The Bailey Middleton Playlist

The Bailey Middleton Playlist

Autumn Jefferson
Media Staff

Access the full Bailey Middleton playlist here.


I arrive at the Women’s Center ridiculously early to meet with Bailey Middleton, with Got Dumplings tea in hand and butterflies in my stomach. 

Bailey Middleton is talented, insightful, and kind. Without fail, her pieces for Iris are spectacular and moving, and she always has helpful comments and suggestions for fellow interns. In fact, about a year ago, one of Bailey’s poems hooked me onto Iris as a new reader. Today, as a fellow Iris writer, I get to talk to Bailey about community, her music recommendations, and what Iris has brought to our lives.

Susannah: Okay, so I'm not sure if you know this at all. But, your piece "When I Exploded" was the first thing I read from Iris and it was a big part of why I decided to apply. Your writing was so evocative, and the piece made me feel so energized, not just by the electric atmosphere that you created in the piece but also by the drive to write something myself, that could resonate with others. Did you ever imagine having such an impact on other people, or what impact do you hope your writing has on other people? 

Bailey: Oh my gosh, that makes me so happy! I think [I want my writing to be] something that people can resonate with. I feel like a lot of my stories are kind of personal, or based on my personal experiences, but I try to write them in ways that are applicable to other people. I just want people to feel something when they're reading my stuff, whether it's excitement because they really relate to it, or sadness maybe, or even if it's confusion because they don't understand what it is and then they want to read it again. I just want to evoke some sort of emotion in people with my writing.

A song recommendation that will make an impact on you, make you feel something: "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John

Yeah, and so "When I Exploded" is about your experience at a concert and recently you were inspired by The Weeknd in your short story "Stargirl." It seems like music, and maybe other forms of art as well, deeply influence you as a writer. 

I feel like music influences every part of my life. My dad really loves music. He has so many records in our basement from his dad who worked at a radio station. So music has just always been a really big part of my life. And growing up, if we were listening to a Drake song on the radio or something, he would say, you know, this is sampled from someone from my generation. He would get really excited about it….He really instilled in me a love for music. I think that music has just always been a way for me to process things, a way for me to feel at home because I can relate to what the artist is talking about. And since I use writing as an outlet for my own emotions, I [become] the artist and...weave [art and music] together. 

A song recommendation to listen with someone you love: "Can I Kick It?" by A Tribe Called Quest

So when I was looking through your work with Iris, I was struck by the variety in your pieces, both in terms of the content that you were choosing to write about and the form. For example, "Stargirl" is fiction and "When I Exploded" is a personal essay, and your topics range from fast fashion to UVA’s Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. What draws you to your topics or to write in specific forms?

When I first started with Iris, Andi and Addie, who [were] our editor and publisher [last year], really wanted us all to work with different forms. I think the variety of forms is just a way for me to challenge myself. Like with the poems and the interview pieces, I just haven't done a lot of that before. And then the topics… I think I'm just interested in a lot of stuff and get inspired by what I see around me, which is always changing. [For example], a few of the pieces I wrote last year were about the Black student experience and Black faculty members because of the tension with the Homer statue. 

A song recommendation for when you’re figuring out your place in the world: "The Dreamer" by Anderson .Paak ft. Talib Kweli and Timan Family Choir

So you said that Iris challenged you to write in different forms. What other ways has Iris influenced you or helped you grow?

It's really taught me how to write for a specific audience, especially because our cycles are so quick. I feel like everything has to be really intentional. So I think it's taught me how to go in and write for a specific purpose. It helps me narrow down my focus a bit more. When I first started, I struggled with narrowing the focus just because my writing was… not all over the place, but just not super focused all the time. So I think Iris helped me grow in that way. I think that Iris has also helped me grow in my writing and in how I communicate with other people and being really intentional about what I'm saying and why I'm saying it.

A song recommendation for growing and changing: "Real" by Kendrick Lamar ft. Anna Wise

You’ve talked about how your writing has grown since joining Iris. Do you have a favorite piece or pieces that you've written with Iris?

My favorite piece is the love letter I wrote to my friends because that one just made me so happy. It was a way that I got to tell all my friends how much I love them. And then also "The Essence of Time," which was interesting because it was very different from my other pieces and it was a weird and niche concept. Miriella and I were listening to this podcast about time and we were like, "So weird. There's so much to think about." So then I thought, "I'm gonna write a piece about it." That was cool because it was just a random thought that I had that turned into a piece.

A song recommendation to share with your friends: "Crooked Smile" by J. Cole ft. TLC

"The Essence of Time" was such an interesting piece! I think part of what makes Iris so cool is getting to see all of the different ways everyone interprets our themes. I never would have come up with that topic, but it's so thought-provoking. Do you have a favorite piece that someone else has written?”

I think Jasmine's piece, "The Root of My Mother." It was just so beautiful. I think I was reading it during an edit meeting just holding back tears. I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is really amazing." Her piece was really good and really impactful. And then I think Miriella’s piece from this past cycle about her uncle, "death may not oblige me." is also really good… It was super relatable and a perspective on grief that a lot of people don’t talk about.

A song recommendation for after you just finished reading something that made you cry: "Still Dreaming" by Raveena

From what you’ve said, it seems like you're really inspired by the other writers on our team, is that what drew you back to Iris for a second year?

I just really love Iris. I love the environment here. Mary, [our program coordinator], is also such a wonderful human being and has the most amazing ideas and I'm just so thankful that I get to work with her, Miriella, and Jasmine—[our current publisher and editor]. And you and all of our other writers, it's just such an amazing space to be in because everyone is so brilliant and so kind and patient, I just love everyone.

A song recommendation for finding a place to call home: "After the Storm" by Kali Uchis ft. Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins

Finally, considering someone who might be thinking about applying to Iris could be reading this, do you have any advice for someone who might want to work here?

I feel like anyone could work at Iris as long as you're willing to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. As long as you're open to doing things that you haven't done before, and willing to grow a lot as a writer, then I think that anyone can do it.

A song recommendation to hype yourself up before getting out of your comfort zone (and maybe to listen to while applying for Iris?): "ALIEN SUPERSTAR" by Beyoncé