167: Incorporating anti-racist practices into writing workshops and joyful creation with writer, Isabel O’Hara Walsh

Isabel O’Hara Walsh leads writing workshops through the Redbud Writing Project. Redbud offers classes virtually and around the Triangle on topics like Writing the Novel, Experimental Fiction, and one that Isabel and I talk about, Joyful Creation – how to get your writing juices flowing when staring at that blank page.

Isabel shares about their experience incorporating anti-racist practices into the workshop and feedback processes. An important resource in helping to shape this framework is the book The Anti-Racist Writer’s Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez. Chavez’s book challenges, in her words, “art’s politics of power and privilege” and lays bare the ways that traditional – read: white-supremacist – methods of running workshops work to silence the voices of writers of color and writers with other marginalized identities. 

Isabel and Mara Thomas also discuss another Artist Soapbox favorite when it comes to rethinking the feedback process: Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process. Lerman’s work helps tailor the feedback process to help the creator retain agency over their work and create an environment where they get the feedback they’re actually looking for rather than an onslaught of unfiltered opinions.

BIO:

Isabel O’Hara Walsh (she/they) is a writer, teacher, and practicing witch. A graduate of the MFA program in fiction at North Carolina State University, Isabel teaches fiction writing at the Redbud Writing Project, has published short stories in Pastel Pastoral and The Metaworker, and is at work on her second novel. Through her business EdgeWise Witch, Isabel offers transformative 1-1 and group work sessions that incorporate Tarot, writing, and other ritual to clarify the right path forward for her clients.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

IG: @isabeloharawalsh 

Website: redbudwriting.org | www.edgewisewitch.com

MENTIONED IN THE EPISODE:

The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez

Critical Response Process by Liz Lerman

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Transcript
Tamara Kissane:

This is artist soapbox.

Tamara Kissane:

Through interviews and original scripted audio fiction.

Tamara Kissane:

We deliver stories that speak to your hearts and your minds.

Mara Thomas:

Hello, Soapboxers.

Mara Thomas:

This is Mara Thomas.

Mara Thomas:

Thank you so much for joining me for this conversation with Isabel O'Hara Walsh.

Mara Thomas:

Isabel leads, writing workshops through the Red Bud writing project.

Mara Thomas:

Red bud offers classes virtually and around the triangle on

Mara Thomas:

topics like writing the.

Mara Thomas:

Experimental fiction and one that Isabel and I talk about joyful creation, how

Mara Thomas:

to get your writing juices flowing when staring at that blank page,

Mara Thomas:

Isabel shares about their experience incorporating anti-racist practices into

Mara Thomas:

the workshop and feedback processes.

Mara Thomas:

An important resource in helping to shape this framework is the book,

Mara Thomas:

The Anti-racist Writers' Work: How to Decolonize the Creative

Mara Thomas:

Classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez.

Mara Thomas:

Chavez's book challenges in her words, "arts politics of power and privilege

Mara Thomas:

and lays bare the ways that traditional read white supremacists methods of

Mara Thomas:

running workshops, work to silence, the voices of writers of color and writers

Mara Thomas:

with other marginalized identities".

Mara Thomas:

Isabel and I also discuss another artist soapbox favorite when it comes

Mara Thomas:

to rethinking the feedback process, Liz Lerman's Critcal Response Process.

Mara Thomas:

Lerman's work helps tailor the feedback process.

Mara Thomas:

To help the creator retain agency over their work and create an environment

Mara Thomas:

where they get the feedback they're actually looking for rather than an

Mara Thomas:

onslaught of unfiltered opinions.

Mara Thomas:

Please see the show notes for links to these important resources.

Mara Thomas:

Isabel O'Hara Walsh is a writer, teacher and practicing witch, a

Mara Thomas:

graduate of the MFA program in fiction at North Carolina state university.

Mara Thomas:

Isabel teaches fiction writing at the red bud writing project, has

Mara Thomas:

published short stories in pastel pastoral and the meta worker, and

Mara Thomas:

is at work on her second novel.

Mara Thomas:

Through her business edgewise, which Isabelle offers transformative

Mara Thomas:

one on one and group work sessions that incorporate tarot, writing,

Mara Thomas:

and other ritual to clarify the right path forward for her clients.

