W.O.M.A.N., Inc. volunteer Julia Glosemeyer recently had a conversation with Arisa White over tea and French fries at San Francisco’s Elephant and Castle. They talked about writing, migration, growing up, and healing from trauma. The W.O.M.A.N., Inc. blog is publishing the whole exchange–dive in!
A WRITER’S PATH
What is your connection with W.O.M.A.N., Inc.?
I wrote a book called A Penny Saved, inspired by the story of Polly Mitchell, who was held captive in her home for ten years. Writing is a very solitary act, so I was trying to find a way to reach out to the community. I researched some local organizations, so that we could collaborate and partner around what I do well and what they do well. W.O.M.A.N., Inc. was already stored in my back-brain, as I had met Mariya Taher [W.O.M.A.N, Inc. Community Liaison Manager] through the online journal called Her Kind that I was working with. The journal is primarily for women writers who create fiction and non-fiction work, and Mariya had submitted an essay. After my book came out, I decided to reach out to her and propose a writing workshop.
Nonprofits tend to welcome volunteers who would like to contribute their professional skills. I’d love to talk to you about your career as a professional writer. It takes a brave person to become a writer nowadays, as the climate is very competitive—in fact, Business Insider even put Creative writing second on their list of the most competitive careers! What made you pursue writing as a profession?
You know when you grow up, and you have a natural talent for something, you are just drawn to it? That’s how it’s always been for me. Storytelling, just doing creative things… I’m from a large family, so my siblings and I would create together—little movies, commercials, plays, all of these strange drama series. We would paint together, do crafts… So I grew up in a space that was fostering this—almost like a creative escape. My older brother at a time was a visual artist. In writing, I saw the opportunity to be myself when I was growing up.
Along the way people have cautioned me, saying “You won’t be able to make a living as a writer,” or “What else are you gonna do?” I definitely do other things, for example I have a full-time job as an editorial manager for a dance magazine. I do that from home, and it is sort of my patron, my funding. But I love the work–I love dance and I love editing. I have a secure financial resource that allows me to be able to travel for readings, do workshops, and actually be able to work from home and promote myself. I’m also now teaching at Goddard College, which is making me even more secure to pursue my writerly interests. It is my goal at some point to be able to just focus on writing, to take 2 or 3 years off, wake up every day, and think “What am I going to write today for a book or an article?,” just really really be entrenched in my writerly life, but I don’t feel like I am quite there right now.
I guess, if you have a full-time job to support you, it gives you the freedom to write whatever you want, and not care about commercial pressures. You don’t have to write novels about zombies, for example, just because zombies are popular.
For the dance magazine where I work, there is an audience that we do have to cater to. It’s the private studio owner, so most things are focused on dance and running a small business. But dancing is an art form that I enjoy. I didn’t train as a dancer, but I took classes in high school and college, and I’ve interned and worked with major dance organizations in New York. I think if my mother had the finances to send me off to ballet school, I probably would have been a dancer as well.
Once I decided to go to graduate school for poetry, I knew that this was it, I was definitely taking a path towards becoming a professional writer. I went to UMass Amherst, and I am now part of a community of amazing writers. I am a member of an organization called Cave Canem, which is a network of African American poets and poets of the African diaspora. That network extended my reach in so many ways. I feel really blessed to have met so many people along the way to help me think about how I can be a poet in the world, in a way that is genuine to me. It makes me feel very secure.
Read the rest of the conversation on W.O.M.A.N. INC’s blog.
This is a mixed-level writing workshop, open to all (18+), and is intended for participants who have done significant work on confronting one’s emotional upheavals and traumas. If there is story you are wanting to tell, but are having a difficult time finding the language or approach, we will do a series of breathing exercises to ground you in your body, generative writing exercises to help you resource material from your lives, and writing prompts to give your storytelling direction.
San Francisco Main Public Library
100 Larkin Street
Friday, January 17, 2014; 1:15-5:15pm in Mary Louise Strong Room
Saturday, January 18, 2014; 1pm-5pm in Lower Level Latino/Hispanic Room
Women Organized to Make Abuse Nonexistent, Inc. (WOMAN, Inc.) has operated since 1978 as a community-based, multi-service agency, serving survivors of domestic violence in San Francisco and the larger Bay Area. Read more about the organization here.
