Interviews

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5 Burning Questions with Kaya Dia (formerly known as Mika Quinn)

As well as feature our future readers, we also wanted to check in with folks who have read for us over the last 5 years. Kaya Dia (formerly known as Mika Quinn) read for us in 2019 – read what she has been up to below!

What have you been up to since reading with us at Writers & Words? How has the writing been going?

Since I read, I’ve become a junior in high school, meaning that the college searching and applying process has become much more stressful. I’ve also been nominated for a full scholarship to attend Iowa Young Writers Studio, a great honor that led to my acceptance, and my virtual and later on physical attendance there (Yay!!!).

The writing has been great! Several months ago, I finished writing the book that I read an excerpt from and am currently searching for a literary agent, while also re-working a story that I’ve been writing for four years now.

What are you working on right now (writing or otherwise (nothing is a valid answer as well))?

 As of now, I’m working on rewriting a story that I started in the seventh grade. I have changed it about a dozen times since I began writing it, but I think that this bout of changes will stick. If it doesn’t it’ll be back to the drawing board.

What has been your favorite Quarantine Read thus far?

 I’ve been reading the Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and so far, it’s amazing and has driven me to consider certain things about the world in a different way, which I always love in a book. Other than that, I’m waiting for the final School for Good and Evil book to come in the mail, and I’m very excited.

How would you describe the writing community where you live in just a few words?

 Undiscovered, and possibly nonexistent.

What would be a few words of advice you would give someone wanting to get into any writing community?

Be open to feedback and sharing your work with others; it’s one of the most important parts of the writing process. And remember that you don’t have to listen to every suggested edit– change what you think will make your work better.

Bonus question: what level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

Level 1! I’m pretty low maintenance, so as long as no one decides to take all of my notebooks, pens, and my laptop from me, I’m good. Although, I can’t deny that I wish I were at level 5.

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Kaya Dia is currently a high school junior who has been writing since she was in middle school. Now, with quarantine life giving her much more time on her hands, she spends her time listening to music, re-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, and of course, writing.

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5 Burning Questions with Ashley Elizabeth

As well as feature our future readers, we also wanted to check in with folks who have read for us over the last 5 years. Ashley Elizabeth read for us in 2019 – read what she has been up to below!

What have you been up to since reading with us at Writers & Words? How has the writing been going?

I’ve been in the classroom, teaching 6th and 7th grade. The writing comes and goes, as it always does. I’ve gotten several pieces published by different places as well as a book acceptance. If that’s not an indication of success, I also feel stronger about my work. I have so many ideas and directions I want to go, I just have to pick one to focus on. 

I am constantly in a state of revision, even before a piece is out or even finished. I’ve been going back and forth between wanting to expand some of my nonfiction/memoir pieces and sticking particularly with my poetry.

What are you working on right now (writing or otherwise (nothing is a valid answer as well))?

Well aside from teaching my kiddos, I am trying to find a home for another book of mine as well as compile/write a third manuscript. 

Other than that, nothing really has been striking my fancy. It’s such an odd time to live in. The grass is so green, sky so blue, and I have to stare at gray walls all day, so that’s kind of dampened my spirits. I have also been forming the aforementioned collective of writers and getting to know people from across the states.

What has been your favorite Quarantine Read thus far?

Book wise, I’ve mainly only read The Odyssey and Animal Farm as that is what I am currently teaching, but I’ve also read several beautiful but odd essays, such as this one about eels. I have also been re-reading other Grecian myths, and that has been really fun and rewarding.

How would you describe the writing community where you live in just a few words?

It’s getting back on its feet. The writers are all doing writer things and still having events. I mean I am very shy, but the places I go to and the people I have interacted with have all been so inviting.  

What would be a few words of advice you would give someone wanting to get into any writing community?

Be yourself. Do what you can when you can. Go to events. Support other writers with pure intention, not wanting to get anything out of it. Form your own community if you have to.

Bonus question: what level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

I’m between 2 and 3 (and I don’t even have a dog). 4 tried me though! Then I just unplugged it and plugged it in again. Whatever works.

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Ashley Elizabeth is a writing consultant, teacher, and poet. Her works have appeared in Bonnie’s Crew, yell/shout/scream, and SWWIM, among others. Her chapbook, you were supposed to be a friend, is forthcoming with Nightingale & Sparrow (June 2020). When Ashley isn’t serving as assistant editor at Sundress Publications, teaching, or freelancing, she habitually posts on Twitter and Instagram, watching way too many dog and food videos. She lives with her partner in Baltimore, MD.

