The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘women and creativity’ Category

The literary community has lost a brilliant playwright, poet and visionary–Ntozoke Shange has died. I am quite sad.

I discovered her work in college and was transfixed by it.

Two of my favorite novels of hers include Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo, a novel about three African American women who are sisters and their path of creative self-discovery and Betsey Brown, a historical novel that chronicles what desegregation was like for an African American girl in the 7th grade in St. Louis, Missouri.

Shange wrote poetry, plays, children’s books, and novels, leaving us a rich corpus of work.

I took a workshop with her in my early 20s that was truly transformative and gave me courage and inspiration that I drew on decades later. Her work influenced a whole generation of women of color creatives. She will be missed.

Read more about her here.

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Mariah Wheeler has had the grand privilege of living, working, and playing, with artists for the last twenty-four years. She represents a life of “art at last,” having invented her own muse-inspired career later in life.

At age 58, Mariah opened the Joyful Jewel, a 300-square foot art gallery in the small, but vibrant town of Pittsboro, North Carolina where I reside. By the age of 61, Mariah had moved the Joyful Jewel to a 2,000-square-foot space, which currently sells the work of 170 local artists. The Joyful Jewel has become a destination to explore, marvel over and buy works of art.

Her deep passion for art and supporting artists has enriched the community. She believes that everyone has at least one creative gene, and that it is never too late to start developing it!

Over the past several years, Mariah has nurtured her own creative spark to write. Her new book Art at Last: It’s Never Too Late to Create has recently been published by Lystra Books. Reading Art at Last will convince you that “It’s never too late to create!” These inspiring memoirs are of thirteen artists who began their careers late in life and became successful.

I’m delighted to welcome Mariah Wheeler to The Practice of Creativity.

 

-Why did you write Art at Last? What’s in store for readers?

I started in my own art so late in life.  I found so much joy and pleasure in something that I never expected or thought about doing before it happened to me. I wondered who else had found this amazing quest at retirement age, too. As I began to ask people, I heard inspiring stories from people with diverse backgrounds and in a variety of media. To a person, when asked, what they are doing now that they never thought they would do, they said “Be an artist.”  I wanted to share the stories in hopes that members of the general population would be willing to take this challenge themselves.  I don’t expect many to strive for the level of perfection or dedication as those in the book Art at Last but know, without a doubt, that focusing on creative pursuits can greatly enrich anyone’s life.

-How did this project stretch you? What did you learn about yourself as an editor while working on this collection?

I learned that writing and publishing a book is not a short-term project. I found that I was perfectly capable of working on this anyway, until it was done!  It was a labor of love, yet one that surprised me in many ways. The biggest surprise was how many mistakes I could make, as even through ten or fifteen revisions, I still found things that needed to be changed! I really thought I was more careful than that – a bit of a letdown. Just getting the book in a format for publication had many challenges, from obvious things like making sure that the flow of the pages made sense, to unexpected troubles in getting the page numbers on the right edge of the page. I found that the time needed after writing the book was no longer than the time afterward in getting it ready for publication.

-Where does someone who wants to pursue an artistic path, but keeps hearing their inner critic tell them that they are “too old”, begin?

The only thing I really can say to the common problem of getting beyond the inner critic is just to do it anyway. Don’t let yourself think about what the product looks like at first, just keep doing something. Like they often say to writers, do your morning pages – these are not for publication, and the art is not for showing others or for sale – but they get you in the habit of creating. You WILL meet your Muse. When you set that critic aside, you may want to try several different media until one just grabs you and makes you pay attention to it.  That’s the one to keep doing.

-In Art at Last you declare that art can change the world. What can you share with us about the transformative power of art?

One of the biggest things that art can do is bring new ways of looking at problems.  This may change the world for the person creating the art, and when shared can affect the larger community. This happens even when we aren’t doing art, such as later in time, to answer problems or change the world. I have a hard time knowing how to explain it, but I think you get in touch with the Muse, the Divine, the Collective Unconscious, whatever word you use.  It’s a place that is outside of everyday consciousness, and once you have gone there, it’s easier the next time to get there. Maybe it’s like a dream that tells you about something you hadn’t yet seen in your life. I think of it as insight that comes at us sideways, as Rumi says, it enters from the window rather than the door.