Mara Thomas:

Please enjoy this conversation with Isabel O'Hara Walsh.

Mara Thomas:

Hi, Isabel.

Mara Thomas:

We are so happy to have you with us today on artist soapbox.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Welcome.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Thank you, Mara.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It's such a pleasure.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I'm so glad to be here.

Mara Thomas:

Yeah, it's really great to just get to connect with

Mara Thomas:

someone in the writing world.

Mara Thomas:

And I'm wondering if you could share a little bit about how you came

Mara Thomas:

to be part of Red Bud, and yeah,

Mara Thomas:

just kinda share that journey with us.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I came to red bud through the North Carolina

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

state fiction MFA program.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So red bud was started by two women who were in the year above me at the MFA.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I knew that they were going to start this writing program

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

for adults when they graduated.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And that seemed really amazing.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I also didn't know how long I was going to stay in the area after graduating.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So I was excited to have the possibility of maybe getting

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

involved there, but really was trying to kind of keep an open mind.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

My partner and I were considering moving after I graduated, but so I graduated in

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:spring of:Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And by that point, I was really excited about red bud and, and

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

what they were starting and knew I wanted to start teaching for.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Also knew that we were probably going to be staying in North Carolina a little

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

bit longer than maybe we had thought.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And over the years, that's, that's really shifted.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I now plan to live in Raleigh indefinitely and, and love living here.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That shifted, I started teaching for Red Bud.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I started teaching fiction.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Fiction is definitely my specialty.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And over the last, I guess that's two years.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I've kind of expanded my repertoire of classes to include

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

a whole bunch of other things.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I teach writing the eerie and uncanny.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I teach a joyful invention, sort of generative get your

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

creative juices flowing class.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And it's been really amazing to have kind of not, I haven't been part of

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

things since day one, but I, I definitely connected with red bud early and with

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Emily and Arshia who run red bud.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It's really fun because they are building something even as I am a part of it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So I get to really hear their vision and support it and, you

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

know, throw my ideas into the hat.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It's just been a really cool two years of watching this community

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

form around creative people, living in the triangle, who.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Maybe didn't have space for writing or even creativity at all in

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

their lives before, and who are really carving out this space and

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

honoring that part of themselves.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think that's definitely one of my favorite things about teaching for

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

red, but it's just being with people in that time when, when they're

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

really making space to be creative.

Mara Thomas:

I love that I have already got four or five questions to ask.

Mara Thomas:

just based on what you shared.

Mara Thomas:

Well, first I feel like I even wanna zoom out a little bit further.

Mara Thomas:

What brought you to the NC state MFA program and, you know, kind of gathering,

Mara Thomas:

maybe not a North Carolina native.

Mara Thomas:

So where, where did you live prior to this?

Mara Thomas:

Yeah,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I grew up in Massachusetts and then I went

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

to college in Ohio and moved back to Portland Maine after that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I was an English major and had, um, like a very, I don't know,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

privileged liberal arts education.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And when I moved to Maine, I started working in a school, kind of doing

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

aftercare and, and I also played in a band for a while while I was there.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I basically graduated and was like, so tired of writing.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I never wanna write again.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I only wanna do music.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, uh, was kind of trying to create a life in which that could happen.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And it took me about a year to really, really, really miss writing and

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

need that creative outlet, which is something I've always really loved.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I've always loved writing stories.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I've always loved reading fiction.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I really struggle with nonfiction, but fiction's always been very,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

very easy and pleasurable for me.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

. And so when I was living in Maine, I started writing a romance novel

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

just to like, have something, to get myself back into it, which.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Did not make it very far, but I loved kind of just playing around with, and then at

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

a certain point, I just knew that I wanted to go back to school for fiction writing.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And that, that was kind of the next step on my path of doing

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

the work that I really loved.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so I started to research programs and.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It's often really competitive.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So I applied twice and the second time got into NC states program

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

and be Boggs reached out to me.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Who's the current director of the program and, and she was really

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

kind and warm and it just felt like.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

A good place to be energetically for me.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I, I do.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I also do a lot of energy work, so I was really feeling into it from that place.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So my partner and I, we had specifically pitched programs that

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

were in places where we would both be able to find jobs and things to do.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And Raleigh was on that list.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So we moved here and I think were both sort of like ready to get

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

somewhere warmer than Maine and ready to start a new chapter of our

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

individual and collective lives.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, um, Raleigh was, was something, you know, I, I had really

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

thought I would move back to new England and then, and moved here.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And we just found so much community here that we feel

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

really part of and love so much.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, um, Red Bud has definitely been a part of that of, of just

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

like having writer, friends, which is something I never had before

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

moving here.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Having people who are passionate about the same craft that I get really

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

excited about and just being able to have those conversations regularly

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

is something I'm deeply grateful for.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I find super exciting.

