Meet a Wavemaker: Cynthia Lu
October 9, 2020

In celebration of Bow Seat’s 10th anniversary of the Ocean Awareness Contest, our “Meet a Wavemaker” series is showcasing the young artists, educators, and collaborators who have helped turn this annual arts competition into a global community of creators and changemakers working on behalf of our blue planet.

Many students participate in the Ocean Awareness Contest year after year, developing their creative skills and strengthening their voices as environmental advocates. Meet writer Cynthia Lu, a high school student in Belmont, Massachusetts, who earned a 2019 Gold Award in Poetry for “sea butterflies,” as well as the top poetry honor in our Healthy Whale, Healthy Ocean Challenge for “six hundred.”

In addition to Bow Seat, Cynthia’s writing has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and Bennington College. Her favorite writers include Ocean Vuong and Kazuo Ishiguro, and regular publications she recommends are The New Yorker and Adroit Journal. At her high school, Cynthia is involved with the math and science team, UNICEF club, and the newspaper. When she is not studying and reading poetry, she can be found painting, baking, or searching for the very best ice cream in Boston.

How long have you been creating? When did you first become interested in the arts?

I grew up reading everything from the backs of cereal boxes to my father’s worn copies of classics, and spent more weekends than I can remember wandering through art museums, but it wasn’t until after four years of studio art classes and a poetry mentorship that I began to think of myself as an artist, and to fully realize both the freedom and responsibility that the title holds. I’m also very interested in the intersection between writing and painting as mediums of expression—for example, there’s definitely a strong visual element to poetry, where paying attention to how the words fall on the page isn’t quite so different from making brushstrokes on a canvas.

When did you first become interested in protecting the ocean and environment? Is there a special place, species, or person that inspires your work?

Becoming involved with Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs was actually my first introduction to an organized initiative for environmental activism—before, I had always been very passive in my efforts, not out of a lack of urgency, but of not knowing where to start, and it wasn’t until being exposed to the voices of artists and activists that I found my own. The movement still holds so much potential, and I’m constantly impressed by not only the technical ability of creators involved with environmental work, but also their innovation. There’s a German artist called Nils Udo who creates his pieces using solely natural materials, placing them within nature so that they become part of the landscape—which I think is really beautiful because we as humans have stolen so much beauty from our environment, and I try to channel a similar sense of organic cohesion in my poetry.

“My experience with poetry in particular has emphasized the form’s urgency and precision—elements that enhance its effectiveness in bringing attention to such pressing environmental concerns.”

How did participating in the Ocean Awareness Contest affect your attitudes toward our ocean? Towards using art as a tool for advocacy?

Most of all, I continue to be amazed by the diversity and complexity of our oceans, so much so that I often feel my work is not enough to do it justice. At the same time, however, I think the scope contained within a piece of art offers a personal, humanizing lens to issues that seem incredibly impersonal, and it can serve as a point of tangible connection between a creator and an audience who might hold different values and come from different experiences—rendering metaphors and images powerful tools for advocacy. My experience with poetry in particular has emphasized the form’s urgency and precision—elements that enhance its effectiveness in bringing attention to such pressing environmental concerns.

How is climate change affecting your community?

In my recent summers on Cape Cod, I’ve heard locals discussing the uptick in violent, unexpected storms, while I can’t help but feel that the shoreline looks different with every passing year. At school, I’ve been inspired by many of my peers speaking up in the ways they know best—posting on social media, starting new clubs, and attending climate strikes. I’m glad to see that this generation is attuned to the responsibility and impact we have, both through our own direct actions and in making choices that support sustainable companies and environmentally-conscious politicians.

What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak up and create positive change on issues important to them?

The process of learning and advocating is a gradual, consistent one, so don’t be afraid to take initiative after doing some initial research—use social media to connect with leaders and organizations you admire, reach out as a volunteer for programs in your area, and look for events where you can meet others involved in the movement. Try to find your niche as an artist, a speaker, a writer—it can be easy to feel vulnerable, but no one is alone in this.

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Meet a Wavemaker: Cynthia Lu

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