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Interviews

Interview With Student Artist Jordan Jones 

Q: Writers often have daily writing habits. Some may even carry journals around with them. Do you carry around a sketch journal or have any daily creative habits?

 

A: I make it a point to always have a sketchbook on me, and an array of pens to choose from. I would say keeping these items on me is a daily habit that I’ve put into practice for some time. Another daily habit I encourage is creating something new, at least one thing, a day. It can be the building blocks to a greater project or a one-and-done. Even if it’s ultimately unimpressive, something was created.

 

Q: This piece you created is done in pencil and then in watercolors. Why did you take this approach to this art piece? What are some of the advantages and drawbacks of these mediums?

 

A: I love beginning my projects with pencil. It’s such a forgiving medium. I tend to favor a light-colored color pencil over traditional graphite since I’ve discovered how well colored pencil interacts with my watercolor palette. And I love using watercolor. It helps me achieve an otherworldly softness and ephemerality in my paintings that I struggle to find elsewhere. Though a potential drawback to watercolor is the danger of over blending. I try to cultivate the process, so I don’t end up with a muddy mess.

 

Q: Have you received any notable feedback or reactions to this artwork during its creation process?

 

A: My art has been met with unending support. At times, there were figures I wanted to leave alone, or colors I didn’t want to push just to play it safe. But I was encouraged to push the work a little further. I was encouraged to not settle and as it stands right now, I am very happy with what I’ve achieved here.

 

Q: What future projects or themes can we expect from you or may already be in the works?

 

A: Right now, I am preparing for my graduating solo show, Displacement, that will be taking place at the Downtown Art Space in Turlock from May 7-11th. It includes new and old works that center around themes of loss. I am always submitting my work to shows and publications, so keep an eye out. Follow my art journey on Instagram: @dragons_of_earth. I update frequently.

 

Q: What are some other partnerships on campus that you would like to see developed as a way of showcasing other Stan State artists?

 

A: I would love to see student murals. In the courtyard of the art department there are murals made by visiting artists, but what I want are murals made by the students. I think it would be an excellent learning experience for students wanting to learn and it is an opportunity to leave your mark on the school. Proof you were here.

 

Q: For you, why is artistic expression so valuable to the human experience?

 

A: Art is how we share what we go through without the need for words. It inspires connection and camaraderie. I think that is a beautiful thing.

Interview With Chapbook Author Colby Meeks

Q: As your journey in poetry unfolds, could you elucidate on the seminal moment or inspiration that catalyzed your venture into the realm of poetry? Was there a particular event or influence that solidified your path as a poet?

A: I wish there was a single moment I could point to as some moment of transfiguration into a poet (how poetic, if I could!), but I think I would say it was a slow process in the first half of high school or so. That was not my first time writing poetry, but it was when I felt like it made sense to me – I did a creative writing program in high school, and those workshop settings were probably what really made poetry stick. Since then, my love for poetry in every sense has only grown stronger and deeper.

Q: Poetry often requires a delicate balance between spontaneity and meticulous craft. How do you navigate the writing process? Do you wait for the muse of inspiration, or do you adhere to a disciplined, structured writing process?

A: I think it would be hard for me to definitively say I work in one mode or the other. Of course, ideally, writing happens in some Romantic, struck by inspiration way, and I think when I was first writing poetry, that was the only way in which I wrote. These days, though, I find some balance in the middle. When I’m working on a specific project – like I was with the chapbook – it’s a matter of discipline and structure, making myself write a certain amount of time per day or to do some edits every day. Between projects I have some structure with edits to individual poems, but the generation of new poems is a bit more muse-dependent

.

Q: Poets must choose what to write when faced with a blank page. How do you choose the subjects for your poems? Does personal experience, observation, or a more intuitive process drive this decision?

A: A lot of my poetic process comes to me as language first, so this is often how I end up with the subjects of my poems – wherever the language that comes to me leads me. If I have to put in a bit more work on my end to getting to the subject of the poem, I think I tend to rely on some fictive version of personal experience. I like the distance between myself and my speakers. In turn, I like to bring in observation with some level of psychic distance, as well – push the imagery to the point that it crosses some arbitrary line between “this is a thing I saw in life” and “this is a poem which includes some fragment of the thing I saw in life.”

 

Q: Your work weaves in intricate themes from personal grief to observing ordinary life. Could you discuss the major themes that persistently surface in your poetry and how they reflect your personal philosophy or worldview?

A: I think there are a few themes that tend to find themselves in my poetry. As can be seen in the chapbook, I think it’s quite often that grief shows up in my poetry, though in less concentrated forms, these days. A similar, but perhaps broader idea that tends to come to surface in my poetry is some level of yearning or longing – I think a lot of my poetry sort of writes in pursuit of something nebulously unattainable, or at least unattained. There’s a lot of sentimentality in my poetry these days, too (dare I say it’s borderline saccharine at times?). Overall, I think these just reflect how sentimental of a person I tend to be in life. There’s always something to yearn for, something to pursue, and perhaps that is often the truly unattainable past or the slowing of time, both of which are ideals rooted in a nostalgic sentimentality I tend to carry with me in everyday life.

Q: With your collection, what central message or feeling do you hope to impart to your readership?

A: Perhaps selfishly, I want the chapbook to leave a reader feeling like something is missing. For me, the chapbook really embodies a lot of my feelings in my grief, and I think it’s something I don’t necessarily want people to leave feeling but to leave understanding. And, as for message, while I think the poems are far from didactic enough to truly embody some clear cut “message,” I think I hope that the inevitability of time’s movement is found in the book in some way, but hopefully in much less trite language than I just described it.

Q: We would also like to understand the logistical dimensions of your recent chapbook project. Please tell us about the timeline from inception to the final collection, including the phases of research, drafting, revision, and finalization.

A: The whole project started, very literally, with my numerous failed attempts to elegize my father. It was some impossible task to me, so I turned to reading elegies, hoping to find something that would work – I was scouring books and the internet (and turned to my poet/poetry critic/poetry reading friends) for elegies past and present to figure something out, but I could not find the capacity to do it myself. So, I figured it might be fruitful to write an elegy in pieces, to keep the seasonal change of the traditional elegy but not try to keep so much grief in a single poem. After that, the drafting came quite quickly, I probably had the first drafts of most of the poems in the chapbook within a month or so. Editing took longer, and was a lot of incremental steps, sending poems to fellow poets for edits and workshopping. A lot of the revision process for the chapbook as a whole involved a lot of trimming – there were quite a few poems that got cut from the chapbook, including some that made it to the final drafts before it went on submission. That was by far the hardest part of the process. All together, the chapbook from its inception in my mind to submission was about a four or five month process, which is definitely quick, but I think it was the emotional force driving its speed.

Q: Do you have a favorite piece in this collection? If so, how did that come to be?

A: While it’s difficult for me to truly pick just one favorite piece, but I think there is a particularly soft spot in my mind for the last poem in the chapbook – “Aubade for Late August.” It’s certainly one of the most linguistically sparse poems in the book, but it’s also one of the most intimate to me and sits in the heart of the emotional core of the chapbook. I also think if I were being asked to name a single poem in the chapbook as the most elegiac, it would be this one. I maintain that I have never written a single poem that is satisfactorily an elegy, but I think I love how close I got with this poem. It’s also very special to me for its dedicatees.

Q: Each poet has a unique voice and stylistic fingerprint. In your own words, how would you characterize your writing style? Also, how has this style evolved as you’ve grown personally and professionally as a poet?

A: As someone who walks a line between critical and creative practice around poetry, I actually try not to have an answer to the first part of this question – I find getting too close to a critical mind about my own poetry does bad things to my process, so forgive me for dodging the question. That said, I think there are two similar styles changes I’ve seen as I’ve grown (and continue to grow) as a poet. The first is a comfort with sparseness. In this chapbook especially, I’ve become comfortable with a poem that isn’t flashy in its images – a concentration of interesting language is something I’ve found can be just as impactful as a slew of images. On a similar note, I think the way I concentrate images or figurative language has changed. Often my older work felt like a supercut of images, disconnected and discrete. I think the images (I hope!) are often more well connected, even when a poem is a blur of image after image.

Q: A poet’s path is fraught with artistic and practical challenges. What do you consider your most significant challenge as a poet, and how have you confronted or embraced it?

A: I’ve alluded to this already, but I think separating myself from my speakers has been a challenge I didn’t know how to deal with for a long time. For many years, it was hard to do a writing that wasn’t confessional – everything was rooted in my real life and all my poems were nearly autobiographical. As a teenager, I often joked that I could only write good poetry if I was sad. Confronting this just consisted of reading a lot more lyric poetry far from the confessional tradition, and becoming comfortable with the idea that as a poet I can inhabit an “I” voice who isn’t me at all. I think we’ve become too interested in the idea of poetry as a microscopic memoir, and bringing in outright “fictions” into my poems has been so helpful for letting myself write without torturing myself into putting my most intense emotions into verse.

Q: Writers frequently draw inspiration from various voices that came before them as creations of our literary past. Who do you count among your most profound influences in the literary world, and how have they shaped your own poetic voice?

A: Perhaps similar to describing my own poetic style, this is a question I always struggle to answer, but I think there are poets whose oeuvres contain projects I draw a lot of inspiration from (e.g., Ashley M. Jones, the Alabama Poet Laureate who writes a lot about her complicated relationship to Alabama and the South), but I don’t know that my literal style and writing are drawn from these poets. In lieu of a proper answer, I will list a few poets I read quite often who I think have probably, in some way or another, affected my writing style (though I don’t mean to say my poetry is identifiably similar to any of these poets): Ada Limon, D. A. Powell, E.E. Cummings, Tracy K. Smith, Frank O’Hara, Elizabeth Bishop, Chen Chen, and Frances Klein. Obviously I could continue endlessly, but I’ll spare everyone the rest of this list.

Q: In an era where the arts pursue new avenues of expression, what nuggets of wisdom would you impart to poets just embarking on their creative journey? What advice can you provide to help guide their formative poetic explorations?

A: Perhaps ironic – or at least counterintuitive – to say when speaking about the publication of a chapbook, but I think the advice I would give people is to write privately and with no audience in mind. I think the moment you start pursuing publication in magazines and journals – and certainly the moment you are published in a magazine or journal – it becomes hard to take the external audience out of the poetic process. Also, I would say that, alongside reading poetry (of course!), reading other poets talking about poetry is immeasurably helpful. Read short form criticism or listen to poetry reading Q&As or go full-length academic-style criticism if you’re up for it! It’s so helpful for thinking about poems on a level beyond just what each word is doing in an individual line.

Interview With Chapbook Cover Artist Brenda Nelms

Q: As the chapbook’s cover artist, how was your selection impactful to you personally and professionally?

A: As the chapbook’s cover artist, my selection impacted me personally and professionally. It impacted me personally because to be chosen, you must submit your portfolio, meaning that what I submitted was liked, and I was placed with an author that my artwork could mesh well with. It impacted a professional standard because it was the first time I had to create art in this type of professional environment. It showed me that my artwork could mean something to someone and that I could make it in anyway or shape when given the proper opportunity. 

 

Q: How significant is your contribution to the Penumbra Literary & Art Journal as an artist?

A: As an artist, my contribution to the Penumbra Literary & Art Journal is very significant. Although the poems and words written for the Journal are art within themselves, something about an artwork can say so much without saying anything at all. The cover of anything is the first thing people see, and it makes the audience want to pick it up/click on it, and dive into the words written inside.

 

Q: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the creation of your painting for the chapbook?

A: I did not have any inspiration behind the creation of this cover. I have had one professor who has told me that looking at inspiration is the worst thing you can do as an artist. Although he might have exaggerated it too much, I still took that to heart. So, when the information wanted for this cover was given to me about what the artist did, I only researched how different landscapes in Alabama are to the landscapes here in California. Other than that, there was no real inspiration. 

 

Q: In your process, how did you distill the essence of the scenery into such a powerful visual narrative?