Mara Thomas:

Well, and I don't know about you, but to the community piece,

Mara Thomas:

you know, for myself at the risk of projecting, it's also really, I know

Mara Thomas:

for myself, it's really helpful to have folks to be accountable to, you know, so

Mara Thomas:

whether that's, you know, you're gonna have coffee with someone or they're gonna

Mara Thomas:

be reading an upcoming draft, like that is a thing that helps keep me motivated

Mara Thomas:

to do my practice and to make sure that I have something for them to read.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Yeah, absolutely.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And having that be something that is infused with like

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

friendship and mutual care.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Really makes it so much easier to stay engaged with.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I think that that is something that's pretty cool about the triangle I've

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

been, I was talking with someone who.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think was also a transplant to this area recently.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, and just noting, like, there are like a lot of small cities in one area or

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

like big towns and each one has kind of a different flavor and there's different

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

community initiatives, but to be able to live in somewhere where there's just

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

like a lot of people and a lot of people who have energy to start things, organize

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

and, and stay engaged with each other.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

There's sort of like a special alchemy of the way the triangle is organized.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That is unlike anywhere I've ever lived.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And that I think does kind of foster those creative connections,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

starting things, being passionate because I, part of it is also, it's

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

just, it's really beautiful here.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

There's a lot of nature and that's interspersed with, for me, that's, that's

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

really important to my creative world and that's interspersed with the dense

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

densely populous areas in a way that, uh, feels like it feeds the community energy.

Mara Thomas:

I love the way you described the alchemy, because I have felt that too.

Mara Thomas:

And I also have not lived in North Carolina my whole life.

Mara Thomas:

I grew up in Minnesota, but I've been here for over 20 years and I

Mara Thomas:

really resonate with the part where you described each town in the

Mara Thomas:

triangle, sort of has its own flavor.

Mara Thomas:

Like I consider.

Mara Thomas:

The Carborro/Chapel HIll music scene to be the one that I, you know,

Mara Thomas:

kind of feel the most connected to.

Mara Thomas:

And yet in Durham has been part of my theater life.

Mara Thomas:

So just, you know, for anybody who is interested in, whether it's visual art or

Mara Thomas:

dance or performing arts or writing, like there are opportunities to get involved,

Mara Thomas:

you know, no matter if you went to school for it, no matter if it's your first time.

Mara Thomas:

No matter if you have been doing one thing for a long time and wanna try

Mara Thomas:

something else, like there's just, you know, lots of people out there who are

Mara Thomas:

just there to support and help make things happen and connect you with folks.

Mara Thomas:

To me, it's always felt like the bar to entry is really low.

Mara Thomas:

You know, mostly just takes the will.

Mara Thomas:

and from there, like the community, it just kind of exists

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

all around it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Yeah, I think that's true.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I think it's, it's exciting to know that that's out there and to, I

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

mean, and this is sort of tied into our larger conversation for today, but

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

also part of why I moved here is that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

The place that I lived in Maine is largely white and like really largely

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

like, there's, it's a very white area.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And moving here was something that was just sort of like, well, I, I grew up in

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

new England and I wanted to work through some of my own stuff by moving somewhere

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

that was more diverse where there was just like a little bit more direct

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

conversation around racial inequity.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And you know, where the elections were a little more purple, a little harder to

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

tell, or maybe clearly read and where, you know, coming from somewhere where

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

it was just like democratic elections were kind of a guarantee, but there was

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

also a level of complacency with that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think the complacency in community.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Are they're they have real push pull.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So moving here, there's I think a really exciting lack of complacency and a real

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

abundance of fruitful conversations about what is unjust and what is unacceptable

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

or keeping all community members safe and cared for that is really tied into

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

building stronger creative bonds as.

Mara Thomas:

Well, thank you for partly doing my job for me, which is offering

Mara Thomas:

this beautiful transition to some other areas that we we're gonna focus on today.

Mara Thomas:

You know, I've shared with our listeners before that part of my focus with my

Mara Thomas:

artist soapbox episodes is to talk about.

Mara Thomas:

The places where creativity and mental health are coexisting, which for my

Mara Thomas:

money is just about all the time.

Mara Thomas:

And I know that through red bud, one of the things you've been

Mara Thomas:

developing is an anti-racist approach to running writing groups.

Mara Thomas:

I'd just love it.

Mara Thomas:

If you could share a little more about how you came to devise this.

Mara Thomas:

Let's start there and then we'll get into what it's been like on the ground.

Mara Thomas:

But first let's start with, you know, how, how this idea came to you.

Mara Thomas:

Yeah,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I would say not surprisingly, the idea came from a

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

student of color and I think that's often the case that we get sort of like

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

reminded and the emotional labor is often done by the people of color in

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

our communities to get us on a better.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

and so, but my hope was okay, what can I do as a white teacher now to, uh,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

really hear that and move with it and shift the way that my workshops are done,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

because I was using for my first, almost whole year of, of red bud, I was using a

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

workshop method that is pretty standard.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I would say traditional by which I think I.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

By which I know I'm also saying developed in white supremacist academic circles.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And that's not to say that there's, you know, I say white supremacists pretty

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

broadly in the sense of, we are all a part of white supremacy, unless we are actively

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

working to be anti-racist, it's just the structure in which we live and operate.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So as with a lot of structures that are become sort of the norm, the workshop

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

structure that I was using was one that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Involves like a student will submit their work.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Everyone reads it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Everyone makes notes on it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Everyone writes a response letter about what they are critiquing in it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And then in the workshop itself, the student remains silent the whole time and

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

listens to feedback while taking notes.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And then at the end can ask questions.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And my student recommended to me was a book called the anti-racist writing

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

workshop, how to decolonize the creative classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez and in

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

it, Felicia Rose Chavez talks about how.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That traditional Iowa writer's workshop, I think is where it

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

gets credit for originating.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

How that workshop method is often inherently violent towards students

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

of color, who spend a lot of their days being silenced anyways.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so this idea that when someone comes to a creative classroom, they should

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

have a voice and that voice ness should inherently be a part of the classroom,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

especially, and in particular for students of color was, is really foundational to

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

that book, which I, I strongly recommend reading it to anyone who's running a

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

writing workshop, or may have a say in how to run a writing workshop or just anyone

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

who's working in creative groupings.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think it does a really great job of taking how to have a

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

trauma informed and anti-racist approach to any creative gathering

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

where feedback is being provided.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so I read that book and started right away to implement some of Chavez's

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

ideas about how to structure a workshop.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And the switch that I made that she outlines is so a

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

student submits their piece.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think that she doesn't have people write margin notes.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I let people choose whether or not they want notes written

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

in the margins of their piece.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Oh.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And then the author, instead of receiving a bunch of critique letters from the

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

workshop participants, the author writes an artist statement, which this is

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Felicia Rose Chavez uses the Liz Lerman critical response process, which is, was

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

critique process established by a, a dance professor and then adds onto it

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

a few things, including this artist statement, where the author says,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

what was challenging for them about the piece, what was successful, what

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

they're hoping for moving forward.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

There's a few other questions, and then, really importantly, a few craft questions.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I have my students do two craft questions about what they

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

like to work on and revision.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So it really places the authority back in the hands of the writer.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So that there's this.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Sort of inherent affirmation of like, you are smart enough to know what you need

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

help with and you can guide us better than anyone else, including a workshop leader.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And also then the autonomy is back in the student's hands.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So let's say that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It's a student of color in a classroom of white students.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

There is risk of microaggression.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

There is a risk of verbal violence and the student has more control

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

over whether or not they're put in a dangerous or harmful situation.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

By being able to say, in the moment of the workshop.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Yes.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I'd like to hear feedback on this, or no, I'm not ready to

