California School of the Arts

She may have lost her hair, but definitely not her creativity

Some know her by the small cat ears she wears. Others know her for her detailed line drawings, smooth calligraphy, and bright personality. For those of us in the Creative Writing Conservatory, we know her as a writer of poetry that crawls under your skin in all the best ways.

summer storm

by olivia lee


dark around the edges

a summer storm advances

glass beads splattering upon

bent heads of browning hedges.


sludgy mirrors overflow on

rusty legs of pastel chairs

who sink beneath the surface

while the earthworms gasp for air.


yellow rain boots slick with water

muddy trousers caked with weeds

beneath the wayward porch-floor

where the idle maggots feed.


and when you walk among the roses

with your garden gloves in hand,

pry apart the bushes

you’ll find lawn shears

tinted red.


Olivia Lee, a freshman in the Creative Writing Conservatory at California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley (CSArts-SGV), sought solace in drawing and writing after being diagnosed with alopecia totalis, an incurable autoimmune disease that attacked her body’s hair follicles that caused her to lose all of her hair.

“I struggled with a lot of identity stuff and was apprehensive about going to school because I thought people would tease me and most of the doctors I went to didn’t help,” Lee says, remembering previous experiences at her former school where other students would try to tear off her wig and call her a “bald hoe”.

Always one to look on the positive side, Lee reflects that her condition taught her not to assume and made her slower to judge.

I have this really awful memory of me in second grade seeing this girl without hair and saying loudly, “Is it a boy or a girl?” I remember that when I first learned that alopecia had no cure I kept going back to that moment and really wanting to rethink the way I saw other people, because I suddenly realized how much it’d affect me if someone made that remark behind my back.”

Despite those struggles, however she chose to channel her energy to finding herself and her voice through art and writing. Drawing inspiration from the world around her, she began developing the skills needed to become a painter with words and a creator of worlds with her markers and inking pens.

As a child, museums sparked her curiosity and drew her into art and writing. “A lot of those museums were art museums like the Getty or the Skirball and I got a lot of fun out of those,” Lee says. “Afterwards I would be inspired to draw when I got home, which then turned into this tradition of bringing a sketchbook everywhere I went. I still dig through mounds of drawing paper and find 5-year-old renderings of say, The Blue Boy from the Huntington gallery.”

Aside from writing, Olivia is an artist who creates drawings like these.

Listening to stories that varied from history to engineering to fantasy, Lee found herself exposed to a wide array of interests and authorial voices that would eventually help her find her own voice as a writer.

My favorite author right now is Edward Carey, and his Observatory Mansions and Heap House trilogy really influenced me the most,” she says. “He has a way of finding the strangest qualities of people and recording them in a way that is simultaneously true to human nature and yet beautiful at the same time.”

Most characters from both art and writing come from observations and for Lee, it was no different. Integrating her talents, Lee works to create characters that contained truth, oddities, and beauty as her favorite author had done. Literally drawing from the world around her, she lets her imagination turn strangers into three-dimensional people that have desires waiting to be fulfilled and stories to tell. Her openness and non-judgemental approach to others allows her not only to create characters and stories that could speak to anyone and everyone, but also to inspire and be inspired by her peers.

I think the most rewarding part of the experience is probably getting feedback and sharing ideas with other writers and artists…I like to hear about things I can improve within my work because it’s always good to know that people care enough to want you to get better. It’s also amazing to realize that by sharing your ideas with someone, you’ve given them inspiration of their own,” Lee reflects.

To that end, Lee has plans to share a love for poetry with other students at the Arcadia Public Library this spring and inspire other students to observe and reflect upon the constantly changing world around them. Having felt the influence of words firsthand and the ways art can inspire her, she too is showing us how her art and words can make us look closer and better appreciate everything and everyone around us. Lee’s journey reminds us all that we are defined more by our attitude and how we use our talents to inspire others around us rather than the uncontrollable circumstances that may dictate our physical appearance.

Check out more of her work at her Instagram: @armadillowonder and her blog: