Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Christine Sloan Stoddard

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Christine Sloan Stoddard

is a Salvadoran-American author, artist, and the founder of Quail Bell Magazine. Her books include Belladonna Magic: Spells In The Form of Poetry And Photography (Shanti Arts), Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duyvil), Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Virginia (The History Press), and other titles. Her art and writing have appeared in Ms. Magazine, The Feminist Wire, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, Native Peoples Magazine, Yes! Magazine, Teen Vogue, The Social Justice Review, Marie Claire, and elsewhere. A graduate of VCUarts and The City College of New York-CUNY, Stoddard lives in Brooklyn with her husband and a dead cactus.

Her website is https://WorldOfChristineStoddard.com.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

It came out of an impulse and, now a habit, to share and tell stories. I have two younger siblings and grew up telling them stories. I wrote mini books and magazines, from storybooks to comics to fashion catalogs, and sold them to the little Stoddards for a dime, maybe a quarter for a real tome. Clearly, capitalism had already taken root—though even tiny me had no illusions about getting rich from poetry. Today I continue to write across genres and forms, but poetry is my heart’s song.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My mother. She was the first one to champion reading and introduce all kinds of books to me, including collections of children’s poetry. Shel Silverstein was a beloved poet in my home; I think many people of my generation (and others!) can relate to that. My mother, who is originally from El Salvador and speaks English as a second language, loves British fairy tales and American folklore, so my siblings and I read a lot of poetry in that vein. Apart from her interest in the content, I’m sure my mother was just excited to learn about Anglophone cultures. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I remember her taking U.S. citizenship classes when I was little and reading books with me to practice her English. A collection I still adore from that period is The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright. After all, nursery rhymes are poems! But as much as I credit my mother for infecting me with the reading bug, it was my kindergarten teacher who first encouraged me to write a poem. She sat at the computer and typed up whatever I dictated. I was hooked. Thank you, Mrs. Doud, wherever you are now.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I didn’t think of them as dominating or intimidating. I thought of them as inspiring, even magical. I knew from a young age that I wanted to possess the same spell-binding powers they had. That doesn’t mean I always maintain full confidence in my abilities. I still doubt myself, but I never underestimate the importance of hard work. Elbow grease, baby!

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I write everyday, though it’d be farfetched to call my practice a routine. My process changes day by day, depending upon what else I have to do and where I need to be. I write in various notebooks, on two different computers (not to mention public ones at libraries and wherever else), and even on my phone. As much as I like the idea of forming a ritual, I’m suspicious of cultivating one. I’m afraid it would hinder me from actually writing. My current lifestyle doesn’t allow really allow for a precious routine and I’m fine with that. AmeriCorps and journalism experience taught me to get things done. Deadlines aren’t often discussed in the poetry world, but I do make them a habit in my practice, no matter how many times I have to renegotiate and extend them. I’m always most productive during residencies, when I have “a room of my own,” but that is to be expected. Yet I don’t let less than ideal circumstances prevent me from writing at home. Otherwise, I’d spend very little time actually writing. And I want to write. Truly.

5. What motivates you to write?

This question has always been difficult to answer. Quite simply, it makes me happy, even when it causes me anguish. Trust me, I’m aware of the contradiction. I just have an unstoppable urge to reflect and imagine and express myself. I know that it brings my loved ones a certain amount of pride; those closest to me are amazingly supportive, even when my work puzzles them. And, sure, I’ve earned some recognition and money from my work, too. But my loved ones’ encouragement, awards, social media mentions, press write-ups, and checks are not why I do this. They simply sweeten my circumstances a bit. I’d still do it without any of those perks. This is the folly of every artist.