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

hear feedback on that right now.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And choosing who they are interested in hearing feedback from.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So it's just a real transfer of authority from this sort of like nebulous workshop

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

leader, director, like directorial, like someone else, making decisions

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

for you to really putting it back into more communal like communal and

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

community oriented and focused on.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

What will be useful moment to moment and what will be safe and comfortable

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

moment to moment sort of approach

Mara Thomas:

I'm just over here, nodding, along with everything that you're

Mara Thomas:

saying, because I've found Liz Lerman's work a few years ago, and actually

Mara Thomas:

on this podcast, we've talked about it in, in our kinda artist soap box

Mara Thomas:

writings about the inherent discomfort that comes in the critique process.

Mara Thomas:

I'm over here, just imagining the times that I've had my play scripts that

Mara Thomas:

are going through a first or a second draft and hearing people, reading them

Mara Thomas:

aloud for the first time, you know, it really brings up so much in us.

Mara Thomas:

And, you know, thinking about this from a mental health point of view, our brains

Mara Thomas:

can't tell the difference between fear based on sharing, writing versus fear of,

Mara Thomas:

you know, being eaten by a wild animal.

Mara Thomas:

It still pumps the same hormones through our bodies.

Mara Thomas:

It kind of hits the same part of our, our lizard brain.

Mara Thomas:

So I'd love to hear folks implementing that kind of process, you know, and, and

Mara Thomas:

adapting it for their specific art forms.

Mara Thomas:

Cuz I just, I'm such a believer in.

Mara Thomas:

We don't need to have the kitchen sink approach to critique.

Mara Thomas:

We can really get intentional about how it's done.

Mara Thomas:

And like you mentioned, letting the creator be in control and have that

Mara Thomas:

agency around what they're willing to let in or what they're willing to receive.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Yeah.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I really appreciate that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, and that idea of mental health is, so I think that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Also gets the backseat when we're sort of like deciding whether or not to

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

use established structures for whether it's for a creative classroom or like

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

really any type of academic setting where really any type of setting.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think that mental health often, well, I think it gets the backseat.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I also think that white mental.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Is often just like much more in the forefront of the media and the public eye.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so what was really helpful for me in reading this book was Alicia Rose

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Chavez, just focusing on prioritizing the mental health of students of

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

color in a creative environment,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

and just saying like, here are the things that are different for white people.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Like here's what you have.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And have access to, and there are ways that you are taking care of on the

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

daily that a student of color might not necessarily have and, and is probably

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

likely to not have such that it is.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

If you want to be able to like safely and invitingly invite students of color

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

into your classroom, you're gonna have to create a different kind of space.

Mara Thomas:

That.

Mara Thomas:

Yes.

Mara Thomas:

Completely agree.

Mara Thomas:

And so what has it been like, you know, as you've been implementing this new

Mara Thomas:

method in your workshops, how's it

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

going?

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think in a lot of ways it's more intuitive for a lot of people.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

There's sort of this like aside from, I mean, aside from, and in addition to

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

being, anti-racist it, I have a lot of white students and they also often enjoy

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

the ability to participate in conversation about their work rather than being,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

you know, waiting until the end to, to start to ask questions

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

the end of the workshop.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I think that there's really something there about just like creating

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

a warm and welcoming space for, for everybody that is not, you know, may

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

perhaps it's not necessary to have.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Good mental health as a white person, but it could also be quite nice to have this

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

like warm, friendly sort of conversational space, which is not to say that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

If you do not use this workshop method, you cannot have that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think that that warm sort of camaraderie is something that red bud

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

students are really great at creating.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so that's definitely just part of like to use the word alchemy

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

again, it's part of the alchemy of a group of red bud students often.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

But there's so in, in that way, I enjoy it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think that it opens the door for a little bit more taking on of, of authority

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

as a writer and responsibility, which I think is really exciting as like to focus

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

it on it as an anti-racist approach.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I do get some pushback from students.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Sometimes.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think the biggest thing that gets pushed, I think, first of all, it's

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

just unfamiliar to a lot of people, which is perfectly understandable and

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

there's sort of this awkward adjustment period of like, oh, well I've never

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

taken a workshop like this before.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I don't really know how it'll feel.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I don't totally trust that it will be useful to me because I've never done it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I definitely understand that this is not yet the norm for writers' workshops.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And then I think the biggest place that I get pushback, there's a

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

part of the workshop process.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Chavez has created in, in conversation with Liz Lerman's process.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That is once you have in the workshop, the author, there's sort of like a few

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

steps to kind of get us into the world of the piece and, and sort of bring everyone

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

back into thinking about the piece.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And then eventually the author walks us through the craft questions that they've

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

asked in their artist's statements.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So they'll say, you know, I was wondering, this is written in third person.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Do you think it would work better in first?