A: I distill the essence of the scenery by placing icons in the composition’s foreground, these icons being the two Lilies. Flowers, in general, hold a lot of symbolism and can represent many different things; in this instance, the Lily symbolizes grief. I put a blooming Lily next to a withered one to not only show the act of change but also, in a way, show that you’re grieving for what the flower once was. 

 

Q: What techniques or mediums were instrumental in bringing this artwork to life? What were some advantages or disadvantages of using those mediums?

A: The mediums used to bring this artwork to life are a combination of Prisma Colored Pencils, Caliart Art Markers, and Illustrator Pens. There were severe disadvantages, as the markers blended in ways that went against how I wanted the composition to work. However, there were many advantages because I could create a colorful cover that represented what the artist wanted it to represent and connected with his work. 

 

Q: Are there specific messages or sentiments you intended your viewer to resonate with through your art?

A: The whole composition is a message that the viewer hopefully will resonate with, specifically through the two flowers in the foreground. The original idea was to create a piece connecting to the changing seasons; however, the idea of flowers came to mind. As stated before, flowers hold a lot of symbolism, and the Lily symbolizes grief. With that, I put a blooming Lily next to a withered one to show the act of change and, in a way, you’re grieving for what the flower once was. 

 

Q: If there is a personal connection to the landscape you depicted, are you willing to share its story with us?

A: There is no personal connection regarding the landscape I depicted. However, when Colby mentioned that he was from Alabama, I had a connection because my father is also from Alabama. I asked him about specific landscapes or parts of nature he remembered (which wasn’t much), so then I took it into my own accord to look into different sceneries/landscapes in Alabama that were more prominent in my rough drafts. However, this piece only stuck more due to the symbolism found within and how it relates to the writing. 

 

Q: How does this cover represent your overall artistic style and vision?

A: I wouldn’t say I have a specific art style, as I am constantly switching it up and trying new things. However, I am usually not the type of person who leans towards landscapes, so when I was chosen for this Chapbook who wanted a landscape for the cover, I was taken aback. However, I did not let that stop me and pushed forward regardless of whether I knew it would not be easy. So, if anything, this cover represents my determination and strength as an artist to persevere even if the task is complex. 

 

Q: Have you received any notable feedback or reactions to this artwork during its creation process?

A: During its creation process, I constantly showed my roommate and my mom, explaining what was initially wanted from me and what I created from it. The most notable feedback I received was the use of flowers to symbolize grief, and the colors I used tied the whole thing together. Both reactions were positive and kept me wanting to continue and finish this cover. 

 

Q: What future projects or themes can we expect from you or may already be in the works?

A: As of now, any future projects from me will be those of work for the class. However, in one class, we will be working on Variation on a Theme, and the theme I chose is Travel. This theme relates to my big future project, Studying Abroad in Viterbo, Italy, during the 2024 Fall semester. I will be seeing and creating art in Italy, which I am very excited about. During this time, I will be active on my Instagram art account @faes._.gallery 

Interview with Lightly Used Books owner Jenni
By Veronica Aguilar

Video Transcription:

 

Interviewer: It’s great meeting you, it’s nice seeing the place.


Jenni: Thank you!


Interviewer: I wanted to ask you first what your favorite novel is, if you have one.


Jenni: Gosh, that gets so hard because as a bookstore owner, I’m supposed to pick a classic, but I like to read a lot more contemporary romance.


Interviewer: Me too!


Jenni: Do you? So, one of my favorite authors is Kristen Ashley, she’s not that popular yet, but she did write a book called Rock Chick. It’s, like, a whole nine-book series. I re-read it every year, but that first one—Rock Chick—is my favorite book.


Interviewer: Okay, I’m adding it to my list.
So, what would you say is, like, your favorite genre then, or is that it?


Jenni: I like fiction, I feel like books are a way to escape what’s happening in the real world. I do think it’s important to be informed on what’s going on, but I just prefer fiction, in general. Like I said, I do read a lot of romance, a lot of Young Adult (YA), and a lot of Mystery/Thriller. I do not like anything that’s horror—I just don’t like to be scared.
 

Interviewer: Would you say that is the most popular amongst your customers too, or does it vary?
 

Jenni: We do sell a lot of Christian, fiction, a lot of Westerns—a lot of our clientele, during the daytime, are the older generation. And then, a lot of YA and a lot of military and history.

 

Interviewer: Oh okay! So, your site says that Lightly Used Book is a family-owned business and the story behind your accidentally-buying-a-bookstore experience is so heartwarming! Would you say that you are like a family of readers?
 

Jenni: Fifty percent of us are. So, I have a family of six, and fifty percent of us are readers.

 

Interviewer: Do any of your family members work in the store? I know you mentioned Blue the dog (upon introductions, Blue, the family’s Great Dane, was mentioned as a regular friendly face spotted in the store).
 

Jenni: Yeah! So, everyone. My husband comes in and works, but he does most of the maintenance, so if there’s a light out or our AC filters need to be done, he’ll come in and do that.

He doesn’t spend too much time behind the counter. He does a lot of the muscle work behind the scenes. My youngest daughter is ten, and she does work here. She works the register, she cleans the store—she vacuums, she dusts. My son is fifteen, he also works here. He works downtown at another business, as well, but he works here. My 18-year-old, who does go to Stan State, fills in when we’re in a pinch, but her class and social schedule make it a little bit harder for her to stay. And then, my twenty-year-old is actually the manager. She pretty much runs the store, knows how everything goes, and does most of the training.

Interviewer: Wow! So, as a family that has dived into the world of bookselling, how do you engage your younger readers, especially from your own family, into the age of digital entertainment?


Jenni: So, it’s finding out what they are interested in. For the longest time, I couldn’t get my son to read—when he was younger, he’s in high school now so he does like to read. But before, he just wanted to play video games all the time so it was finding books about video games, like there’s a series called Trapped Inside a Video Game, and as soon as he got his hands on that book, he was choosing to read over playing his games.

Plus, we set weird rules in our house, so it was ‘okay, you can play video games for as long as you want, but you have to earn the time, and how you buy that time is if you read for an hour, you get an hour of video game time’. And it doesn’t roll over because at first, we had a rollover plan, but that didn’t work, so you have to earn it that day. But once we found books that he liked—that were engaging in the things that he liked—we would see him choosing to finish reading instead of playing those games. With my younger daughter, same thing, only she is very into graphic novels right now—she’s ten. So, we just keep supplying her with those, and she’ll choose those over her tablet.

