Green Bean Coffee Company, March 10, 2017
Women of Words Unite In Conversation about the Power of Words was an informal panel discussion and reading which featured five Windsor connected female arts creators: Shawna Diane Partridge, the event’s organizer, and author of Rule of Seconds; Kate Hargreaves, author of Leak, Talking Derby, and book designer; Janine Marley, director and founding member of Paper-Knife Theatre; Vanessa Shields creator of Poetry on Demand, and author of I Am That Woman and Look At Her; and Brittni Brinn, author, musician, and radio personality for Hardcover: Literary Podcast. Peter Brinn, Co-Host of Hardcover, was the host/moderator for the night, presenting the panel with questions which ranged from what influences them to write to how to handle rejection and how to actually pitch your book to the right publisher.
Each panelist brought a frank examination of their experience within the artistic community of Canada, never shying away from the tough realities of trying to make it within industries that make a business out of being creative. Kate, Vanessa, and Janine in particular were very candid in discussing some of the trials of pursuing a career in the publishing/arts industry. Kate, as a freelance book designer, highlighted how putting all of your creative energy into projects for others can burn you out and leave nothing for your own work. Vanessa, mother to two young children, expanded upon how difficult it truly is to balance an active creative process with raising a young family, rendering sacrifice and compromise necessary. Janine spoke on the discouraging but necessary reality of working for free in order to gain connections and contacts that may or may not lead to paid opportunities later on.
Here’s what I’ve learned from these five amazing women:
How to Succeed in the Arts (or Eleven Easy Steps to Achieve #BOSSLADY Status)
- Take the time to be inspired. We often feel guilty taking the time to relax and focus on ourselves, but to do our best work we need to allow ourselves the time to recharge and enjoy. So take a walk like Shawna, talk about things you’re passionate about like Vanessa, paint or play music like Brittni, see a play like Janine, or thrash on the roller derby rink like Kate. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you do it.
- READ READ READ. Seriously, never stop reading, never stop ingesting culture and words. Don’t restrict yourself, devour as much as you can, let your voice grow and change, and expand your frame of reference as much as you can because your work will only get better.
- Starting is hard, but you have to start somewhere, even if that somewhere is the bottom. You, like Janine, will probably start out doing a lot of work for free and that’s ok (at first, at least) because making connections and getting your name out there is essential to getting paid and being able to work on your own projects with funding or a set of helping hands further down the line.
- Deadlines are a necessary evil. Yes, deadlines are unpleasant, but they help you budget your time and keep you aware of the scope of your work.
- Give yourself the time to write. We all say that we’ll write when we’re inspired, but we wouldn’t produce much if we did that. So you have to schedule the time to write and not beat yourself up if you only write a page or two or a single poem. You wrote and it’ll add up if you keep at it.
- EDIT EDIT EDIT. Despite what we’d sometimes like to believe, everything we write is not special. So be critical of your own work, get others to read it, bring it to workshops.
- Rejection will happen. Every writer gets rejected. Every director gets denied. Every musician gets turned down for a gig. Not everyone will like your work and you can’t expect everyone to sign on to participate in your project. Develop a thick skin and use rejection as a moment to learn and improve.
- Pick a publisher that will be interested in your work. Read their list, look at what they publish: is it similar to your work, would your work fit in?
- Send out a query before you send your work. Are they looking for new work to publish or is their list full up?
- Think of a good pitch for your book or project. This is your chance to sell what you’re doing. How does it fit? Why is it important or interesting or new? Who are you as a creator? If you can’t answer these questions, you aren’t ready for the big leagues yet, kid.
- Social media is all. If you aren’t already, become active on social networks. They’re an easy way for an audience to reach you and for you to reach your audience. They also allow you to create a brand for yourself as a creator. They become a platform for you to display your work and a way for interested parties to contact you with offers to collaborate. You are your best resume, so be ready to display and communicate what you have done, can do, and will do.