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Do you think that it would connect with the reader more deeply this way?

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Do you think it would serve my, my like meaning purposes better?

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That's just an example.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, and we'll spend time with what the author has decided to spend time on.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And then at the end, There's space for what Chavez calls, permissioned

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

opinions and neutral questions.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And this is where conceptually, I think it gets a little trickier.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Permissioned opinions is basically what, in a quote unquote traditional

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

writer's workshop would be the whole thing would be just people saying

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

what they think and are critiquing about different parts of the piece.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

But in this workshop method, the person, the part.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Who has an opinion has to say, I have an opinion about your character development.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Would you be interested in hearing it and then the author

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

has the option to say yes or no.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And a neutral question is something like, what were you trying to achieve

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

with your character development?

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

What was, what was your hope for that arc or I, I was really

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

curious about this character.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Can you tell me.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

A little more about the role that they play.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Those are very similar questions, but I think you get the idea and it's

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

not a, you know, why did you do this?

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Or I think this would be better if it were different, do you agree?

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It's very neutral.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And the author really isn't, I think intended to start a conversation with

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

the author that might help them clarify some things, but the place that people

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

get stuck on is the permission opinions.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It is almost entirely white students who get stuck on this.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I also teach a majority of white students, so that's definitely intertwined.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I don't say that to accuse my white students of, you know, not going along

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

with the program or not getting it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think it is a tricky space for.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

People with white privilege to wrap their heads around.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I got to do my, you know, unpacking and unlearning in private

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

when I read this book to myself.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so in the moment, if people are put on the spot to do that unpacking

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

and unlearning in the moment, I think that that can be quite challenging, cuz

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

there's often sort of this reaction of.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Well, you know, if it's a, if it's a white student being, workshoped,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

they'll be like, well, you can just say all the opinions, you know, why

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

would you need to ask permission?

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I have to kind of go, okay, that's cool that you feel that way.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

You are allowed to give a banner acceptance to all opinions, but that's

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

an act that you are choosing to do.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I'm going to continue to remind everyone to.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Ask for permission, that is really crucial.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And that's something that Chavez talks about in the anti-racist writing

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

workshop is that often it's white male students who are like, well, this

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

is kind of too soft of a workshop.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It doesn't feel rigorous enough.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And that sort of perhaps troubling idea that something must be kind

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

of painful and, and rigorous in a challenging way in order to be useful.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I think that that often overlaps with the permission opinions idea.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That's like, well, just bring it on.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I can take it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That may be true for that person.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And that might be the most useful thing for them.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

But I also think it's something that we as white people often say without

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

thinking that it's like, well, I'm, you know, I can take it, bring it on, tell me

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

what you tell me what you really think.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, and this idea.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

for someone who perhaps has not moved through the day with as much

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

privilege and has, has weathered a lot more challenges being put through

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

the ringer during a creative and vulnerable time is actually really

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

unproductive and potentially harmful.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so just, that's definitely the place that's been.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Require the most conversation in workshops to say, Hey, this is a non-negotiable.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And also here's, if you have questions about why it's a non-negotiable,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

we can absolutely talk about them.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And once we sort of open that door of like, here's why it's the case, it

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

generally makes sense to everybody,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

and everyone is accepting of it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

There's sort of this like maybe first day or two, but I would

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

say for the most part overall, My students have been really on board.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And for those who like needed another day or two to work through

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

those ideas, they have that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And that's the fact that they need that is totally fine.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Then it comes it circles right back to the community of the classroom and

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

the space that we co-create together.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think that that is really central to it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, and Chavez really focuses a lot on that idea of this is so we can create a

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

collective narrative of everybody's voice.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so if we keep circling back to that idea, that the, the core tenant

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

is to create a collective, you know, a new cannon with everybody's voice

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

heard it starts to feel more intuitive.