-What’s your next creative project? What are you working on right now?

I have been doing research on another book.  I’m not sure the format, maybe historical fiction.  I want to write about the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (who I have always thought I was related to) who lived 1850 – 1919, and had a very interesting life.  She wrote “Poems of Passion” which created a bit of a stir in her time, was a New Thought pioneer, and was very very prolific.  Her best known poem begins “Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone . . . “

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Similar to my suggestion for other types of creative expression, just do it! There is no time like the present. You have nothing to lose and much to gain. This is true whether you do it just for yourself or in hopes of a larger audience. You may not know what you want to do with your writing, but you can still begin.

Mariah Wheeler has had the grand privilege of living, working, and playing, with artists for the last twenty-four years.  She represents a life of “art at last,” having invented her own muse-inspired career later in life.

She is the owner of the Joyful Jewel Gallery in Pittsboro, North Carolina. The Joyful Jewel is dedicated to bringing the spirit of creativity to all, artists and patrons alike.  They offer “local art, fresh from the heart” in a wide variety of media, styles, and prices, each creation made with care, skill and inspiration.

Mariah, along with poet Sheridan Bushnell, conceived of the idea of inviting writers to come to the gallery and write about art. Their idea developed into the much anticipated annual ‘Vision and Voice’ event where writers are asked to read what they wrote after their visit and the corresponding artists are asked to display their objects and say a few words about the art-making process.

Find out more about Mariah by visiting her at The Joyful Jewel. Pick up her book at the Joyful Jewel.

*She would prefer folks not get her book from Amazon because it isn’t the same quality, and it is also more expensive. She is more than happy to mail a book to anyone who asks for one and can call with credit card info. or would mail a check. The book is $28.50, with tax for NC $30.42 and mailing is $2.  She can be contacted via email or phone through The Joyful Jewel.

Georgann Eubanks is a true Renaissance person. She is the author of the Literary Trails series commissioned by the North Carolina Arts Council and published by UNC Press. She is a writer, teacher, and consultant with more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector.

I met Georgann many moons ago through my writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson. Georgann is welcoming and super supportive of new and emerging writers. Indeed, she has been nurturing writers all over the state. Eubanks has taught creative writing as a guest artist in public schools and prisons, at UNC-Chapel Hill, and served as the writing coach for the William C. Friday Fellows for 17 years. Eubanks also served for 20 years as Director of the Duke University Writers’ Workshop, a summer writing program for adults.

Today she directs the Table Rock Writers Workshop, held annually in Little Switzerland, NC. Eubanks has published short stories, poems, reviews, and profiles in many magazines and journals including Oxford American, Bellingham Review, Southern Review, Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and North American Review.

I’ve been interested in the creative life Georgann has cultivated and have wanted to feature her here for some time. As soon as I found out about the topic of Geogann’s new book, The Month of Their Ripening: North Carolina Heritage Foods through the Year, I asked for an interview. Food is serious business in the South. Food as a theme knits together culture, community, economics, and tradition. And, as someone who has lived here for more than fifteen years, I have become a student of the wonderful food traditions that mark this state. There’s so much to learn! Gardeners, foodies, historians and everyone in between will enjoy this book. The Month of Their Ripening is a real contribution to the history and culture of North Carolina.

I am delighted to welcome Georgann Eubanks to The Practice of Creativity.

Why did you write The Month of Their Ripening? What’s in store for readers?

Photographer Donna Campbell and I had so much fun working on the Literary Trails Series for the NC Arts Council and UNC Press (three books that took 10 years to complete), we realized we had developed an essential habit of travel and sleuthing out stories across the state. We wanted more! Around the same time, the fig tree that I had planted in 2006 in the side yard of my Carrboro condo had begun to produce prodigious fruit. Season after season I kept thinking I wanted to write about the mysteries of fresh figs—an edible memory for me from my youth. I started trying to list other foods as fragile and delicious as fresh figs, and soon Donna and I had a plan to eat our way across North Carolina, collecting stories from growers and fishmongers, chefs and scientists who knew about the twelve foods I ended up picking for the new book.