Interviewer: It’s kind of like a reading tax?


Jenni: Yeah!


Interviewer: That’s nice!
Small independent bookstores have been kind of like the backbone of the book industry for decades, and with recent developments in Amazon storefronts—and with Barnes and Noble's retail expansions losing their homey feels—how have you been responding as a bookstore owner?

Jenni: That is such a great question.
When we bought the store, we didn’t think that the one question we got all the time—‘Why would you buy a bookstore? People don’t read anymore’—and that’s, for one, very offensive to say to somebody who’s passionate about the store. But we just didn’t see that, that was true. Barnes and Noble’s great and Amazon does have a larger selection of what’s new in stock, but we don’t just sell books—we sell an experience.
You come in—we always tell people, ‘Have a general idea of what you want, but don’t come in with a specific title because we are probably going to let you down. Come in, and just let the store tell you what you’re taking home’.


Interviewer: That is really nice!

So, what steps are you taking to foster a love of reading physical books amongst a generation that is growing up with tablets and ebooks?


Jenni: It’s having a collection of things. Tablets and ebooks are great because they’re going to have what’s newer out there, but they’re not going to have The Secret Garden, and yeah, you can watch the movie, but the book is so much better. And they’re not going to have Swiss Family Robinson, they’re not going to have the Jack and the Beanstalk storybook. They’re gonna have different adaptations of it, but they are not going to have the original—and it’s just the pictures.

This summer, we’ll be launching a summer reading program for kids. And it’s called Passport To Reading, so we’ll actually give them little tasks and things to do throughout the summer—so, read with a grandparent, read on vacation, read on the beach. Or find a book at the library, find a book at the grocery store. You know, all these little scavenger hunt things they can do during the summer. And then when they finish them, they’ll bring them in and they’ll get prizes here. So, we’ll have shirts, bookmarks, book bags—swag for them, free books, gift cards—things like that for rewarding them for reading throughout the summer when the teachers aren’t there to quite encourage them.


Interviewer: That’s really great, I actually had a question about how you engage the surrounding community. Is that just one of the events that you have—the summer event?


Jenni: The Passport To Reading? Last year, we tried to launch it, we were partnering with the city on it, and the city’s process for that went a little late so instead we just saved up as much as we could so that this year we didn’t have to partner. We could just launch it on our own.

Interviewer: Wow, that’s really good. What unique experiences or benefits do you offer your customers to keep them coming back?


Jenni: We just, we know our customers. I mean, you’re going to come in, you’re going to get greeted at the door with ‘hey, how are you doing?’—if we recognize you because you’ve been here before, it’s ‘oh my gosh, it’s so great to see you!’ But really, knowing our customers.
You know, they’re not just money in the till, but they are our friends, they are our community. One of the fun programs we do have is, we don’t have a buy-back or trade-in program, but we do accept donations here, and we have a fun punch card so for every ten dollars you spend in the store, you get a punch. And when you get nine punches, you get ten dollars off your entire purchase. And it’s good here and at Little Red Door which is a pre-loved clothing store around the corner.


Interviewer: Oh, that’s really great! I think you answered so many of my questions just within your answers.


Jenni: Oh, that’s awesome!


Interviewer: I did have a fun question of how you would characterize your bookstore, if it’s, like, more old-school library vibes, or do you try to keep up with the following trends?


Jenni: I do not try to keep up with the trends because they change so fast, I can’t move things around that quickly. I don’t really know how I’d categorize it, to be honest with you. It’s just kind of magical on its own. It’s an adventure. We have fun little maps that are done up here that look like a Dungeons and Dragons map, that show you where all the different genres are for our fun explorers. People come in a lot, they like to say the bookstore looks like the one in the Netflix show called You, which I disagree with, and we don’t have a basement, so, you know, our customers are safe!
But, I think it is more of an old-school, western-y vibe. Something that keeps with the history of downtown since we are so closely related and we work with downtown quite a bit.


Interviewer: Yeah, I can see that, I mean the feel—it just smells like ink and paper, and that’s just the best. Like, when you walk into chain bookstores, you just don’t really get that same feel. And this is really nice, it’s very, very homey.

Jenni: Well, thank you. We try to stay organized—sometimes it’s hard.

Interviewer: Well, that’s all my questions.


Jenni: Awesome!


Video Recorder: Thank you so much.

-Video ends-

Author Interview with Solany Lara 
By Richard Rubio

About Solany:

Solany Lara is a CSU Stanislaus alumna, graduating from Stanislaus State in 2017 with her BS in Health Science. In the summer of 2023, she published her first poetry collection, a memoir of her late father’s life titled Hija De Mi Padre. Solany is currently studying to earn her MA in Library Sciences from San Jose State University and hopes to work with young students to show them the beauty of reading and writing. She shares some insight with us regarding the creative process, the value of artistic expression, and the importance of our cultural roots.

                                                                                                        *******


On creative process and writing:

Q: Can you share a bit about your writing process while you wrote this collection?

A: My writing process for this collection wasn’t really linear just like grief isn’t linear. There were periods that I couldn’t write anything, but then I was suddenly inspired by a memory or subject that reminded me of my father or my childhood. When that would happen, I usually would just write what came up at the moment. For example, I knew apá loved pan dulce with cafe con leche in the mornings, which is something I deeply missed. After I knew the topic of my poem, I was able to write and dig deeper. I asked myself questions like:
What was it like seeing my dad sitting at the table with his pan dulce and café con leche? 
What were his favorite types of pan dulce?
How did he take his coffee? Hot, piping hot?
What were his emotions like in those moments?
By finding out the topic first, I was able to dig deeper and ask myself the questions that needed to be asked in order to write the poems for Hija de mi padre. 



Q: What were some of your biggest inspirations when writing your poetry?