Mara Thomas:

What you're saying, just reminds me of, I'm sure I saw

Mara Thomas:

this on Instagram forever ago, but it was just a very simple statement.

Mara Thomas:

You know, if you work with human beings in any capacity, being trauma informed

Mara Thomas:

is not optional, you know, and I think it's part of unpacking privilege.

Mara Thomas:

It's part of deconstructing these.

Mara Thomas:

These ways that a lot of folks take as just, this is just how you run a workshop.

Mara Thomas:

You know, you take for granted without really considering how this came

Mara Thomas:

to be and the impact on people with marginalized identities who are also

Mara Thomas:

trying to navigate these systems.

Mara Thomas:

You know, it's not surprising to me to hear that some folks are,

Mara Thomas:

are struggling with that piece of, well, this is okay for me.

Mara Thomas:

So it should be okay for everybody else.

Mara Thomas:

And it sounds like you're really giving your students this

Mara Thomas:

opportunity to learn a different way.

Mara Thomas:

And model this other way of just organizing the, the feedback process

Mara Thomas:

and this collective narrative process.

Mara Thomas:

I think it sounds really beautiful.

Mara Thomas:

I wish we had all the time in the world to talk about it, cuz this is

Mara Thomas:

so enriching and it's giving me a lot to think about, you know, as we are

Mara Thomas:

getting toward the end of our discussion today, I wanted to circle back.

Mara Thomas:

You mentioned something that was so interesting talking about

Mara Thomas:

the classes that you teach.

Mara Thomas:

And if I heard it.

Mara Thomas:

What I heard was joyful invention.

Mara Thomas:

Did I get that right?

Mara Thomas:

Yes.

Mara Thomas:

As a person who kind of needs to jumpstart my joyfulness with my creativity every

Mara Thomas:

now and then I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about how that class

Mara Thomas:

goes and what are some of the things that help you connect with the joy of creation?

Mara Thomas:

Yeah.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I love that class.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I love this question.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It's a real joy to teach as well.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Um, I think so I teach kind of two levels of it.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

One.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think right now, we're just calling it joyful invention or

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

joyful creation one and two.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, but the idea is basically for joyful invention last summer,

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I read Linda Berry's syllabus recommended by a friend and it blew

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

my mind and got me really pumped up.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I was like, I gotta teach a class.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It's based on this, where like writers are pushed into uncomfortable spaces

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

with their creativity and where they are.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

You know, I think that's where the electricity kind of starts.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, and Linda Barry talks about that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

She's sort of like, this is, you know, we gotta, we gotta go into the spook house.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I think she calls it rather than the Merry go round, where if you're

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

on the Merry go round, you're not really making anything interesting.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And it's when the.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

You know, not in a harmful way, but when you are feeling vulnerable and kind

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

of on the edge of that vulnerability, that you, you make interesting

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

things that, that feel representative of your processing and emotions.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so that class.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Just basic joyful invention class.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I constructed using a lot of Barrys ideas, but also just sort of starting to be

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

like, okay, well, what for me helps me jumpstart my process and I write novels.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

So there's a lot of jumpstarting that has to happen during the like

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

two year minimum commitment of writing this really long thing.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

You have to.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Coming back to it and recommitting to it and, and getting recited

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

about it all over again in order to complete a story of that length.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so I started incorporating drawing, which I do in my own practice.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And then I have a day with my students where I'll just read them like children's

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

stories from different countries and have them kind of either doodle or write

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

down ideas that come up for them, or just sometimes people will just listen and

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

it's like, No one ever just reads you a story anymore as an adult, but it was

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

so many people's favorite school time was just being read to, and it really

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

allows your mind and your soul to kind of wander into these creative territories.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, um, so it's really for people who.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Maybe need to restart that flow of creative energy.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And it, it is not a wrong or bad thing.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

If you do not feel it flowing all the time that.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

What everyone experiences.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so just having this space where for me, I think the biggest part for me was

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

making sure that I didn't fill up the space too much and that I left open space

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

for magic to happen during class with just whatever came in to fill the void.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And boy was like, glad that I did that, cuz we it's, it makes every

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

class really different and really guided by the people who are investing

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

themselves creatively in the class.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And we have such fascinating discussions about what feels meaningful and, and

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

sparks interest and makes us feel, you know, creating is hard and it is

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

often very emotional often when people end up writing about is like it's.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Joy and fun are not the same or joy and pleasure are not the same.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That joy is, is often pleasurable, but is also often just like this deep creative

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

burst of knowing that you're on some right path for what you're trying to make.