What’s in store for readers are twelve chapters that you can read totally out of order. Some themes do arise as the book moves through the year from January to December, but you can pick up the story in whatever month it might be when you start reading or begin with a food you are curious about. The chapters unfold just as the stories did for me in my research, including both the history of a particular food and the people who bring it to market. It is a culinary journey which I hope is a fun read.

The foods selected are a bit uncommon in that they are so perishable and not always in the grocery store—foods such as soft-shell crab, persimmons, wild ramps that grow only in the mountains, shad which only swim up our rivers from the ocean in early spring, and scuppernongs which are North Carolina’s official state fruit. The first chapter is about snow, which you definitely can’t buy in a grocery, and which, when it falls, usually makes us all a little crazy in North Carolina. Making snow cream is a highly variable practice among Tar Heels, and the farther east you go in the state, the more excited the consumers get about their recipes because of the rarity of the prime ingredient.

What’s your process like when you work on a book?

I take copious notes as I do my research, and one thing usually leads to another. This book involves a good bit of library research ahead of our travels to meet the experts. Understand: I am a happy eater, but I not trained in agriculture or food science or the culinary arts, or even as a historian, so I mostly brought my ignorance and curiosity to this book and set out to learn as much as I could from the long history and literature on these foods. Then I began my original research by meeting a range of contemporary growers, nursery owners, dairy goat farmers, fishermen and fishmongers, and foragers. In the case of oysters—the last chapter—I studied a bit about aquaculture, since North Carolina is developing a nascent industry in oyster cultivation. I learned so much! I tried to think of my readers all the way along, anticipating questions and trying to convey the sights, textures, tastes, and fabulous array of North Carolina accents I heard in our travels. I hope people will be curious enough to visit some of the locations we visited across the state.  And the next time they bite into a slice of cantaloupe or an heirloom apple, they might do so with a bit more appreciation for what they are eating and how it figures in our collective history as North Carolinians.

What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching North Carolina’s heritage foods?

Several themes emerged from the avalanche of interesting tidbits.  One is that according to the food sellers I interviewed, contemporary food shoppers and restaurant goers always tend think that bigger is better. They want the biggest soft-shell crab, the heaviest cantaloupe, the fattest scuppernongs.  But the truth is, bigger is not always better. As the octogenarian Miss Clara Brickhouse told me as she lifted up a plastic container of her best bronze scuppernongs from Columbia, NC, “A quart is a quart, honey.  And the smaller ones is sweeter.”

You manage to pack a lot into your day! You produce documentaries, consult, blog and teach workshops. How do these different activities fuel your creativity?

Some activities pay the bills and thus help free up time for the creative projects that don’t pay for themselves. But in the end, all my work involves the same activities. I am always listening, paying attention to what’s going on around me, recording other people’s words, and trying to recreate an experience–either on the page or in video–for others to read or watch and thus share in the story. My fundamental goal, no matter what the activity, is to show rather than tell—not to over-analyze or judge but to move toward a greater understanding and compassion for who we are as humans and how we can be motivated to improve what needs improving and preserve and protect what is most precious around us.

What’s your next writing project? What are you working on right now?

I am always working on new ideas and making research trips for my blog, foodpilgrim.tumblr.com, which is great fun and a way to extend the research and food sampling we did on The Month of Their Ripening. Donna Campbell is the lead on a commissioned documentary about the late Kenneth Paul Block, who was arguably the most important fashion illustrator of the 20th century—a fascinating story we are gathering together. I am involved in planning a range of activities in 2019 in eastern NC, associated with the 25th anniversary of Pocosin Arts School of Fine Craft, where I serve on the board of directors. I am helping to launch a new leadership program for innovative young North Carolinians through the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. As for the next book, I have several ideas, but I’m not quite ready to say what might rise to the top. I am mostly seeking more opportunities to speak about The Month of Their Ripening because I really enjoy discussing this work in different contexts, and this book is a natural for gardening groups, food lovers, environmental organizations, in addition to the usual book groups, book stores, and libraries.