A: For this collection, it was my father, my mother, and my siblings who inspired most of the collection, but my family in México and my ancestors are also very present in my poetry, too. Through them I found a stronger connection with myself and my Mexican roots. In addition, Davina Ferreira (who is the CEO of Alegria Publishing) has been a vital mentor and the person who saw a writer in me first.


Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a creative?

A: Imposter syndrome has been my biggest challenge throughout the process of sharing my poetry. Many times, I questioned whether anyone would even connect with something so vulnerable as Hija de mi padre. However, thankfully through speaking to loved ones and other writers, I’ve been told that being vulnerable was the reason my poetry spoke to them in so many ways. My poetry would not have been completed or shared if it hadn't been for a community of supportive writers, friends, and family.


 

On Cultural Identity

Q: What can you say about the importance of cultural identity? 

A: In order to gain a deeper understanding of oneself, cultural identity is crucial. I discovered how much my cultural identity was shaped by hardships. Growing up, I didn't know whether to claim to be Mexican or American, and I always felt like I was battling parts of myself. The connection with my Mexicanidad provided me with insight into why I was struggling so much during my undergraduate and graduate school experience as a first-generation college student. This experience has provided me with the opportunity to discover that I am not only Mexican or American, I am a combination of both. It is possible for both to coexist within me. 



Q: What is the significance of connecting to our cultural roots through art?

A: I believe art gives to the beholder the freedom to explore cultural roots with little to no fear. When you begin, it may feel difficult, but once you start, you won't be able to stop. Since I began writing poetry, I cannot stop writing about mi cultura or anything else. As a result, I have become more comfortable taking up space in a place where I once thought that I had to assimilate and get rid of my Mexican heritage. When you connect with your cultural roots through art, you are saying, “I am embracing my culture, and you are allowed to do the same.”



Q: What role do you think poetry or art in general play in Mexican culture? In the family? 

A: As a first-generation daughter, I was only exposed to art through music and dance in my family. My parents didn't have the same opportunity to attend school as me, so poetry and art were not often shared outside of music and dance. Furthermore, I never saw many Latinos being published as a child, so I grew up thinking that writing was not something I could do. Just reading. I loved to read and would read endlessly, but only American or British writers. The books that I did find by Latino writers, I remember obsessing over them because they were so limited in libraries. But, getting older enabled me to purchase my own books instead of borrowing them from the library, which resulted in being able to purchase books written by Latino authors. This helped me see that writing was not so out of my reach after all. I say all this to emphasize the importance of Latino culture being represented. More books written by Latino/x/e writers will help boost the visibility of Latino/x/e individuals’ stories and their families’ stories.

 

On Grief:

Q: What is the role of poetry in a time of grief? For writer and reader?

A: Both the writer and the reader can engage in a dialogue and gain understanding through poetry. Writing across the paper gives writers a chance to express the grief they have been experiencing while giving the reader a chance to understand the grieving process. By doing so, the reader will be able to better understand oneself during a time of grief, as well as the emotions that are experienced. This allows the reader to sympathize with those going through grief and perhaps to feel more comfortable discussing death if they haven't experienced it themselves. The goal with my book is for readers to feel heard and empowered when discussing grief with others or when they hear about it themselves because grief is a taboo subject in many cultures. 

Q: How does writing help us process strong emotions?

A: Speaking about strong emotions can be tricky when they're still fresh, whether they're anger, sadness, or disappointment. Whenever we struggle to express our feelings verbally, we can use writing as a tool to channel those feelings into words. Misunderstandings can be transcended through writing, which often are better understood by those who read and connect with it. 


Parting Words: 

 

 

Q: Tell us a bit about the success of your book! 

A: I don’t know if you can call my book a success by traditional publishers, but according to my publisher, Alegria Publishing, it’s a success as an indie-published collection. And, I truly think the only reason it has been a success is because my book talks about a subject that is often not discussed in a way that is digestible and direct. I also think there’s little to no books that discuss the connection of being Chicana, first-gen, and a daughter who had to deal with losing a father, which allows for a lot of readers to feel seen. My hope is that my success only provides inspiration to BIPOC who have their own stories to tell. If I could do it, then you can, too!

 

Q: Do you have any words of advice for aspiring writers? Perhaps those at Stanislaus State?

 

A: Do not let anyone stop you from writing. Write your stories because they’re important. Some people might not see the benefits of writing a book if that’s something you want to pursue, but it is so worth it. It’s discovering so much about yourself while simultaneously feeling empowered in your truth. There will be a lot of people who think that you cannot do it, but there’s plenty more that will be happy you did. There’s an audience for anyone who has a story to tell. In recognition of the fact that Stanislaus State has many first-generation Latinx students, I would like to encourage you all to continue writing in spaces that were not created for us. As you share your story, you will make others feel seen as well as help others gain a deeper understanding of who you are and why you matter. Sigue escribiendo y echándole ganas en Stan State. You belong.


Thank you, again, to Solany for agreeing to this interview with PenumbraOnline. If you haven't already, check out her works and look forward to more from her in the future.

Author Interview with Linda Trice, PhD
By Mo Gudino

A note from Linda 
   WHO AM I?
I write fiction and nonfiction for adults and young people.

I received my BA in history from Howard University, a MFA from the Writing Division of Columbia University, a PhD from the Center for Minority Studies, and a JD from Brooklyn Law School.

I taught lower grades in public schools in New York, Connecticut and Washington, DC and undergraduate and graduate students at Trinity College (CT), Lincoln University (PA), City University of New York and the State University of New York.


                                                                                                        *******

Linda Trice courteously agreed to the following author interview with PenumbraOnline, which took place via email in December of 2020.

On creative process and writing:

Q: Does any of your inspiration come from children’s literature you read or that your parents read to you?

A: I was born and raised in New York City. As a young child I could find no books about people who lived in cities until I discovered A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and LYLE THE CROCODILE. I embraced those books. 

I read Robert Lawson’s BEN AND ME when I was a child. It was my introduction to historical fiction. I was amazed and delighted when I realized that an author could take a real character and add fiction.

Several of my historical fiction stories for young people have been published. You can read some on my website: www.LindaTrice.com

Sadly, a few of the library books I read when I was a child had negative, racist images of Black people. I remember the hurt I felt then and try to dispel that ignorance as I write for any age. 

