Two from LPR Visit Paul Rucker’s Exhibit in Richmond

Photo of Paul Rucker

Paul Rucker

In our Winter 2018 issue, LPR featured the art of Paul Rucker. Contributing editor Ann Bracken conducted an interview with Rucker, whose work was also featured in our issue launch.

On May 5, Ann and our publisher, Desirée Magney, traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Art on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond to see his exhibit. Below are their comments about the installation.

Desirée Magney: On display, in the back section of a large room on the first floor, was a line-up of Rucker’s mannequins dressed in long, colorful robes cinched at the waist. Pointed hoods stood erect from shoulders to well beyond the tops of the heads. Other than the colors, the mannequins’ clothing resembled the garb of the KKK. I had seen photos of Rucker’s figures in our Winter 2018 Little Patuxent Review journal, so I knew what to expect. But I couldn’t have anticipated the impact the actual exhibit had on me.

The figures were very tall and arranged in a crisscross pattern. So, no matter where you stood, you felt surrounded, intimidated, and overwhelmed by them as they towered over you. The eyeholes in the hoods were vacant, contributing to the eeriness the exhibit created. I imagine these were all feelings intended by Rucker—feelings felt in a much greater degree by those who have encountered actual Klan members. Thus, it was a very effective exhibit.

Rucker also had display cases of old Ku Klux Klan newspapers, postcards, flyers, brochures, and pamphlets. There were postcards of actual lynchings. There were photos of people posing with wide smiles on their faces, in front of bodies dangling from thick tree branches.

I queried Ann how Rucker obtained this memorabilia. “He bids on Ebay. He always wonders who he’s bidding against.” Rucker wonders if the opposing bidder is a believer in the doctrines of white supremacy groups or someone like him who wants to make us all aware of this horrifying history and the continued presence of these groups today.

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Photos from Annual Reading on March 17

Little Patuxent Review hosted its annual reading of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on March 17 at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda. Below are some photos of our readers, including contributors to our most recent issue, four members of the Black Ladies Brunch CollectiveLPR editors, and Ian Anderson, the editor of Mason Jar Press, an independent press in Baltimore. Maria Termini and Anya Creightney were unable to attend, but others read their work, nonfiction and poetry, for them.

Daien Guo, LPR contributor, fiction

Steven Leyva, LPR editor, poetry

 

Ann Bracken, LPR editor, interview with artist Paul Rucker

Ian Anderson, Mason Jar Press, fiction

 

 

Saida Agostini, LPR contributor, poetry

Teri Ellen Cross Davis, LPR contributor, poetry

 

 

Tafisha A. Edwards, LPR contributor, poetry

Katy Richey, LPR contributor, poetry

 

Paul Rucker: Featured Artist for Winter 2018 Issue

One of the most distinctive features of LPR is that we feature an artist’s profile and work in each issue. Paul Rucker, who created the installation on racism called REWIND, is our featured artist for the upcoming Winter 2018 issue. Ann Bracken, LPR’s deputy editor, interviewed Rucker this fall. Enjoy!

An Interview with Featured Artist Paul Rucker

Paul Rucker explains his approach this way: “I want to deal with the truth. The ‘I know’ rather than the ‘I feel’ or ‘I think.’” History is what drives Rucker’s art, along with his passion for educating people on the relationship between slavery, structural racism, and mass incarceration.

Photo of Paul Rucker

Paul Rucker

He’s a visual artist, musician, and collector who likes to tell stories. He uses the objects in his collection to create art exhibits that are designed to present facts and promote discussion about history and societal issues.

Because Rucker’s work deals with the relationship between slavery and the prison-industrial complex, you might expect his collection to relate to these topics. “I have a little museum,” he told me, “and many of the pieces I’ve collected become part of my exhibitions.” One of the objects in his collection is a 50-pound ball and chain that was used to keep the convicts from escaping. After slavery ended, many states leased convicts to do the work that slaves were no longer required to do for free. In a Baltimore Sun article about Rucker’s REWIND exhibit, there’s a striking photo of him holding the iron ball. “I dropped that ball on my foot and broke my big toe,” he told me when we spoke.