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Like many writers, I was drawn to the practice and the craft of writing out of a need to tell my own story and try to make sense of it—at first in fiction, later in poetry, and then I discovered non-fiction and the power of real stories that are not my own. In the last 20 years, I have learned more about myself by listening to others. So if you are a writer reading this blog and you are feeling very stuck in your own material, or very afraid of your own material, consider using your curiosity to write what you don’t know. Pick a topic that you are curious about and see what you can learn from someone else and try to make that person and their circumstances come alive on the page. It’s good practice. And practice is what we all must do, all the time. No writer ever arrives.

Georgann Eubanks is a writer, teacher, and consultant with more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Since 2000 she has been a principal with Donna Campbell in Minnow Media, LLC, an Emmy-winning multimedia production company that primarily creates independent documentaries for public television.

A graduate of Duke University, Eubanks is also a former president of Arts North Carolina, a former chair of the NC Humanities Council, and is one of the founders of the North Carolina Writers Network. She is the current president of the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association and serves on the board of Pocosin Arts in Columbia, NC. Her current book, The Month of Their Ripening: North Carolina Heritage Foods through the Year, was just released by UNC Press.

Go visit her:

WEBSITE: georganneubanks.net

BLOG: foodpilgrim.tumblr.com

WORKSHOPS: minnowschool.com

 

I got an idea and it wouldn’t let me go this weekend. If you know anything about some of my writing projects, you know that I’m pretty interested in hair, and its role and meaning in our beauty and adornment practices.

I loved the creativity of Cyndi Lauper’s hair of the 1980s.

 

I’ve always loved the way Grace Jones has cut and styled her hair.

My sci-fi novella, Reenu-You is about what happens to a community when a virus is seemingly transmitted through a “natural” hair care product. In this Inspirations and Influences essay I wrote for Book Smugglers Publishing, I explore why hair and cultural ideas about hair fascinate me.

I have worn braided styles like this one.

 

Diane Ross was known for very thick and gorgeous mane.

During my search for submission opportunities, I stumbled upon this call for poems about hair for an upcoming anthology. Hair poems? How cool! I have many other projects in my queue to finish and write, but this call stuck with me.

Intrigued, I pondered, puttered, and made some notes. I thought about Bea, a beautician, and one of my favorite characters in a novel that is part of the Reenu-You “universe”, though not yet published. I’ve always loved her voice and her inner life.

In the back of my mind, I was also still mulling over the panel “Writing To Play” from last month’s North Carolina Writers Conference. (see more here about this super cool volunteer organization that hosts a great low-key conference and my becoming an invited member. They are different from the North Carolina Writers Network.) The panel was about cross-fertilization—what fiction writers and poets can learn from playwrights and vice versa. It was an impressive panel moderated by Howard Craft; panelists included Barbara Presnell, Nathan Ross Freeman, June Guralnick and Pat Riviere-Seel. Several panelists discussed having their poetry and/or fiction adapted into theatre productions. Both poets and fiction writers remarked how sound, dialogue and character operated differently across various genres.

Yesterday, I pulled out Bea’s first person narrative and began stripping it down and rearranging it. I thought about how a beautician views herself and her trade might work well as a persona poem. I adore persona poems and like to occasionally try my hand at them.

Here’s snippet from the poem, tentatively titled, ‘When the Beautician Thinks of Herself as a Healer’.

  I am a healer,
a modern day shaman
whose tools
are metal flat irons,
big pink rollers,
slippery, translucent gels,
and hair oils
that smell like
exotic fruits
from faraway lands.

I loved that first line in its fictional form and I love it as a first stanza! I’m having great fun playing which is the most important thing when one experiments. Also, the lesson for me is that if I follow my passion and subject matter, I can adapt the form a project takes. The deadline for the anthology is 8/31. That’s soon! My goal is to submit this poem and also to write another poem titled, ‘The Math of Hair’ or ‘Hair Math’. I will be sure to update you on my progress!

Have you ever taken a piece of your writing and changed the form (moving from poetry to short fiction, poetry to a play, etc.)? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Photo Credits: #1, #2, #3, #4

I’m so excited to share this cover reveal of Feminine Rising! It’s a new collection coming out next spring that will feature essays on what being gendered female in this culture has meant to some writers. The editors are Andrea Fekete and Lara Lillibridge. My essay, “The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank” is being republished in it which first appeared in the literary journal Trivia: Voices of Feminism. I’m thrilled to be a part of this collection and you’ll be hearing more about it over the next few months!