Q: How do you decide on subject matter for each of Kenya’s stories? 

A: One of the questions authors are asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve been asked that question so much. I recently used it to create a humorous short story. A literary journal, Crack the Spine, will publish the story next year.

Let me give you another example of how I got an idea for a short story.

When I go to a new place, whether it is for a few years or for a few weeks, I read up on the history of the area, especially its Black History.

I am a native New Yorker but spent a few years in Sarasota, Florida. The history of the Seminole people of Florida intrigued me.
Enslaved Black people living in some of the Southern states escaped to Florida where they were sheltered by the Seminole. Some of them married and had babies by the Seminole. When the Seminole refused to give their Black children to the slave owners, enraged Southerners convinced the United States government to invade Florida which was then controlled by Spain.

Florida is also known for legends of the Swamp Ape, the Bermuda Triangle and other paranormal tales. I decided to combine Seminole history and some Florida supernatural myths into a story, "REMOVAL AT SEMINOLE MOUND."  It was recently published in Penumbra.

Q: Your website states that you hold a Ph.D in Black Studies and that you were a Fellow at multiple artist colonies. How does your educational history inform Kenya’s book series?

A: I was a history major at Howard University, the historically Black university that produced our new vice president Kamala Harris, Toni Morrison, Chadwick Boseman and many Black achievers. 

When I was a student at Howard, African countries were getting their independence from European countries. One of the first was Kenya. That inspired many Black people in the United States to name their children Kenya. 

One of the things we learned at Howard was about the beauty, intelligence and strength of our people. I try to carry those lessons into my writing.

We learned too that our people lived in many countries. My Black classmates were from Canada, South America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Q: Kenya’s Song and Kenya’s Art have wonderful illustrations by Pamela Johnson and Hazel Mitchell, respectively, that amplify the beauty of the messages therein. Do you have a particular art style in mind for particular stories, or do you collaborate with artists in some other way?

A: When I write biographies and other nonfiction works for ages 9-12, I submit photographs that will help the reader understand the times, the characters, etc.

My picture books and short stories for ages 4-9 are illustrated by professional artists. For this age group, publishers expect the writer will also include a “dummy” with the submission of the text. 

A dummy gives the artist an idea of illustrations the author thinks will be good for the book. According to author Lisa Cinelli, “A picture book dummy is a three-dimensional work-in-progress to organize the text, illustrations, pacing and rhythm as a prototype for the final, published picture book.”

Q: Both books feature a diverse cast of characters from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Kenya learns the music and dance of other cultures in Kenya’s Song, and Kenya shares experiences with her multicultural classroom in Kenya’s Art. How does race inform your creative decisions as you write?

In my picture book for ages 4-10, Kenya’s Song, my character Kenya learns the music and dance of various Black cultures.

I hope readers of Kenya’s Song will understand that all Black people are not the same. We come from different cultures, experiences, etc. In Kenya’s Song, I concentrated on people of West Indian and Caribbean ancestries. In the United States, many of them are often called Black. 

The characters in Kenya’s Song speak different languages, have different dances but in many ways are culturally united. One is that their ancestors came from Africa. 

I interviewed elderly people from the Caribbean as part of my research for Kenya’s Song. All of them said, “Linda, remember, it all begins with the drum.”

Q: How do you hope readers of various backgrounds will respond to Kenya’s loving, Black family and her culture?

A: I hope to dispel negative and foolish beliefs about Black families through my KENYA books. I want to show that Black families, like many families in the United States eat meals with each other and in many ways enjoy spending time with each other.

In KENYA’S ART for instance, we see Kenya’s family doing crafts together as they try to find ways to recycle toys and other objects in their home. 

On Kenya’s Song and Kenya’s Art:

Q: Although readers frequently see Kenya interact with family and friends, Kenya’s Song and Kenya’s Art both distinctly feature tender moments between father and daughter. In the stories, Kenya’s father joins her on her whirlwind adventures and helps her find her passions. Why do you find it so important to emphasize father-daughter relationships in these stories in particular? 

A: In KENYA’S ART and KENYA’S SONG, I show the strong bond Kenya and her father have. I hope adults who read the books to children will understand that many Black men are devoted to their families and enjoy spending time with them.

The Father –Daughter bond is important in a young girl’s life. Some social scientists believe it gives little girls a template of how males should treat her as she grows older.  The relationship teaches her that she is smart, capable, cherished, protected and loved. 

My friend, psychotherapist Lurline Aslanian, L.C.S.W., told me that the Father –Daughter bond gives a girl the confidence to be herself, to enjoy and flourish in being herself, and to use her voice.  

She said that Black girls, especially, need to be able to learn to speak up when something does not feel right, when there are micro aggressions and when there is discrimination or injustice.  The close connection with her father's strength and support for her provides a substantial foundation for living freely and successfully in a world that may not always appreciate her.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about Kenya’s Song, Kenya’s Art, you, or any other projects you have in the works?

A: The book I am working on now is WHEN CHARLOTTE FORTEN MET HARRIET TUBMAN AT THE PORT ROYAL EXPERIMENT, THE SUN CAME LIKE GOLD THROUGH THE TREES. It is a nonfiction book for adults and young adults. 

THE PORT ROYAL EXPERIMENT is a part of Civil War history that few know. Both Charlotte Forten, a wealthy Black abolitionist and Harriet Tubman helped newly freed people on South Carolina’s Sea Islands while the Civil War was raging around them. The American government asked Harriet Tubman to go there as a spy. She was paid as a secret agent.

People who saw HARRIET, the recent movie about Tubman or Denzel Washington’s movie, GLORY, will recognize some of the historical characters.

I hope readers will understand the diversity of the Black experience better through this book and much of my published writing. 

THANK YOU! 

Thank you, again, to Linda Trice for agreeing to this interview with PenumbraOnline. If you haven't already, check out her works and look forward to more from her in the future.

Author Interview with Lisa Braxton
By Jessica Charest

Lisa Braxton is a writer based in Boston, Massachusetts, best known for her debut novel, The Talking Drum, which was published in May 2020. She has also published short fiction and nonfiction in various literary journals in the past, including PenumbraOnline's Summer 2020 edition. She courteously agreed to the following author interview with PenumbraOnline, which took place via email in November of 2020.