Mara Thomas:

And I wonder too, you know, just with the container that you're

Mara Thomas:

helping to make in your classrooms, where people feel hopefully more

Mara Thomas:

supported and able to get into that vulnerable space, like ride that

Mara Thomas:

edge, get into that spook house.

Mara Thomas:

I really love that idea.

Mara Thomas:

Cause to me, when we are operating from a place of safety, It helps us access

Mara Thomas:

those, the more vulnerable sides, just knowing that, you know, we can, we can

Mara Thomas:

come back to home base and we can always kind of touch back into a place where we,

Mara Thomas:

you know, we don't have to live there.

Mara Thomas:

We just go visit it once in a while.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Yeah, I think that's totally true.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That's what I really that's what I hope.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And that's, I think for my own, like in thinking about this podcast and in talking

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

with you and, you know, interested in knowing that I was gonna be recording

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

with you today, I was sort of thinking like, okay, Do I, should it be me to

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

stand on the artist soap box and talk about anti-racism as a white person?

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I think the answer that I came up with and I'm I'm sitting with is

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

like, yeah, I should take on labor so that it's not all on people of color.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And yet I know that like, there's no way for me to end this call and

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

have like done the right thing.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

It's just about continuing conversation.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And so I think that that connects into.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That idea of like, yep.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

That's the space that I'm trying to create.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And I really hope that it feels that way to everyone in my classroom.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And, you know, if it doesn't, then it's just committing to

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

having those conversations about how to shift that more.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And that's, you know, I'm, I'm deeply grateful to my student who

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

mentioned this book to me and was like, you should look into this.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I was like, yeah, thank you for.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Thank you for passing that along and now let's, you know, that was

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

a great conversation and let's just have more conversations.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Yeah.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

And

Mara Thomas:

we'll be sure to share a link to that book in our show notes.

Mara Thomas:

And we really appreciate you sharing that resource with our listeners.

Mara Thomas:

And it's been a true pleasure to get to talk with you today.

Mara Thomas:

Thank you so much for being here, Isabel.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

Likewise, thank you so much for having me.

Isabel O'Hara Walsh:

I really appreciate your asking.

Tamara Kissane:Established in:Tamara Kissane:

studio based in North Carolina.

Tamara Kissane:

Artist soapbox produces original scripted audio fiction and an ongoing interview

Tamara Kissane:

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We cultivate aspiring audio Dramatists and producers, and we partner with

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Artist Soapbox

Artist Soapbox is a platform for original scripted audio fiction and an opportunity for artists to discuss their creative work in their own voices. We do this through our interview podcast, our blog, and original audio dramas.

Artist Soapbox is an anti-racist organization. We believe Black Lives Matter. In addition, as an audio production company, ASBX has signed the Equality in Audio Pact on Broccoli Content.

Artist Soapbox is more than just an interview podcast.

We lead writers groups, accountability support, events, and workshops. We create and produce audio dramas too! Listen to the Master BuilderThe New Colossus Audio Drama, Declaration of Love, and ASBX Shorts. Stay tuned to hear about more projects written by the Soapbox Audio Collective Writers’ Group.

Artist Soapbox is about Empowerment & Connection.

Artist Soapbox was founded on the belief that if we (humans/artists) talk with each other, and if we LISTEN to each other, then we’ll make better art. We’ll form a stronger community. We’ll feel more empowered and less alone.

Artist Soapbox goes deep into the creative process.

On Artist Soapbox podcast, artists in the Triangle are invited to put words around their creative journeys and processes.

Artist Soapbox explores all artistic mediums.

We believe we can learn from all artists. Artist Soapbox is open to the full spectrum of art-makers and has interviewed creatives in theatre, dance, visual, literary, craft, administration, film making, photography, music, design and more.

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