In one of his most well-known poems, T.S. Eliot wrote, “I have measured my life in coffee spoons.” It’s no secret the warm relationship writers and coffee share, all you need to do is poke your head in your local coffee shop and observe just how many people there are writing in notebooks or on laptops. I had the opportunity to speak with the creator of A Cup of Keen, Keen Malasarte, a writer and avid coffee lover herself, about that special relationship as well as her own writing, and the inspiring spirit of New York.
YHM: Let’s start with you. Who is Keen Malasarte?
KM: Well, I’m a student, I go to Bergen College, I’m an aspiring writer, but I want to be an educator. I don’t know, it’s interesting you ask me that, because nowadays I feel like everyone’s still trying to find out who they are or what makes you different than anyone else, I mean how do I categorize myself, you know?
YHM: What is it that made you want to create A Cup of Keen?
KM: None other than the simple fact that I’m an avid coffee lover and I write. My name Keen isn’t really an ordinary name, it means “sharp, intellectually acute, or witty” so I mean, how else do I incorporate my love for coffee and my passion for writing? Back in 2013, I had a conversation with my friend, my best friend from California, he called me and he just wanted to catch up and out of nowhere, in the middle of our conversation, he just said “I need my cup of keen.” And I guess it just stuck.
KM: Self-experience. I mean, if you ask any writer and you ask them what makes them write, I guess it’s just second nature, you know? It’s our way of communicating because sometimes we don’t know how to express ourselves openly.
YHM: How long have you wanted to be a writer? Did something just click in your head one day, “This is what I need to be doing?”
KM: It’s hard to say. I think I started dabbling just little notes here and there when I was a freshman in high school. Like I just kept writing and writing and writing. And the first time I put my writing online was on Tumblr when it was a big thing for writers to write and share stories on there and they got a big reaction from people, they actually related.
YHM: Would you say your writing is more fiction or non-fiction?
KM: It’s non-fiction, I just word it in a way that makes it seem not non-fiction. But, no, this has all happened to me.
YHM: Your ten-word-stories remind me of Hemingway’s famous six-word-story, but in your case, you seem more deliberate on capturing an emotion or feeling. What was it that drove you to write these?
KM: Well, they are in fact inspired by Hemingway’s story. I read it my freshman year in college in my English class. My professor started the class with it and asked “what can you get from this? What emotion does it evoke?” That spoke to me. I wanted my writing to create that kind of different interpretation: enjoyable, but invoke different emotions in other people.
KM: I’ve always been fascinated by the aesthetic of coffee shops and how to do it. I barista part-time, but my appreciation for it grew immensely afterward just from how they prepare everything in the morning, waking up at 5 o’clock or even earlier than that, but I was inspired by more of being one of the first people to hunt down every local coffee shop in New York because there’s just so many of them. I’m at 60 right now.
YHM: You seem quite enamored with New York and you capture it beautifully in your photos, whether it be of the cityscape or the more “natural” aspects of the city. What is it about NYC that speaks to you?
KM: Well I’ve lived here for 7 years, I’m a transplant from the Philippines, so it’s not that long, but I appreciate every little corner. New York is so different. All the noise, all the people around you always doing something, it makes you wonder, makes you want to be more, want to be someone worth knowing or just make a name for yourself in such a big city.
YHM: And what is it your future self will be doing?
KM: I’m not sure, but I am hopeful. Like I said, I want to be an educator and I feel in that work environment, could help people with figuring themselves out, something I didn’t really have when I was younger, and it would have been nicer if I had someone like a teacher or someone to mentor me about life.
Eventually, I’d like to publish my work, which I’m actually working on right now. One is a creative non-fiction book and one is a poetry book. For the poetry book, I wanted to share both my photographs and my poetry. There’s this book, I Wrote This About You by a poet on tumblr, where they added their photographs with their poetry and it’s just amazing and it inspired me to write my own.
YHM: I have to ask…what is your favorite cup of coffee?
KM: My favorite type of coffee is…a cappuccino. Dry. Dark and foamy.
By David Grom / Photos: Courtesy of Keen Malasarte