A bit of backstory: During Fall 2010, local writers were invited to visit the Joyful Jewel, a gallery in Pittsboro, North Carolina and see which piece of art inspired them to write.  My piece was inspired by Sharon Blessum’s photograph “Medicine Women.” In the photograph, there are four small iridescent torsos of mannequins with names like Copper Shaman, Shaman of the Heart Chakra, Shaman of the 7th Chakra, and Water Shaman. Some of the torsos have feathers sprouting from the backs of their necks and others showcase big chunky necklaces.

In December, the Joyful Jewel hosted “Visions and Voices” where writers were asked to read what they wrote after their visit and the corresponding artists were asked to display their objects and say a few words about the art-making process.

I first read my piece at the “Visions and Voices” event and then three years later it was published in Trivia. I really love this piece so I continued looking for reprint opportunities. I submitted it to Andrea and Lara in 2016 and it was accepted right away. The editors found a publisher and now this essay will have a new home in spring 2019!

 

I have come across two mesmerizing and powerful interviews with authors Cheryl Strayed and Dani Shapiro. They both are interviewed by Marie Forleo on her TV show on YouTube. We usually need a boost for our writing in midsummer when a slower pace and the thrills of gelato call to us, luring us away from the demands of our creative work. I hope these interviews inspire you as much as they did me!

This conversation with Cheryl Strayed is beautiful, honest, vulnerable and completely real:

She covers a variety of subjects:
-why it’s OK not to write every day (she’s a binge writer)
-how to be gentle with yourself and your writing
-how to find the core questions in your work
-why she turned away from her ambitious nature at different times in her writing life
-how to keep putting the words on the page

https://www.marieforleo.com/2017/02/cheryl-strayed/

This conversation with Dani Shapiro offers deep insight on:

-why waiting to feel inspired may not be such a great idea
-why inner critics change the ways they berate us as we grow as writers (and what we can do about it)
-why she put aside 200 pages of writing
-the productive uses of despair
-how to get the courage to share your work
-her two word writing prompt that she uses in classes

https://www.marieforleo.com/2018/01/dani-shapiro-writing-process/

Whew, last week was busy, productive and full of surprises.

-The Locus Science Fiction Foundation recently handed out their year’s best awards and guess what??? Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler won for best nonfiction!!! This wonderful book was edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal. Mimi was actually at the ceremony and didn’t expect to win and thus didn’t have an acceptance speech prepared, lol. I know, however, that she was thrilled. I’m so proud that my essay is in this collection. All nominees and winners can be found here.

-I started a story two years ago in a wonderful speculative fiction workshop run by Samantha Bryant. The story takes place in the 1930s and involves the writer, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston and a young woman named Etta who dances at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem.

Zora Neale Hurston

They get up to all kinds of trouble when Zora asks Etta to to help conjure up a spirit and dance for it. I am generally fascinated by the time period of the 1920s-1940s and have always been interested in the Cotton Club as my maternal grandmother danced there for a brief period.  In the story, I get to explore the race, class and gender dynamics of the day as the Cotton Club practiced segregation (only white patrons were seated) and colorism (i.e. African American female dancers that were hired were typically “light-skinned” or with a “cafe au lait” complexion).

Several Cotton Club dancers

The Apollo Dancers at the Cotton Club Revue in 1938. still from BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE, a film by Heather MacDonald

I worked on this story off and on for the past two years but got determined to finish it when I saw a call for an anthology that I thought would make a perfect fit for it. As I tend to write long works, I’m proud of myself that I completed a 5,000 story on Saturday and got it submitted (minutes before the deadline!). And, even if it gets rejected from the anthology, I can submit it elsewhere.

-My novelette Nussia was released last week! What goes into writing a sci-fi horror story like Nussia? In this brief “Inspirations and Influences” essay, I talk about the influences of everything from incisive comedy by African American comedians to the horror movies of the 1980s.

You can read Nussia for free on the Book Smugglers website.

It’s also available as an e-book from all major online retailers and includes a very cool interview with me.  If you pick it up from Amazon, please consider using my link below. I am an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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