Brian Sonia-Wallace, a poet, recently emerged as the winner of the Mall of America’s Writer-in-Residence Contest, as part of the famous mall’s 25th birthday celebration. Sonia-Wallace has racked up many prestigious residencies on his resume, as pointed out by The New York Times — and while part of it is talent, part of it is also sheer doggedness.
Sonia-Wallace was selected from thousands of entrants to He will “to spend five days deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions.” He plans to write a whopping 125 poems from June 14-18, 2017, which works out to about 3 poems every hour if he works an eight-hour day. He’ll have four nights in a hotel, a $400 gift card to eat and drink, and will receive a modest honorarium.
But Sonia-Wallace has melded art and commerce expertly for some time, racking up fellowships in volume. He reportedly had residencies as a writer, poet, or artist for a handful of other places or companies as well: Amtrak (in 2016), the City of Los Angeles (in 2016), the National Parks System (2015) and Dollar Shave Club (2015), among others.
However, as Matt Stevens points out in a recent article in The New York Times, Sonia-Wallace doesn’t seem to have anything up his sleeve:
“Interviews with Mr. Sonia-Wallace and mall officials uncovered no collusion, conspiracy or cabal. Mr. Sonia-Wallace, a 27-year-old recovering theater nerd, turned out to be disappointingly normal. He seems to be just another guy trying to string together enough work to make a living doing what he loves,” Stevens wrote.
While the poet seems to have relied on raw talent and/or a huge stroke of luck in his career, there are a few things you can take away from his approach to getting the jobs he wants.
Immerse yourself in inspiring work
Sonia-Wallace clearly loves what he does, which makes him able to do a lot of it. As the “RENT Poet,” he writes poetry for people in person at weddings, festivals, business events and more, either by himself, or with a group of poets called Melrose Poetry Bureau.
In September 2014, he “took a crazy challenge,” as he puts it on his website: to solely use the money he earned from writing poems to pay his rent. Sonia-Wallace has crafted poetry for Google, Los Angeles Library Foundation, The Broad Stage and more. His first book came out in 2016.
Keep up the hustle: Apply for everything that looks good
Every professional dream you have won’t pan out, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Many people rule themselves out of the running for jobs even before they apply. They discourage themselves into believing they would never have a chance.
Sonia-Wallace told The New York Times he does the opposite: he understands the reality of the application process and keeps at it anyway.
“For everything on the résumé, there are nine other things I applied to with projects that I was really excited about that never happened,” Sonia-Wallace told the publication.
The difference in his success is that he’s resilient and keeps going, despite the rejections. That helps raise his number of wins.
Stay true to your mission
Using your work to benefit help others can fulfill both you and the people around you. Sonia-Wallace has a popular Instagram.
Sonia-Wallace commented on being named the winner for the Mall of America’s Writer-in-Residence contest in a news release, showing that his life’s work serves a purpose for others— even if it means working on his birthday.
“I want to bring poetry back into people’s everyday lives…We think of poems as this elite art form, but their roots go back to the dawn of self-expression and communication. The typewriter is my hook – it gets people engaged. From there, conversations can flow that awaken the inner storyteller in everyone. I’m excited to bring my model of poetry as a service, as a gift, to help celebrate Mall of America’s birthday. As a bonus, my actual birthday is during the residency, on June 17!” Sonia-Wallace said.
Sonia-Wallace doesn’t see himself as another writer struggling to survive, but as someone whose work could help change the world. Reframe your own work for the good it may do, and it could help you now and well into old age.
Giving your time to others can be good for you.
A 2000 Study in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences found that “older volunteers experienced greater increases in life satisfaction over time as a result of their volunteer hours than did younger adult volunteers, especially at high rates of volunteering. Older adults experienced greater positive changes in their perceived health than did younger adult volunteers.”
Recognize what you bring to the table
Even given the unconventional nature of his work, Sonia-Wallace seems to be aware of the luxuries his standing affords him — and he works hard anyway.
He talked about how he sees his privileges as a jumping-off point to do even better. In an 2016 interview with Medium, Sonia-Wallace examined the advantages he has in life and spoke about how he handles them.
“I’m a young white man, I come from a supportive middle class family, I got a degree without debt, and I worked at a nice white collar job and saved up money for a couple years before embarking on this path. Most of my friends would not be able to do what I do, because they have actual responsibilities. I am allowed to live in blissful poverty like some sort of capitalist monk because of my incredible support network and the way I am perceived in society,” Sonia-Wallace wrote.
Sonia-Wallace has found a way to get paid for satisfying his creative passion.