While this event allowed the panelist to share their practical advice, it also showcased their creative works. Each panelist was given the opportunity to perform or read for the audience. The performances functioned as breaks between sets of questions, allowing the audience to absorb what they had learned and to witness the results of following the advice. Vanessa kicked off the reading with “Worst Case Scenario,” a poem found in her first poetry collection, I Am That Woman. The poem’s gut wrenching imagery and stark language immediately captured the audience’s attention and ensured that they would be glued to the women on that stage. Brittni was the second to perform with two original songs. The first, “Sincerity,” beautifully teased out an all-too-common problem in relationships: a lack of communication. The second, written for a friend’s film, managed to combine zombies and an office job into a song that had the audience laughing while demanding a full album. Shawna followed, presenting the opening paragraph to her debut novel Rule of Seconds, in which the protagonist explains what it feels like to have a seizure. Each word prompted the audience to experience an aura of their own, the tension building as we too waited for the breaking point. Finally, Kate rounded out the readings with three poems from her second book, Leak. “Hip to be Square,” “Bike Lane,” and “Recipe” all exemplify her ability to pick apart the body and the mundane into a wonderfully gross soup of language and imagery.
But this event didn’t just create a platform for their professional and creative pursuits. It also offered us an opportunity to get to know these five hilarious, charismatic, and lovely women. So I would like to present you with one more list of what I’ve learned from these ladies, specifically what I’ve learned about them.
- When Brittni got her first electric guitar, the guy who worked at the store told her mom (whom he was persistently hitting on) that “your daughter has a great voice for radio.” She left the store that day with a guitar (her mother with a phone number) and the thought that radio might be for her.
- Janine regularly interacts with her directorial heroes on Twitter; but unlike the rest of us who tweet and receive no response, Janine gets tweets back which turn into job offers.
- Shawna has met Margaret Atwood. No, it did not go as planned. She told Shawna to make sure the first line you write is good, then promptly left.
- Kate is a derby girl: roller derby that is. She was encouraged to write her first book when her boss at the time, Marty Gervais, publisher of Black Moss Press, noticed all of her derby-induced bruises and cuts. He requested an explanation and when she told him about derby, he demanded a book.
- Vanessa also published her first book due to a connection with Marty. She was working for Black Moss at the time and was asked to participate in a reading. Marty then asked if she would be reading from her book, and when Vanessa responded that she didn’t have one yet, Marty told her to get him a manuscript and they’d fix that.
There’s an energy that crackles in the air when like-minded people are in the same room. Conversation comes easy, laughter is always immediate, and you find yourself settling into your seat a little more comfortably. Women of Words exuded this feeling to a tee; sitting in that cafe, furiously scribbling down notes, I didn’t feel like I was watching a panel of intimidating professionals, but like I was sitting with a group of friends and upperclassmen who were ready and willing to share their experiences (good and bad) because they were interested in seeing me succeed as well.
This event provided a space for female professionals to dialogue and encourage a new wave of creators to work for their dreams and speak up. One moment in particular demonstrated the necessity of this panel and the community it seeks to foster and nurture. Peter, the night’s host, began the discussion by asking Shawna why she wanted to put together such an event. Shawna responded that she wanted to share her experiences as a recently published author and wanted to gather young female professionals from different literary fields with different perspectives to share and inspire others. But in my opinion, it doesn’t just stop there. In our cultural and political spaces, women and their rights are being challenged and threatened (cough Trump cough), so it is more important than ever that creators come together and encourage communities of learning and discourse. Each of these women wasn’t given a seat at the table, they had to make their own through hard work, dedication, and persistence. Now they’re helping other women to do the same.
So get your pussy hat on, and speak up! Make a space for yourself to create. Help your sisters of all races, religions, sexualities, gender identities, and abilities do so as well. Let your words ring loud because they are powerful!
Speak, woman of words!