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5 Burning Questions with Judith Krummeck

As well as feature our future readers, we also wanted to check in with folks who have read for us over the last 5 years.  Judith Krummeck read for us in 2015 – read what she has been up to below!

What have you been up to since reading with us at Writers & Words? How has the writing been going?

I’ve published my biographical memoir,  Old New Worlds, with Green Writers Press, and been on a real and virtual book tour.  I’ve also been developing my screenplay with a production team in Cape Town.

What are you working on right now (writing or otherwise (nothing is a valid answer as well))?

  I’m trying my hand at fiction for the first time.

What has been your favorite Quarantine Read thus far?

 Mythos by Stephen Fry—I listened to him reading it on Libro.fm, which enriched it no end.

How would you describe the writing community where you live in just a few words?

Baltimore has a supportive and active writing community.

What would be a few words of advice you would give someone wanting to get into any writing community?

Show up; support as you wish to be supported; and keep active on social media.

Bonus question: what level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

I’m at the “essential worker” level of quarantine 🙂

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Judith is a writer, a broadcaster, and an immigrant. Since emigrating from South Africa in the late 1990s she has been the evening drive time host for Baltimore’s classical music station, WBJC, 91.5 FM, and she is the author of two books. “Beyond the Baobab” is a collection of essays about her immigrant experience, and “Old New Worlds” is a biographical memoir that intertwines the immigrant stories of her great-great grandmother from England to Africa and—almost two hundred years later—her own from Africa to America. Judith’s screenplay, “A Chain of Voices,” based on the novel of the same name by André Brink, is in development in Cape Town. Judith holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. She was awarded the Praise Singer Award for arts coverage by The Foundation for the Creative Arts in South Africa, and Baltimore Magazine has twice named her Baltimore’s Best. 

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5 Burning Questions with Gwen Van Velsor

As well as feature our future readers, we also wanted to check in with folks who have read for us over the last 5 years.  Gwen Van Velsor read for us in 2018 – read what she has been up to below!

What have you been up to since reading with us at Writers & Words? How has the writing been going?

Just release Freedom Warrior during the best and worst time to launch a book.  This book is about finding freedom in situations when I felt trapped, which is incredibly timely and weird.

What are you working on right now (writing or otherwise (nothing is a valid answer as well))?

I can’t even get myself to journal. I’m trying to just accept this as part of the composting process.

What has been your favorite Quarantine Read thus far?

I enjoyed Dark Garnet by Carrie Greenlaw (Lines + Stars)

How would you describe the writing community where you live in just a few words?

Full of love.

What would be a few words of advice you would give someone wanting to get into any writing community?

Just remember that you already belong just by being willing to put a pen to the page. There is no other requirement for membership.

Bonus question: what level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

I am one with the Force baby.

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Gwen Van Velsor writes creative nonfiction and pseudo-inspirational prose. She started Yellow Arrow Publishing, a project that publishes and supports writers who identify as women in 2016. Raised in Portland, Oregon, Gwen has moved many times, from sea to shining sea, now calling Highlandtown, Baltimore her forever home. Her major accomplishments include walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain, raising a toddler, and being OK with life exactly as it is. She has published two memoirs, Follow That Arrow, in 2016 and Freedom Warrior, in 2020.

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5 Burning Questions with Israfel Sivad

As well as feature our future readers, we also wanted to check in with folks who have read for us over the last 5 years.  Israfel Sivad read for us in 2019 – read what he has been up to below!

What have you been up to since reading with us at Writers & Words? How has the writing been going?

Well, like most of the world, I’ve been on lockdown with my family. We’re currently in the process of moving from Alexandria, VA to Baltimore right now, however, which is very exciting to us. My wife went to high school in the city, and my grandfather lived there while I was growing up. In fact, we were married at the American Visionary Art Museum. We love Baltimore, and we’re looking forward to becoming residents of it and raising our child there. On top of the logistics of moving during a global pandemic, I’ve still been finding plenty of time to write.

What are you working on right now (writing or otherwise (nothing is a valid answer as well))?

Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on my memoir, which I hope to have published in the coming year sometime. The memoir tells two stories… a forward going tale revealing how I fell in love with and proposed to my wife, and a backward story of my lifetime battles with drug addiction and mental illness. It’s a new kind of project for me, and I’m very proud of it. In addition to that, I’ve been plugging away on what I think will wind up being my first young adult novel. It’s a coming-of-age story about a kid who gets clean and sober in the early 1990s at the tender age of 15.

What has been your favorite Quarantine Read thus far?

So far, the only book I’ve read during quarantine has been Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times. I’ve never really read Dickens before, and I enjoyed it. As I know most of his writing does, it deals with a lot of social justice issues from industrial England in the 19th century. A good read, but not exactly my favorite thing I’ve ever come across. Still, I’d like to read more Dickens, especially his classic A Tale of Two Cities.

How would you describe the writing community where you live in just a few words?

Hmmm… not too familiar with the writing community in Alexandria. We only lived there for two years, and our child was born shortly after we moved there from DC. DC had a very vibrant community that I was proud to be a part of, albeit at a bit of distance. But I’m really looking forward to getting plugged into the community in Baltimore. I’ve always had a great deal of respect for the city’s arts scene, and I’m thrilled that I will soon get to be a part of it!

What would be a few words of advice you would give someone wanting to get into any writing community?

Be kind, be humble, and just do it. In my experience, writers love sharing what they’ve learned, and we’re all in this together. There’s no reason not to put yourself out there and join a writing group or start giving readings. I’m actually very shy, and it’s taken me a long time to get comfortable joining my local writing communities, but every time I take another step, I find myself fully embraced.

Bonus question: what level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

Currently, 1) relaxing with a book. But it took me a while to get here…

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Israfel Sivad is the founder of Ursprung Collective, an international spoken word/music project, which has been referred to as “fantastic brain food” on ReverbNation. He is also the lyricist for indie rock group One & the Many. His writing is known for offering cryptic commentaries on human nature, heavy with references to contemporary culture and mythology.

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5 Burning Questions with Carolyn Shayte

As well as feature our future readers, we also wanted to check in with folks who have read for us over the last 5 years.  Carolyn Shayte read for us in 2019 – read what she has been up to below!

What have you been up to since reading with us at Writers & Words? How has the writing been going?

Well, I moved across country from Baltimore to Santa Fe and started a graduate program! I have been exploring this new area, going on lots of hikes, and enjoying the endless sunshine and green chilis. My writing is now more so related to my academic courses, but I have found time to work on my personal writing and have gotten very into writing haikus since the start of the pandemic.

What are you working on right now (writing or otherwise (nothing is a valid answer as well))?

I am working on lots of schoolwork which involves readings, writing, research, and art making for my spring quarter classes which are centered around human development, multicultural perspectives, and human sexuality and Eros in myths, fantasies, and dreams. I am loving all that I am learning!

What has been your favorite Quarantine Read thus far?

For my class on Eros and human sexuality I read Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies by Michael J. Bader, and wow what a fascinating read!

How would you describe the writing community where you live in just a few words?

I am still finding it and figuring it out!

What would be a few words of advice you would give someone wanting to get into any writing community?

There are lots of writing communities out there, in person or online, that social media have made it easier to find. It’s more about finding the people you click with, who give you feedback in a productive way, and that inspire you to write…and they don’t even have to write in your genre!

Bonus question: what level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

I think every week I make my way through all of these levels.

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Carolyn Shayte is a multimedia and community artist, poet, and avid nature lover from Baltimore, MD. Currently she lives in Santa Fe, NM with her very fluffy cat, Jewel, where she is pursuing her M.A. in Art Therapy and Counseling at Southwestern College and the New Earth Institute.

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5 Burning Questions with Vonetta Young

As well as feature our future readers, we also wanted to check in with folks who have read for us over the last 5 years. Vonetta Young read for us in 2019 – read what she has been up to below!

What have you been up to since reading with us at Writers & Words? How has the writing been going?

I started my own financial services consulting business last year, and it’s really taken off, so writing has, unfortunately, taken a little bit of a back seat. But I’m in the process of re-jiggering my schedule to make Friday my writing day – no business, just writing, dammit.

What are you working on right now (writing or otherwise (nothing is a valid answer as well))?

I’m querying agents for my memoir, Daughter of the Most High, a coming-of-age story about growing up with an emotionally abusive father who was a minister (think Small Fry meets Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl with a splash of religion for garnish). To take my mind off that, when I am writing, I’m working on a collection of short stories about Black women being messy. I’m finishing the fourth of what I think will be nine or ten stories.