Q: In terms of writing in general, are there any authors who have inspired you over the years on your path to becoming a novelist? 

A: There are many authors who have inspired me. My favorite novel from childhood is Little Women, which I read when I was 9 years old. Louisa May Alcott’s story about the four March sisters and how they went about their lives on their own terms evoked so many emotions in me as I read that I said to myself that I wanted to provide readers with those same emotional experiences. At a young age I set about writing my own stories and got much encouragement from my family. Later on, I discovered Langston Hughes. So many of his short stories resonated with me. Some actually made me cry, they were so powerful. James Baldwin is another of my favorite authors whose work I find inspirational.

Q: Every author has their own process while writing. What did your typical writing routine look like while working on your novel? Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? 

A: I had no typical routine. I wrote wherever and whenever I had a moment. I was working full-time while writing The Talking Drum. Sometimes I would stop at the shopping mall on the way to work and write for about an hour in the food court. Then I would write at lunchtime at my desk, do my workout at the gym after work and write at the library on my way home. On Saturdays, I would carve out 3 to 4 hours at the library for writing or at home. If I had time, I would also write for a couple of hours on Sunday evenings. If you were to ask me about any of the television shows popular from 2008 to 2012, I probably wouldn’t know what you were talking about. I watched almost no television during that time to prioritize my writing.

Q: On your website, lisabraxton.com, you explain that much of your inspiration for your debut novel, The Talking Drum, comes from your parents’ story owning a clothing store and dealing with redevelopment in their neighborhood. What does it mean to you to have been able to draw upon the experiences of close family members? Drawing from such personal experiences, were there any scenes that were more difficult to write than others? 

A: It meant having my parents be part of my dream of becoming a novelist. It meant having them unwittingly give me consultation on making my novel as realistic as possible. My mother passed away in October, so having her experience help to inspire The Talking Drum means that a part of her will always be with me in the form of the book. One scene that was difficult to write because it was painful based on watching my parents operate the business together, was the scene in which Sydney has reservations about renting out the basement apartment to the older couple. She thinks that their references should be checked. However, Malachi, her husband, bulldozes over her and listens to his best friend, Kwame. I witnessed my mother trying to have her voice be heard regarding business decisions with the clothing store, only to have my father do things his way, which led to some big mistakes and setbacks for the business and their relationship.

Q: The Talking Drum is filled with a variety of characters including upstanding citizens, arsonists, con-artists, and individuals trying to overcome painful pasts. Yet you’ve done an excellent job of giving each character their own distinct voice and personality. How did you approach creating your characters? 

A: The story’s plot laid out for me the situations each character faced based on the larger issues of the fires and the planned demolition of the Petite Africa neighborhood. But their inner struggles were drawn from the experiences of people around me and research I did. For example, I had to do quite a bit of research to create my Senegalese drummer, Omar. I read the biographies of African drummers who emigrated to the United States during the late 1950s and 1960s to get a sense of what their lives were like in their home countries and their impressions of the United States and also the impressions Americans had of them. In addition, I took drumming lessons from a master drummer from West Africa. Some of his demeanor, confidence, cockiness and swagger ended up in Omar and Omar’s best friend and “frenemy,” fellow drummer Khadim.

Q: Which character was the most challenging for you to write, and why? 

A: Sydney was the most challenging to write because she was so much like me and my mother. She was a composite of the both of us. It’s challenging to create a character who is like yourself because you can’t step outside of yourself to see yourself in all of your dimensions. Because Sydney also shared some of my mother’s characteristics, I struggled not to make her too nice and give her a generous amount of flaws and foibles to make her interesting.

Q: Which character did you enjoy writing about the most? 

A: Kwame. He’s a mover and shaker in town, has the ear of the mayor, a jack of all trades, property owner who flips properties and also owns a record store. But we know he has another layer to him. He’s slick. We know he’s scheming. We don’t know if we can trust him, but he’s so charming.

Q: In your novel, we meet Mustapha Mendy, an immigrant from Senegal, as well as a restaurant owner and activist. He plays a key role in the story as a community leader respected by the majority of people who meet him. Which qualities would you say he possesses that are particularly important to solid leadership? What trait about Mustapha did you find most admirable?   

A: Mustapha is a “salt of the earth” kind of person. Family is important to him. His wife has died and he keeps a framed picture of her on his bedroom bureau. She is forever in his heart. His nephew, his grandchildren, his goddaughter are his life. The people of Petite Africa consider him the “mayor” of their neighborhood. He is a father figure to the community who would help anyone who came to him for assistance, and that is to be admired. 

Q: A major theme throughout your novel depicts the importance of family and community staying strong together in difficult times. It also expresses the pain of seeing some characters focus on the individual, betraying that sense of community.  How important has community been to you throughout your life? 

A: My parents instilled in me the importance of community at an early age. My parents were part of The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North. They left rural Virginia for Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1956. They knew few people in Bridgeport--my father had sisters in the area--and had to start pretty much from scratch to build community. There were only certain neighborhoods where African Americans could easily move at that time, and as a result, they established community early on with many of their African American neighbors. They joined a church, got involved in church ministries, joined business and professional clubs, civil rights groups, and charitable organizations. When we were children my parents got my sister and me involved in groups as well, and sometimes we accompanied them to various fundraisers, galas, banquets and dinners, which instilled in us the importance of community. I am active in my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, of which Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is a member, president of the Greater Boston Section of the National Council of Negro Women, Boston Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, Boston Association of Black Journalists, and Women’s Fiction Writer's Association. I’m also a member of a church and participate in Bible study.

Q: Toward the end of the novel, we see Sydney and Malachi expressing their concerns for the future of their business and the neighborhood. Malachi’s perspective seems more optimistic, claiming that the community will support their own, while Sydney’s perspective is slightly more skeptical. If you could meet these characters and speak to them, what would you say about their concerns? 