Rucker also has a collection of books espousing white supremacy and justifying slavery. Two notable and disturbing titles are The Negro: A Menace to American Civilization by R. W. Schufeldt, M.D., and White Supremacy and Negro Subordination by John H. VanEvry, also a physician. Both of these books are part of the REWIND exhibit, as are branding irons used on slaves. Rucker lets the objects speak the truth of history.

Paul Rucker has a distinguished list of grants, awards, and residencies for visual art and music. In 2012, Rucker became a creative capital grantee in visual art as well as a 2014 MAP (Multi-Arts Production) fund grantee for performance. In 2015, Rucker received two awards—the Mary Sawyer Baker Award along with the distinguished Joan Mitchell Painters & Sculptors Grant. Rucker received the Rauschenberg Artist as Activist fellowship in 2016 and the Smithsonian Artist Research fellowship, which bestows on him the privilege of being the first artist in residence at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Among his many residencies are the MacDowell Colony, Ucross Foundation, Art OMI, Banff Centre, Rauschenberg Residency, Joan Mitchell Residency, Hemera Artist Retreat, Air Serembe, Creative Alliance, and the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center in Bellagio, Italy. Closer to home, from 2013 to 2015 the Maryland Institute College of Art hosted Rucker as the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation artist in residence and research fellow.

Now Rucker can add Richmond, Virginia, to his other two cities of residence—Baltimore and Seattle. Virginia Commonwealth University named him an iCubed (Inclusion, Inquiry, and Innovation) visiting arts fellow embedded at the Institute for Contemporary Art, where he’ll teach a music course in the spring of 2018. Most recently, he was awarded a 2017 John Simon Guggenheim fellowship, and he’s currently spearheading a Kickstarter campaign to fund more exhibitions of REWIND across the country.

Little Patuxent Review: How does the REWIND exhibit speak to what’s going on in the United States right now? In particular, how does the exhibit speak to the societal tensions in Baltimore?

Paul Rucker: The exhibit speaks to more than societal tensions in Baltimore; the same things are happening all across the United States. I live in both Seattle and Baltimore, and both cities have similar problems. The redlining that began in Baltimore moved across the country to Seattle.

Some places are amplifications of the issues; others are subtler. REWIND is about history from a place of “I know.” I created a 30-page newspaper full of historical information and photographs as part of the exhibition. People need to know what came before in this country to understand where we are now. For example, in the 1920s, there were four to five million members of the Ku Klux Klan, all organized to protect white culture. Now we have a variety of groups, widely dispersed and less organized—the Neo-Nazis, Pro-Confederates, White Nationalists. Richard Spencer can barely get 100 people to come out when he speaks. If we look at this a different way, if ten people on a college campus came to hear Spencer’s speech, seven would just be curious, two might be followers, and one person would be there due to taking a wrong turn in the hall.

The people we really need to be concerned about are all of the white suburbanites and even white progressives who benefit from the structural racism in this country.

LPR: How do you see us—as a country—turning that around?

PR: First people have to know that the situation [structural racism] exists and that it affects some people more than others. I was reading the other day that if we allow society to keep going the way that it is now, in 2053 Black Americans will have a net worth of $0. Why is the average white family worth so much more than the average Black family? Is it because they work so much harder? Where are the nice Black neighborhoods? They don’t exist in any city.

Things have not improved in Baltimore despite having a Black mayor or a Black police commissioner, even with the country having a Black president for eight years. Mayor Pugh can give great speeches and she gets a lot of credit for taking down Confederate monuments, but she vetoed a $15/hour minimum wage. Taking down a few monuments does not address poverty, inadequate schools, or systemic racism. We had eight years of Obama, and even he couldn’t talk about race or white privilege. Why can white people’s kids feel free to walk to the store safely without fear of being shot, and buy Skittles and some juice, but Black kids can’t? That’s white privilege.

LPR: I read in one of your interviews that you wanted to do a piece on Freddie Gray. Have you?

PR: I’m still thinking about it. You know, that situation isn’t over yet; things are still going on. The police officers are on trial again, and three of them are Black. Right around the time of the uprising, I did an exhibit with flag-covered coffins at Baltimore City Hall. But when I do an exhibit or a new art piece, it’s all connected. It’s meant for everyone that’s been a victim of terrorism.

