» Stephani Booker
How did you become an artist?
We're all born artists; you give a very young child a crayon and a piece of paper, and they automatically know what to do with it. In my case, as I am a writer by profession, I can mark the beginning of my writing career as one day during fourth grade recess. Standing around watching kids playing on the walls, I suddenly got an idea. I grabbed a pencil and paper and wrote a poem called "Cheese City." Later on, I showed that poem to Mrs. Foster, my teacher in the class for learning disabled kids that I went to once a day. With Mrs. Foster's encouragement, I went on to write and illustrate a story book, "The Mystery of Dino Crater," which was entered into the school district's Young Writers' Conference. My book was printed and distributed to all the city's school libraries. That was the beginning of my writing career. Thank you, Mrs. Foster.
What inspires you?
I don't think in terms of inspiration as much as I used to; inspiration is such an elusive thing. It almost sounds magical, like this lightning bolt of a great idea falls on your head from the heavens. Like a famous inventor once said about genius, creative work is 99% perspiration: You get a little idea from somewhere, and then you have to sweat it out to make it into something with flesh and blood and bone. I rarely get lightning strikes of inspiration like I did when I wrote the poem "Cheese City" when I was in fourth grade. I just get ideas: from the many nature, travel and science shows I watch on TV, from things I read in magazines, newspapers and other books, from my interactions with nature itself. I also enjoy visual art and go to a lot of art crawls and shows by local artists and artists of color. When I was a child, I thought about being a visual artist; but I deliberately let that go when writing came along. Today, I recognize that visual art keeps the right side of my brain from atrophying, and I need the left and right sides of my brain to be a good writer.
How can art be a tool for speaking out, for creating change in the world?
To ask why art is a tool for changing and speaking out is strange. Art simply is that tool; that's like asking why speech is a tool for communication. As a writer, what I write can be a direct effort to persuade and effect change: I've written a lot of essays, articles for newspapers and other nonfiction works that deal with many issues, including the intersection of homophobia and racism and violence against women. The other work I've done —poetry, stories — also include my experience as a woman, a Black person, and a lesbian. Being all these things in anything I write is automatically a political act -- the personal is political, as the feminist saying goes.
“Intermedia Arts is accessible to those of us who don't fit the usual "arty" or "literary" mold.”
- Stephani Booker
How has Intermedia Arts been a part of your story?
For years, I was involved with SASE: The Write Place, the writers' organization founded by Carolyn Holbrook. When SASE became a part of Intermedia Arts, I moved my involvement along with it. I've benefited greatly from the writing programs at Intermedia Arts: I received a SASE/Jerome Grant for Emerging Writers. I also participated in a short-term women-of-color writers' group that was held at Intermedia Arts. I have also participated in a number of performances at Intermedia Arts, including Vulva Riot Cabaret and Hotbed.
What is one of your favorite experiences with Intermedia Arts?
I've enjoyed being part of the Writer-to-Writer mentorship programs, going to and participating in performances, and viewing the great artwork in the gallery. However, I do have to say that being awarded the SASE/Jerome Grant for Emerging Writers in 2007 is a highlight in my career: It's the first grant I'd ever received, and it reaffirmed my dedication to writing as my profession. We writers so often slog it out alone with no support or affirmation that we're doing the right thing or that we're any good at what we do. That grant gave me the needed feeling that I am making progress in my lifetime vocation.
How has art changed you?
I don't have the time or the room to go into my whole life story, so here's the short answer: Art — the writing and the visual art I do and love — SAVED MY LIFE.
What do you see as Intermedia Arts' role in the community?
We need a grassroots, community-centered, people-of-color and lower-class embracing arts center; and that's what Intermedia Arts is. A lot of people are intimidated by other writing or arts centers that have a very middle-class or White-cultured atmosphere, so they don't get the support or enrichment they need. Intermedia Arts is accessible to those of us who don't fit the usual "arty" or "literary" mold.
STEPHANI BOOKER of North Minneapolis is an editor of the African American newspaper Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and holds an MFA from Hamline University of St. Paul. Her creative work has been published in the online GLBT journal Blithe House Quarterly, the collection 60 Seconds to Shine: 221 One-minute Monologues For Women, and the anthology Longing, Lust, and Love: Black Lesbian Stories. Stephani has read her prose and poetry at various Twin Cities-area venues including Patrick's Cabaret and Intermedia Arts.