A: I would not say anything to Malachi because he has the right to have the opinions he has based on his 1970s perspective. I would not tell him that in time there would be more integration, which would present challenges for black-owned businesses. Once people could shop anywhere they wanted, they would have more choices, leading to black-owned businesses being neglected and suffering. Malachi seems to think that black people will only purchase books by and about black people from a bookstore like The Talking Drum Bookstore and Cultural Center. But he of course would have no knowledge of the big box bookstores of the future and Amazon.com and other online booksellers. I wouldn’t want to pierce his optimism. However, I would applaud Sydney’s skepticism and encourage her to watch industry trends and plan to grow and allow the business to evolve based on societal shifts.

Q: In writing, authors often have to revise or remove some scenes. Were there any scenes that did not make it into the novel that you were particularly attached to or any scenes that changed radically from the first time you imagined them by the final draft? 

A: I had a lot more description of Omar’s life in Senegal, growing up, learning to drum with his father, going through rites of passage with other boys once he reached a certain age, drumming at the big festival in Dakar, impressing Duke Ellington. I initially created a couple of chapters on Omar’s early life. One of my beta readers said that all that detail was rich, but it took away from the plot. It seemed to be a digression. I ended up sprinkling those details here and there so the story wouldn’t become weighed down.

Q: After The Talking Drum, do you have any projects in the works for your readers to look forward to? 

A: Yes. I am working on another novel. This one takes place in the mid-1800s in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. It is an interesting period in our history and fun to research.

I would like to thank Lisa Braxton, once again, for taking the time to answer PenumbraOnline's questions. Please look forward to more from her in the future, and, if you haven't already, take some time to check out The Talking Drum. 

Author Interview with Liliana Figueroa-Larios

Q: When did you start pursuing art more seriously and what did that look like for you?

A: Despite pursuing an art degree for the past four years of my life, I feel as if I only started to pursue art more seriously as recently as this year. I say that because I initially chose art as a degree path simply because my parents told me I needed a degree in something. Art was already a hobby of mine and it seemed easy enough to pursue. I did not have any major hopes or aspirations with my degree. I planned to get a basic office job or the sort once I graduated. So, it didn’t matter to me if I became an “artist” by the end of it. I simply didn’t think I would ever be good enough for such a thing. It wasn’t until I started attending Stanislaus, was pushed artistically by my professors and saw how much my art improved I started taking my artistic practice more seriously. I began to feel I had a chance and I applied to the BFA program. Now, that I have gotten accepted, I find myself staying late at the studios, pushing myself to do better, seeking criticism, and looking into and applying for art shows.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from most and why?

A: I draw a lot of inspiration from what I want to see in the world and aspects of my identity. As a lesbian artist, I want to see more LGBTQ+ representation in the arts therefore, I make LGBTQ+ art. I also draw inspiration from the idea of remembrance and how society has purposefully forgotten the histories of women and the LGBTQ+ community.

Q: What difficulties do you face as an artist? Or, what is the hardest part of the creative process for you?

A: The hardest part of the creative process for me is battling the various ideas I have and getting started. My head starts to become a mess and I end up finding myself stuck with the possibilities. Sometimes, I have to force myself to just start working on a piece and figure it out as I go. If I end up not liking it I try to not get too distraught about it. Instead, I try to take it as a learning experience and try again.

Q: How long does an art piece typically take? Or, what factors come into play in regard to that?

A: Some pieces go by faster than others. On a rare occasion I can get three pieces done in one day. The artwork comes together so naturally and quickly. Other times it’s the opposite and it feels like the piece is fighting me. If so, I have to leave it alone long enough for me to clear my mind and come back to it. Factors that affect this I would say is my own mental state. If I am already frustrated and fighting with a piece it will take longer.

Q:  How did you begin sharing your art with others? What helped you build the confidence to share your art?

A: As an art major, you are forced to share your art with others, via critic with professors, students or both. It’s one of the reasons why I was afraid to create personal works. Regarding confidence, it is still something that I am working on. I feel that the repetition of critics and after doing it for a while you learn to not take criticism too personally.

Q: What are your plans for the future after Stan State?

A: I am still unsure of my future plans after Stan State. I plan to keep working on my artistic practice and try to push myself to apply for art shows and galleries. I also want to participate in more vendor fairs and sell some of my art that way. Eventually, I think it would be cool to work at an art gallery someday or even open up my own.

 

In regards to creating the cover for After a long day, through the night:

Q: How did you go about planning the cover for the chapbook?

A: I began reading through the book itself and taking notes on parts that stood out to me or could be used to inspire the cover itself. I then took to Pinterest to make an inspiration board and gather together possible references, art styles ideas, aesthetics etc. That way when I met with the author, I could show them some ideas I had and work from there. On my own, I then developed thumbnails and digital college mockups to get a better sense of how I wanted the final result to turn out.

Q: What pieces from the book inspired you most and where can we see it best in the cover?

A: I feel that I designed the cover more on how the poems themselves as a whole make you feel rather than a particular snippet or piece. There’s a sense of romance and desolateness. Therefore, the idea of these almost ghostly figures sitting across from one another at the table. Are the figures really there? Were they there are some point and just a glimpse at a forgotten moment in time? I was inspired by these what-ifs.

Q: Do you see a link between poetry and art in any way? If so, how?

A: Yes, I believe art is connected to a lot of things in our life and I see poetry as a form of art itself. It’s an art form with words, I believe poetry and traditional art can/find influences in each other. For example, right now I have been using the poems of Sappho to help influence my art.

Q: How long did it take you to make the cover of the chapbook?

A: Making the cover, took a lot longer than I thought it would. It ended up taking a good two weeks as the human form is always a challenge even when you are simplifying it. I also wanted to make sure that the chapbook author liked the cover as well so there was a bit of back and forth in terms of revisions.

Q: How does commission work differ from original artwork?

A: Commission work differs in the way you don’t have complete artistic freedom compared to original work. I was working off what the author wanted, their vision etc. It was my job to bring that vision to life and create something we were both satisfied with.

Final question: What piece of advice would you give to an artist just starting out?

A: As an artist just starting out, I would say to keep creating. Even if you don’t think you are good enough your fear will only hold you back. The more you make, the more you are able to learn and practice from it.

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