LPR: As part of the inaugural Light City Baltimore Festival, you shone a spotlight on places around the city where African men, women, and children were sold, and then you composed a cello solo for each site. Which site was most evocative or disturbing for your audience? How did people respond?

PR: I actually performed my cello compositions at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, so that was a separate event. But the exhibit, which I named “In Light of History,” had eight separate installations along Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor. Each exhibit had an old street light and a sign detailing why the spot was significant. Many of the installations dealt with the buying and selling of slaves, with the text coming directly from old ads in the Baltimore Sun. One document that I purchased is a bill of sale for a three-year-old slave. As soon as you could walk, you were a slave. At the harbor in Baltimore, the point of entry into the United States, you entered as a slave. Location number eight was at

O’Donnell’s Wharf, which was a location for “incoming and outgoing brigs and barques where dockside sales of enslaved people took place.”

LPR: How did the audience respond?

PR: Mostly with disbelief. You never learned this in history class, did you? You know, the Inner Harbor is a place of beauty. People shop, go out to eat. These locations were never marked before, and they’re not marked now.

LPR: What are some other events related to slavery that people find unbelievable?

PR: The early slave trade began in Boston and Richmond, but Baltimore was included as well. People tend to think of slavery as happening only in the Deep South—places like South Carolina and Mississippi—but it happened all over the U.S. Just recently, people discovered a slave burial ground in Tribeca—that’s in New York City. They estimate that between 15,000 and 30,000 people are buried there. Some as young as five years old. The archeologists could see that many of them were worked to death because of their bone structure. White people aren’t buried in mass graves, at least in the U.S.

LPR: Tell me a little about your journey as a musician. What led you to choose the cello, and how would you describe your technique?

PR: Actually, I began as a double-bass player in elementary school, and then I played in college. At some point, I decided I wanted to learn the cello, so I bought one for $1000 and never took a lesson. I play differently from anyone else. I make up ways of approaching the instrument, and I improvise music on the spot. I’ve played with a number of orchestras, including the South Carolina Philharmonic, the Augusta Symphony, and the Ashville Symphony. Right now I have a performance piece called “Stories from the Trees” where I play music to animated postcards that depict lynchings.

My exhibit on the Klan features one actual Klan robe and several others made out of different fabrics. The exhibit was inspired by my time playing with the Augusta Opera in 1989, where I first saw Ku Klux Klan members.

LPR: You were awarded a 2017 Rauschenberg Fellowship for the Artist as Activist to dig deeper into the mass incarceration crisis. Say some more about that.

PR: Well, when people say that the system is broken, they’re actually repeating a false narrative. The system is actually working exactly the way that it was designed to work. People talk about the disproportionality in education from one community to another, but that’s because of the system that’s in place. We need to be asking why the education system disproportionally helps one community more than another. In the last election, the poor whites spoke out. And how do we justify the treatment of imprisoned people? What about when we say “He can do better than that. Pull himself up by his bootstraps.” First, a person needs to have some bootstraps.

In my exhibit “Proliferation,” where I show how many prisons have been built in the U.S. between 1778 and 2008, I use lights in different colors to show how many prisons were built in various time periods. By far the greatest boom in prison construction took place between 1981 and 2008. I get a variety of different responses from people. Some say they can’t believe we waste that kind of money. Other people cry.

LPR: In one of your recent interviews you said, Well, I did a TED Talk over a year ago in Berkeley talking about how they were using the word “thug” to describe Trayvon [Martin]. I said, “‘thug’ is the new ‘nigger.’” It’s a kind of coded language. And even the smartest people are not aware of how this language is being used. It gets into the news, even into the textbooks. How do we work to reclaim language and call out the code words for what they are?

PR: I am reclaiming symbols to tell the truth. I have a collection of branding irons, Klan robes, and books about White Supremacy as well as pro-slavery books that I bought from private collectors on eBay. I want to tell the true story of these items. Think about this language: How does it work when we have a team with owners? When the members of that team can be traded? Why are all of the owners white? Are they working in a field? Think about it.

We need to talk about how the narrative is framed when we discuss people. Who are our archetypes? What does a doctor look like? What does a genius look like? How do we frame history? My family’s been in this country a lot longer than many white people. Wealthy people want to control the narrative to justify the power they have.