6. What is your work ethic?

I’ve been told I have an incredible work ethic, at least for when I want to finish my own creative projects. I’m deeply motivated to realize my vision and get my work out into the world. But like many writers, I’m never quite satisfied. So I keep writing and writing, as if there’s any hope of getting closer to the end of the rainbow.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

E.B. White, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Roald Dahl, Marissa Moss, Arnold Lobel, Francine Pascal (and the many Sweet Valley Twins ghostwriters!!)—I owe all of you and so many other children’s and YA authors so much. The writers I read then instilled in me the value of reading and valuing my imagination. I still think back to books I read as a child and teen, no doubt.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Julia Alvarez, Joan Didion, Jamaica Kincaid, and the dearly departed Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou are some of my favorites. Though, truth be told, I’m more of a case-by-case book fan than I am an overall author fan. I admire all of these writers for their commitment to beautiful language and telling women’s stories. I also have to give a shout-out to the Quail Bell Magazine (http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/) family. I started Quail Bell in college and am floored at the community that’s grown from it. This group of artists and writers fires me up! Even textbook introverts like me need community.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I write, but I also make films and visual art. I do some performance-based work, too. I’ve presented my work at the New York Transit Museum, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Annmarie Sculpture Garden-Smithsonian affiliate, the Queens Museum, the Waveland Ground Zero Hurricane Museum, and many other venues. Often, I merge my writing and my non-writing, whatever form that may take. No matter what, it’s all done in service to stories. You can learn more about my other work at http://www.worldofchristinestoddard.com/

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Read. Write. Repeat. Getting published is part of the process of getting read, but it’s not what makes you a writer. Dreaming, thinking, and then putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is what makes you a writer. It also helps to have a sense of humor. There are going to be rough days, so learn to crack a smile once in a while.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I had two books come out this year! It wasn’t supposed to happen that way, but as publishing schedules changed, it became inevitable. The first book is Belladonna Magic: Spells in the Form of Poetry and Photography from Shanti Arts (https://www.shantiarts.co/uploads/files/stu/STODDARD_BELLADONNA.html) and the second is Desert Fox by the Sea (http://hootnwaddle.com/desertfox/) from Hoot ’n’ Waddle. Belladonna Magic is a collection of poetry and photography first featured in Ms. Magazine, so that alone should clue you in on the feminist nature of the collection. (Though depending upon your perception of feminist art, it will probably challenge any preconceived notions.) The other book, Desert Fox by the Sea, is a collection of short stories and poems that won a fiction competition held by Four Chambers Press in Phoenix, Arizona. Hoot ’n’ Waddle, which was started by a former Four Chambers Press editor, picked up the manuscript when Four Chambers went on hiatus. I first read from the collection at the New York City Poetry Festival in July, the same month Desert Fox by the Sea came out and I’m thrilled to have two celebrations for the book in September. The first celebration will be a reading with guest writers, followed by a meditative journaling session inspired by the works read. That will take place on September 12th at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn (https://www.pw.org/literary_events/desert_fox_by_the_sea_book_launch_meditative_journaling). The second celebration will be a reading with musical and photo accompaniment at on September 22nd (https://www.pw.org/literary_events/desert_fox_by_the_sea_book_celebration_projection_music_show) at Quimby’s Books, also in Brooklyn (because that’s where I live.)

In other news, I’m honored to have my 2018 chapbook The Tale of the Clam Ear (AngelHousePress) (https://www.angelhousepress.com/index.php?Chapbooks) reviewed in the summer 2019 issue of Arc Poetry, the poetry magazine of Canada. I really wasn’t expecting that. It’s a feel-good reminder that people still read chapbooks. My next full-length book due out is Heaven Is A Photograph, thanks to the rad folks at CLASH Books (https://www.clashbooks.com/) It’s a poetry and photography book with one continuous narrative about a young art student’s hesitation to pursue photography and how she overcomes her fears. Heaven Is A Photograph will be available for pre-order at the end of the year and come out in early 2020.

As for what I’m actually writing now? My new policy is that if it isn’t just about out the gate, it’s top-secret. Publishing is an unpredictable business and you never know which press is going to go on hiatus or fold. It’s happened to me more than once before! You can learn about smaller projects as they’re released by following Quail Bell Magazine on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/quailbellmagazine/) I’m constantly publishing pieces there, including this recent poetry film, “Jaguar in the Cotton Field,” (https://vimeo.com/354442971) featuring a poem from my chapbook by the same title.(You can order the chapbook from Another New Calligraphy. http://www.anothernewcalligraphy.com/anc047.html)

2020 is going to be a hoot. I’m damn lucky but I also work damn hard, and I’ll be a writer until I head to the grave. I might even find a way to write from six feet under.

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