What has been your favorite Quarantine Read thus far?

 I read Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid as salve at the beginning of this whole thing, when my body only wanted to sleep and, when I wasn’t sleeping, only to read. It’s a great story about a Black Millennial woman at the end of the Obama Administration, and it all felt so poignant reading it in March 2020.

How would you describe the writing community where you live in just a few words?

Beautiful. Supportive. Smart. Reliable. High quality. (All of which could apply to a good bra as well, apparently.)

What would be a few words of advice you would give someone wanting to get into any writing community?

Luckily, I just did this last week! My advice is to get out there, see what’s available, and find your place. Attend as many readings as possible; you’ll start seeing the same faces. Take classes at local writing centers. Join a critique group, and always bring wine. Support other people’s writing, and they will support yours. That’s the definition of community.

Bonus question: what level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

Totally #5. I hate all the horrible things that have happened, but not gonna lie, this has been so nice, being productive and not having to be around people. I’ve been living my best life.

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Vonetta Young is a Black woman writer based in Washington, DC. She generally explores in her work the themes of complex family dynamics, the intersection of race and class, and the desire for belonging. Her essays and fiction have been published in Catapult, DASH, Lunch Ticket, Barrelhouse, and Cosmonauts Avenue, among others.

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5 Burning Questions with Tom McAllister

As well as feature our future readers, we also wanted to check in with folks who have read for us over the last 5 years. Tom McAllister read for us in 2017 – read what he has been up to below!

What have you been up to since reading with us at Writers & Words? How has the writing been going?

My W & W reading was the first time I ever read publicly from the manuscript that was published as How to Be Safe. It was, I think, available for pre-order at that point, but there had been absolutely no press for it yet, so it felt for me like passing a big test that people laughed at the parts where they were supposed to laugh, and generally responded positively. That book was published in April 2018 and I’m very lucky to have gotten some really good reviews. Washington Post and Kirkus both had it on their list of best books of the year.

Since then, I spent some time not writing, but got back to work in 2019 when I started writing a short essay for every year I’ve been alive. Some of them have been published now, and I’m submitting the rest. I’m tracking the publications, with links, on my blog.

What are you working on right now (writing or otherwise (nothing is a valid answer as well))?

Like a lot of people (I think?), I’ve struggled to focus the past few months. I finished a decent draft of a new novel just before things got crazy and now I’m letting it sit another month or so before I get back into it. Right now, I feel pretty good about it, but I’m mentally preparing myself for finding out that it is actually quite terrible when I revisit it.

What has been your favorite Quarantine Read thus far?

I just read a galley of Jeff Chon’s forthcoming novel, Hashtag Good Guy With a Gun, and it’s one of the best things I’ve read all year. I can’t wait till other people get to see it.

How would you describe the writing community where you live in just a few words?

I’m in South Jersey, just outside of Philly. It’s vibrant, eclectic, a little fractured, and full of incredible weirdos.

What would be a few words of advice you would give someone wanting to get into any writing community?

Show up. You don’t have to be the most energetic or gregarious person, but if you’re showing up and supporting other people’s work, they notice, and they will make space for you too. Just keep showing up, as much as you can. I’m bad at following my own advice sometimes, but it’s so important to let people know you’re trying to contribute by helping other artists get their work out, not just using them as a potential future audience.

Bonus question: what level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

I have been doing a lot of bickering with my dog recently. Let’s go with 2.

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Tom McAllister is the author of the novels “How to Be Safe” and “The Young Widower’s Handbook,” as well as the memoir “Bury Me in My Jersey.” His short fiction and essays have been published widely, and have most recently appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Hobart, The Rumpus, Buzzfeed, TheMillions, Juked, and Pithead Chapel. He is the co-host of the weekly podcast, Book Fight!, and nonfiction editor at Barrelhouse. He teaches at Temple University and lives in New Jersey. 

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5 Burning Questions with Timothy Gager

As well as feature our future readers, we also wanted to check in with folks who have read for us over the last 5 years. Timothy Gager read for us in 2017 – read what he has been up to below!

What have you been up to since reading with us at Writers & Words? How has the writing been going?

I retired my Dire Literary Series, but I found it is again needed during the pandemic, so it is back. People need literary outlets, and entertainment. I’d love it if some Writers & Words folks would pop in and say, “hi.”