Arisa White on:
A PENNY SAVED (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2012)
When putting together this playlist, I picked songs from the years I created A Penny Saved, which is about a woman who is held captive in her home for 12 years, inspired by the story of Polly Mitchell. These songs communicate the tensions of love, and loving. The confusions and contradictions. All these songs are so very emotionally true, even in how they employ silence.
Check out the playlist here: The Poet’s Playlist.
Hallie Ford Literary Series features poet Arisa White at WU Sept. 25
“As writers, don’t be afraid of your lives, your way of looking at the world,” says poet and writer Arisa White, advising aspiring authors. “Really learn to trust your voice. Sometimes that can be scary, but it’s going to teach you about who you are.”
Through the Hallie Ford Literary Series, White will give a free reading of her work Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hatfield Room of the Hatfield Library.
White will read from her two most recent publications, “Hurrah’s Nest” and “A Penny Saved.” “Hurrah’s Nest” is a collection of poems that explore White’s childhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she makes sense of her Caribbean and African-American heritage, her parents’ abusive relationship, and the struggles she faces as the oldest daughter of seven children.
Her other poetic publication, “A Penny Saved,” addresses the concept of captivity while in a domestic relationship. The collection is inspired by the story of Polly Mitchell, a woman held captive for 10 years in her own home with her children in Omaha, Neb.
“The subject matter is used to look critically at ourselves as a society and as individuals,” White says. “I wanted to look at the role of violence as an entity in relationships and ask how we shape ourselves around these social issues.”
Scott Nadelson, assistant professor of English and Hallie Ford Chair in Writing, says he’s pleased to introduce the community to White. To him, the series serves two key functions; to give students an educational learning experience with professional writers and to show students that writing is a vibrant, living thing. Because Salem has few opportunities for students to meet and work with professional writers, he says the series provides a central place for literary life.
Looking forward to meeting with members of the Willamette community, White says she encourages students and future writers to step out of their comfort zones and allow themselves to “open up to things far more glorious.”
“We are here to do something,” she says. “Figure out what that is and do it.”
The Hallie Ford Literary Series features poets, novelists, short story writers and others, who are brought to campus each semester by members of the English Department to meet with students and to discuss the writing process and the significance of writing.
The next presenter is Lydia Davis, winner of the Man Booker International Prize, who will visit Willamette Oct. 24.
Find out more about the Creative Writing at Willamette and the Hallie Ford Literary series here.
Eli Coppola was a San Francisco based poet who was an important part of the city’s spoken word and literary scenes in the 1990’s. She died in 2000. Her many chapbooks have been collected in the volume Some Angels Wear Black, published by manic d press.
The winner will receive an invitation to read in San Francisco’s RADAR Reading Series and 25 author copies of a professionally-designed chapbook of their work!
THE POSTMARK DEADLINE IS 5PM PST NOVEMBER 1, 2013.
To submit send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org including:
-Cover letter with name, address, phone and e-mail address in the body of the e-mail
-a single PDF document of 18-24 pages of poetry attached. (Note: For all applications the author’s name or other identifying information should not appear anywhere except the cover letter)
-Please have your e-mail subject line read: YOUR NAME submission for 4TH Annual Eli Coppola Poetry Chapbook Contest
$20 entry fee may be paid to the RADAR Paypal account using the e-mail email@example.com or sent by check made out to RADAR Productions. (Be sure your name and Eli Coppola Poetry Contest is written clearly in the check’s notes area.):
c/o RADAR Productions
909 Hampshire St. Suite 4
San Francisco, CA 94110
This year’s contest judge is Arisa White.
Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is the author of the chapbooks Disposition for Shininess and Post Pardon, as well as the full-length collections Hurrah’s Nest and A Penny Saved. Her debut collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was nominated for the 44th NAACP Image Awards, 82nd California Book Awards, and the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards. She’s the co-editor for HER KIND, an online literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, the editorial manager for Dance Studio Life magazine, and serves on the advisory board for Flying Object. Arisa has received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Rose O’Neill Literary House, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, her poetry has been widely published and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet. Arisa is a native New Yorker, living in Oakland, CA, with her partner. arisawhite.com
An audio-recording teaser of me reading “Here the neighbor screams for Frankie” for the first issue of Your Impossible Voice, to be launched in August: Your Impossible Voice » Arisa White.