By Christina Angeli
Shawna Diane Partridge was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Shawna Diane Partridge grew up swimming in Lake Superior. She later earned a Liberal Studies Diploma from Sault College and through Algoma University, obtained a Bachelor of Arts Honours in English from Laurentian University. Following that success, she earned a Master of Arts in English Language and Literature from Queen’s University and a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Windsor. She worked as Managing Editor of Rampike magazine and Editorial Assistant for the Windsor Review: An International Journal of Life, Literature and Art. Currently residing in the City of Greater Sudbury, she spends her days working in the non-profit sector and is a committed volunteer within the arts community. Rule of Seconds (Latitude46 2016) is her first novel.
You can find Shawna on Facebook at Shawna Diane Partridge.
Kate Hargreaves is a graphic designer, writer, and roller derby skater working in Windsor, Ontario, where she specializes in book cover design. She won the 2014 CBC Bookie Award for Best Canadian Book Cover for Cynthia Flood’s Red Girl Rat Boy (Biblioasis), and an honourary mention in the 2014 Alcuin Book Design Awards for David Mason’s The Pope’s Bookbinder (Biblioasis). Quill & Quire chose her cover for Kevin Hardcastle’s story collection Debris (Biblioasis) as one of the best Canadian book covers of 2015, and her cover for How to Draw a Rhinoceros (BookThug) was one of CBC’s Best 12 CanLit Book Covers of 2016. Kate is the author of a book of poetry, Leak (BookThug, 2014), and a series of prose vignettes, Talking Derby (Black Moss, 2013).
Janine Marley is a director and one of the founding members of Paper-Knife Theatre. She is a Master’s graduate with a degree in English Literature from the University of Windsor. She has loved theatre ever since she was nine years old, and in her time as a patron, actress, director, and stage manager, has seen over 1,500 theatrical performances at venues in Canada (Stratford, Grand Bend, Windsor), the U.S. (Chicago, New York, Detroit) and London, England. While Shakespeare is her main passion (or some may say obsession), she loves any and all kinds of theatre from Brecht to Chekhov.
Vanessa Shields has made her home, her family and her work life flourish in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Her passion for writing was discovered at a very young age through the vein of writing in a journal. Her first book, Laughing Through A Second Pregnancy – A Memoir, was published by Black Moss Press in 2011 to rave reviews. In April 2013, Shields edited a poetry anthology entitled, Whisky Sour City (Black Moss Press). I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press), her first book of poetry, was published in January 2014, and had its third printing in 2015. Look At Her (Black Moss Press) launched in September 2016, and went into its second printing in December 2016. She writes a monthly blog for the League of Canadian Poets on being a writing parent. She is passionate about promoting poetry and the writing life, and is often on a jury (or two!) for major awards and/or contests.Her poetry, short stories and photography have been published in various literary magazines. She mentors, guest speaks and teaches creative writing, and does Poetry On Demand on-the-spot poetry-writing that helps make poetry fun and accessible for all. As creator and host of Mouth Piece Storytelling, a storytelling competition, Shields is able to share her love of storytelling with her community.
Brittni Brinn is a writer and loves everything to do with theatre. She has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from UWindsor and is a co-host on Hardcover, a podcast about words.
Christina Angeli is an aspiring writer and book designer from Tecumseh, Ontario. She is currently pursuing a Masters in English and Creative Writing from the University of Windsor under the direction of Nicole Markotic. She is an editorial and design assistant for the Windsor Review and interned under Marty Gervais at Black Moss Press as a member of the editorial and design team for Sunday with the Tigers: Eleven Ways to Watch a Game, a collection of essays surrounding the May 25th, 2014 game between the Tigers and the Texas Rangers, edited by Dale Jacobs. Her poetry and fiction has appeared in Generation Magazine, The Box Set, a chapbook anthology, and various zines including EUSA. She has read with the current Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, George Elliott Clarke, during Windsor’s first Marty Gervais Presents reading in March, 2016. She is working on her Master’s thesis and working for ZED Press on their upcoming projects.
All image credits go to Black Moss, Bookthug, Mouth Piece, Poetry on Demand, Hardcover, Paper Knife Theatre, Latitude46, and their respective creators.