I’ve had two books published since I read in Baltimore in 2017, one an anthology of Flash Fiction, Every Day There is Something About Elephants, and the other a book of poetry. I’ve also finished a novel called, Joe the Salamander and am seeking representation for it.  I thought I’d be visiting and reading in Baltimore when my daughter announced she’d be attending college there, but that didn’t pan out, but my father has moved to Owings Mills, since my mom passed, so Baltimore is in the cards. It is a very welcoming city, and I always feel at home there. My mother’s illness, and period of hospice placed me with her and my father for about six months. It is time I treasure, and can never be replaced.

What are you working on right now (writing or otherwise (nothing is a valid answer as well))?

I’m picking at the novel, writing poems, and some flash fiction. I’ve also started a non-fiction memoir-esque  manuscript which I need to be fully retired to write. I’m thinking that it, when finished, might be my last book.

What has been your favorite Quarantine Read thus far?

I’ve read the James Brown trilogy which started with a book The Los Angeles Diaries, published in 2003, and the last, one put out in the past year, titled, Apology to the Young Addict.

How would you describe the writing community where you live in just a few words?

Busy, vibrant, selfless, sexy, boundless

What would be a few words of advice you would give someone wanting to get into any writing community?

Whatever you give back to the community, you get back tenfold. Be available, be generous—it’s not a version of social influencing.

Bonus question: what level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

I’m at the better safe than sorry level, and checking to see if the home depot has a decontamination shower I can install directly outside my front door. Also all-in on the full body latex intimacy gear.

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Timothy Gager is the author of fifteen books of fiction and poetry. His latest, Spreading Like Wild Flowers, is his eighth of poetry. He has had over 600 works of fiction and poetry published, of which sixteen have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has been read on National Public Radio, has also been nominated for a Massachusetts Book Award, The Best of the Web, and The Best Small Fictions Anthology.

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5 Burning Questions with Rebekah Kirkman

As well as feature our future readers, we also wanted to check in with folks who have read for us over the last 5 years. Rebekah Kirkman read for us in 2019 – read what she has been up to below!

What have you been up to since reading with us at Writers & Words? How has the writing been going?

As BmoreArt’s managing editor, I’m editing and publishing other people’s writing far more than I am writing my own stuff. I enjoy the collaborative nature of editing and I’m very proud of what we’ve published over the last year. (Here are just a few good ones.) One of my goals for 2020 was to write more (here’s a review I wrote about the excellent Elizabeth Catlett exhibition at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum) and then the pandemic hit and it has frankly been more of a struggle to write. Part of this is because my job usually involves going out into the world to look at art and talk with people, and without that crucial real-world interaction (in combination with anxiety about everything and exhaustion) I’m feeling kind of blank. That said, I do have a couple essays in the works.

What are you working on right now (writing or otherwise (nothing is a valid answer as well))?

I don’t want to say too much about it but right now I’m working on something about the weirdness of only viewing art online. I’ve also been cooking a lot, which I really enjoy, and cleaning/sprucing up/organizing my home with the help of my boyfriend. I occasionally draw in my sketchbook, which is something I haven’t really done in a long time. At some point I realized I was consuming so much media/info and felt sort of depleted by it and wanted to get back into actually making things.

What has been your favorite Quarantine Read thus far?

I bought Jalynn Harris’ recently released chapbook, “Exit Thru the Afro,” and I’m savoring it slowly. It’s so good. I love the overall structure of it, thinking of the book as a museum, the museum as a collection of poetry, or as Jalynn described it: a “future museum in the posture of a poetry book” whose galleries exhibit “the colorful lives Black queer folk thriving in the future.”

How would you describe the writing community where you live in just a few words?

Warm, weird in a good way, experimental and real. Just thinking now about how many times I’ve cried a little bit at poetry readings in Baltimore. I feel like art that can make me cry is art that I want to experience more of.

What would be a few words of advice you would give someone wanting to get into any writing community?

Definitely go to events (whenever events can safely happen again) and show support for other writers, try not to be too shy, read your local arts publication if such a thing exists where you live.

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Rebekah Kirkman is the Managing Editor at BmoreArt. She was previously the Visual Arts Editor at the Baltimore City Paper. She writes criticism, essays, and profiles with a strong interest in social/political concerns surrounding the arts.