Our first reading of works from Volume 9 will be on September 28 at Barnes & Noble in Eastchester.
The event is free and open to the public.
These authors will be reading:
- Karen Dukess
- Shinelle Espaillat
- Reyna Marder Gentin
- Georgette Gouveia
- John Gredler
- Anthony Murphy
- Andi Rosenthal
- Roddy Ryall
- Harriet Shenkman
I read the biography of Kurt Cobain and one of the most powerful moments in the book for me is reading his suicide letter. Everyone was trying to interpret it, but no one could get a handle on it. It was this aspect of his overall story that really intrigued me. What if the only reporting on someone is their suicide letter, but you can’t speak to them? You’d have to rely on what they wrote. I always found that mysterious and intriguing.
Does it relate to anything in your life?
When I first wrote it and shared it with friends and family to read, the first question they would ask me is if everything was OK. I had to assure them that it wasn’t supposed to be semi-autobiographical at all. But, some traits of Chase’s personality do have some truth. Sometimes, I feel—and I think most writers feel this way—a little powerless, a little lost when you’re writing a piece and you have bad days when it’s not working. You feel like, “Oh my God, why am I doing this? Why did I decide to do this rather than get a normal job? Sometimes thoughts like that pop into your head when you’re trying to immerse yourself in the writing. However, it’s not autobiographical.
What inspires you to write?
I always liked to write when I was younger. I used to write little kids’ books and kept them to myself. I never let anyone read them. I didn’t do much writing in college, but read lots of books. But by 2012, I started to think if I wanted to write I bet I could put something down on paper. I was always a deep admirer of those who found ways to channel their creativity. After college, I tried to find my way to do that. I wrote some incomplete screenplays, but as I was writing them I realized I wasn’t enjoying them, wasn’t getting anything out of them and wondered why. It occurred to me that screenplays that aren’t produced are like well-drawn blueprints. You can’t really enjoy the blueprint. You need to see the finished product. With short stories, once I was done editing them, that’s a finished product, and even if they are never published, I’d still get some satisfaction from them. Once I figured that out, I just kept writing short stories. This is the first time I’ve been published in a major book.
What writing rituals do you have?
I do like to sit down in isolation, where I don’t hear noises or anything that can disturb me, and I listen to instrumental music while I’m writing. There can’t be any words; just music. When I wrote “Chase Faustman,” I listened to Sidney Bechet and Explosions in the Sky.
What motivated you to write this poem:
A lot of my writing is rooted in history. I love history! I like to create characters and imagine their perspectives and story in a certain time, even focusing on ordinary moments in history. It’s always great to re-imagine characters. This particular poem was loosely inspired by the story of Ruby Bridges, one of the first African-American children to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. I remember just seeing a photo of her. She was much younger than the child in my poem. I think Ruby was six when she first went to that all-white school in Louisiana. (Ruby Bridges was the first Black child to desegregate an all-white school during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis in 1960.)
I remember seeing this black and white photograph where she was dressed very prim and proper and I just thought about what it must have been like for her mother the first morning that she was supposed to send her child to school. It literally sent chills down my spine. Just imagine getting your child dressed in the morning and going through that ordeal!
So I really wanted to create the juxtaposition of the ordinary moments between a mother and child on a typical school morning with this particular extraordinary moment in history. I think sometimes when we read history, we’re focused on the facts and the statistics, but I just want to show even in these moments that we should never forget that these people just have to live their lives.
Is there something that made this story a bit personal? Does it relate to anything in your life?
I’m a Pakistani and am married to an African American, so my children are bi-racial, but even before marrying my husband I’ve always been very interested in the Civil Rights movement., so it’s an area of history that has always drawn me. Lately, I find myself going back to it because of the current political climate. We thought we were suddenly post racial and had transcended history, but this shows how important it is to never forget what has happened and realize that it wasn’t that long ago.
Do you write other genres?
Sometimes I like to write sequence pieces where the same character is featured in a collection of poems. I like featuring the voices of a few different family members though different periods of history and then trying to find a string that connects them. That form often works well for different periods in history and showing the perspectives of different characters. My work touches on history, but also family dynamics. My mother immigrated from Pakistan in her 30s when I was very young and that’s often a topic in my poems. She has passed away now but I find myself going back and imagining what it must have been like for a single woman to come to someplace completely new and what she would must have faced in particular moments.
The immigrant experience is another topic that emerges in many of my poems. Politics and current history will often inform them as well. During the past presidential campaign there were so many negative images of immigrants and what they represent and how they are harming us, it just made me look back at my own family history and a very different immigrant experience. What’s going on politically motivates me because it makes me re-examine the images presented and challenge them in my own writing and work.
What are your writing rituals?
Before I begin writing I like to read out loud for 10 or 15 minutes. I don’t read for content, but I love hearing the music in the language. I usually read poetry, but occasionally, it will be short stories. The lyricism of the words will often trigger my own writing. It puts me in the right frame of mind. I usually do this in my bedroom when the house is quiet and the kids are sleeping.
Atkins, is a former practicing attorney and currently a writer, wife and stay-at-home mom of two kids.
Thanks to the Macedonia Baptist Choir Ensemble and our authors who participated in the December 5th reading!