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Alumni Profile: Aislinn Brophy AB '17 (author, actor)

June 1, 2024

Alumni Profile: Aislinn Brophy AB '17 (author, actor)

Aislinn Brophy AB '17 is a queer writer and theater artist whose work seeks to explore hard truths about our world with empathy and joy. They graduated from Harvard University with an A.B. in Theater, Dance & Media. As an actor, they have appeared on stages all across the east coast. Their debut YA novel, HOW TO SUCCEED IN WITCHCRAFT, was published September 2022, and their sophomore YA novel, SPELLS TO FORGET US, is due for publication in September 2024.

Aislinn Brophy’s debut novel HOW TO SUCCEED IN WITCHCRAFT, partially inspired by their journey at Harvard, tells an all-too-relatable tale of a young girl struggling under immense pressure to succeed in a rigorous academic setting. The twist that sets Aislinn’s main character apart from the rest of us is that she also happens to be a witch. 

But let’s back up to how Aislinn came to write this incredible debut novel after graduating from Harvard in the first class of the Theater, Dance, and Media concentration in 2017. Throughout high school, Aislinn was a musical person, playing instruments in both band and orchestra. They also began their creative writing in high school, crediting their start to fan fiction as the way they really learned how to write stories.

When Aislinn got to Harvard, they weren't really interested in pursuing a classical music career. But when they auditioned on a whim for a few of the shows on campus and started performing theater, they realized that was what they wanted to do for the rest of their life. “I did a hard pivot and became a theater person,” Aislinn laughs. With their TDM degree, Aislinn now works as an actor in the Boston area. And between those performances, and during the pandemic, they found time to write their debut novel: HOW TO SUCCEED IN WITCHCRAFT.

“The book is highly related to the academic rat race,” Aislinn explains. “What the main character is willing to sacrifice to achieve her own American Dream. Class, working to get the life you want, leverage opportunities, and the performance that you have to do for gatekeepers to have them fund your dreams.” HOW TO SUCCEED IN WITCHCRAFT is about a high-achieving witch who has to decide between getting the scholarship she desperately needs and exposing the toxic teacher who is responsible for awarding that very scholarship. For Aislinn, the key part of this book was “being able to talk both about how much I love theater, and also the things that are toxic about theater, and especially theater education.” 

Throughout their theater education, Aislinn frequently observed that certain negative experiences were enacted on young people in those spaces, and those experiences would affect their perception of both themselves and the industry. Whether or not it’s really true, “They’re forced to swallow a pill of ‘this is how the world works’,” Aislinn says. “That’s part of what I was trying to explore with it: the balance between joy and lightness and fun, and the difficult situations that are happening. For example, how young women of color are pitted against each other for very limited seats at the table, as if their enemy is each other, when in fact their true enemy is the system.” 

Now, Aislinn is working on their sophomore novel, to be released in September. SPELLS TO FORGET US is a YA contemporary fantasy novel set in Boston about a magical world where magic is a secret from regular humans. They gave us a teaser: “The main characters are a girl who is a witch, and a regular person, and they meet and fall in love. The witch has to cast a spell so if they break up the non-magical person will forget about her. They break up and the spell goes wrong, they both forget about each other, and it’s an endless cycle of meet cutes.” Oh, love! And it sounds like this could also make an amazing feature film adaptation in the future…

The writing process for second novels can sometimes be challenging for writers. But Aislinn developed a good system for writing and pushed through that supposed sophomore slump with ease. “I am spaghetti at the wall at the beginning,” Aislinn laughs. “I start working from a list perspective. My books frequently have an overambitious amount of things. Usually, they have at least one major theme that doesn’t end up being there. I come up with the pitch line early and expand from there.  A lot of things are not incredibly fleshed out when I start…they’re skeletons and I fill out the skeletons with colors, shapes and flesh that will be interesting to me.” Aislinn uses the Save the Cat beat sheet, which should sound familiar to all TV writers, to fill out the novel’s major events, and then drafts from there. They make it sound easy!

Aislinn’s pivot into novel writing from their creative work as a theater artist came fairly naturally to them. “All of my artistic work feels very related because it’s all funneled through my lens of the world,” they explain. “I bring elements of my craft into one another; snappy dialogue is very fun and a strong element in books for teens specifically. When I’m writing scenes, I’m basically writing a play, and then filling in what’s happening in the world. I’m acting out my own lines, and then I shoot for somewhat naturalistic dialogue with a little bit of a punch up.”

Aislinn aims to use that snappy dialogue to give students language for what they experience in their young adulthood. “In my work, I tend to be reflecting on experiences that I’ve had and things that I’ve found frustrating about the way the world is set up. The reason my book is on the academic rat race is because I’d already lived that…I didn’t have good analysis on how that was affecting me at the time, so now that I’m on the other side of that experience, I’m trying to hand teens tools to reflect on how these systems are impacting them.” 

Aislinn finds this important in their work because so many young people lack a voice with which to speak up in toxic spaces. Aislinn’s work aspires to empower students to use their voices. “Writing for young adults is inherently an activist thing to be doing,” they say, “because trying to impact youth is one of the greatest changemaking things you can do in the world.”

Aislinn also has advice for those young people about pursuing an artistic career. “For people trying to work professionally, it is important to try and identify what success actually looks like for you, and go for that, and continually try to reevaluate what success looks like for you,” they say.  “As you start working, your goalposts will continue to move. Try to celebrate yourself at every level and for every win. A lot of accolade-based achievements are so far out of your control. You can try to put yourself on a path towards getting those accolades, but the sooner that you can find a thing that’s specific to yourself that you actually want to do, the closer you’ll be to being fulfilled and actually happy. What is the root of what you want?” And once you know what you want out of life, you can start on the fun part: working to make that dream a reality.

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