people but is alarmed by the lack of empathy in our world. She sees a great danger in the oversimplification of one’s opponents, identifying the failure to recognize humanity in one’s fellow man as one of the biggest issues in today’s world. She hopes that, through writing and sharing experiences, she can open minds and spread optimism.




an excerpt from the novel where the cathedral went

By Tess Kelly

Mielikki says that when birds die Where The Cathedral Went, they do not fall out of the sky. They simply hover where they sit, like fish. This is impossible on Earth, because Earth has things like gravity and physics and logic. These concepts hold no weight or water Where The Cathedral Went.

Mielikki says that dead birds are common there, because the air is heavier than the air on Earth, so the pressure slams into their little bird skeletons and their little birds veins pop and their little birds hearts implode. Where The Cathedral Went contains a forest of misshapen bird corpses, suspended in the sky as if strung on the set of a stage play. But they are not suspended, they are floating. Mielikki says that it is haunting at night, when their dead eyes glow between the trees.

Mielikki says that she has plucked a bird from the air on occasion, and they are floppy, broken creatures with fragile, deformed wings. She held them to her bosom and pet their shattered skulls then dropped them to the dirt. But the birds did not stay on the ground. They would rise right back up to their previous position and wait for something that would never come. Mielikki suspects that they float because they anticipate their resurrection, the day when the air will fluffen and they will be filled with life again. But Mielikki says that day will never come. “Where The Cathedral Went is a wonderful haven for artists,” says Mielikki, “but it is hell for birds.”

I dream I may fluffen the skies. It is one of those grand goals of mine, one of those things which is likely unattainable, but worth working towards. It’s a goal like Winning The Nobel Prize In Literature or Becoming A Talented Gardener. They are things I want to do, but I probably won’t. The list of such things is long and winding, but somewhere on it is ReFluffening The Air Where The Cathedral Went So That The Birds Can Come Alive. I have no inkling of how I could accomplish such an ambitious task, the objective to revive a heavy atmosphere. Do I throw fine-ground sugar and cotton fluff into the sky? Do I puff out my cheeks and blow at the heavens until the clouds burst? Or need I some magnificent invention to push soft firmament into the ozone like ribbons? And perhaps I shall never Grow A Bonsai Tree or Win The Nobel Prize. Perhaps I shall never figure out how to Fluffen Skies. Still, I suppose, worth working towards.