LPR: Some public figures are using what could be called coded language to talk about the protests in the NFL regarding police brutality. For example, Owner Bob McNair said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

PR: I’m glad he said it. A lot of other people think it as well.

LPR: What do you see as an appropriate action for football players to take in response to his comments?

PR: Wouldn’t it be great if all of the Black players formed a superstar team? A Black-owned team? That would be a most amazing thing.

LPR: Your exhibit REWIND draws parallels between police violence and lynching and slavery and the prison systems. For those that haven’t seen the exhibit, can you describe “Excessive Use”?

PR: I wanted to explore what it was like to carry a weapon, so I got a permit for concealed carry and bought a Glock 22 40-caliber pistol. I wanted to know how it feels to pull the trigger, to shoot 50 or 137 bullets into someone. The exhibit features pieces of white paper with the names of people who’ve been murdered by police. Each piece of paper is named by the date and location of the tragedy and has the exact number of bullet holes that the bodies endured. I use my art as a way of showing what happens as opposed to simply talking about it.

LPR: Recently, both Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow and Ava DuVernay in her film 13th have discussed the movement from slavery to the current system of mass incarceration. Talk about how your work addresses the trajectory from slave labor to convict leasing to the current labor system that operates in prisons across the U.S.

PR: While I admire the work of Michelle Alexander and Eva DuVernay, I think we first need to give credit to Angela Davis for her 1997 speech “The Prison Industrial Complex.” You know, this prison system of labor is extremely profitable. Davis warned about that system and said that it would continue to grow. I had to fund my own projects because years ago, no one would fund me to talk about mass incarceration. Then several of my friends told me about the Rauschenberg call for projects. I applied, and I was awarded the funding.

LPR: Since the 1970s, the U.S. has seen an explosion in the building of prisons. Your performance piece, “Proliferation,” deals with this issue in an especially provocative manner. You cite the statistic that the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prison population. Describe “Proliferation,” talk a bit about the genesis of the idea, and talk about what you hope audiences will take away from it.

PR: The map that I use in the exhibit came from the Prison Policy Initiative, and they were happy to have me animate what they had put together. I want to show, not tell. There are 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S. People don’t understand this is happening, and “Proliferation” is another way of telling the story. But all of us benefit from the system of prison labor in the U.S. Some of the biggest U.S. corporations use prison labor, including Bank of America, GEICO, Walmart, and ATT. According to the UNICOR website (formerly the Federal Prison Industries) prisoners earn between $0.23 and $1.15 per hour.

LPR: In other interviews that I’ve read, you’ve said that your work is not about race, it’s about power. Can you expand on that idea? How does that relate to the current situation in Baltimore with the trial boards and the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s murder?

PR: The system is about maintaining the power that people already have. Let’s think about the Baltimore Police. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, but slavery wasn’t officially ended in Maryland until November 1, 1864. In 1862, a uniformed version of the Baltimore Police Department was established. What were the police used for? To keep communities in place first of all. Then they served as the public face to enforce redlining to be sure that “those people” don’t move into white communities. It’s about power.

LPR: What most inspires you to keep creating visual art and music?

PR: I enjoy telling stories. The power of the artist is to make the unseen seen, and I enjoy doing that.

And we need to talk about privilege. Everyone needs to look at their privilege. Look around your neighborhood. If there are no Black folks living in your neighborhood, you need to ask why. Black neighbors matter. If there aren’t any Blacks in your workplace, you need to ask why. Black jobs matter.

LPR: What is the role of hope in your work?

PR: Hope comes through knowledge. You can’t have hope unless you have something to believe in. When you learn that a system is stacked against you, that you’re not here out of any fault of your own, then you can begin to address the system. REWIND gives me hope.

~Ann Bracken, Contributing/Deputy Editor

Videos featuring Paul Rucker and his work

Real New Network Interview: “The System is Based on Profit” 

Paul Rucker at TED-X: An Artist Copes with Reality

Paul Rucker is a visual artist, composer, and musician who often combines media, integrating live performance, sound, original compositions, and visual art. His work is the product of a rich interactive process, through which he investigates community impacts, human rights issues, historical research, and basic human emotions surrounding particular subject matters. Much of his current work focuses on the Prison Industrial Complex and the many issues accompanying incarceration in its relationship to slavery. He has presented performances and visual art exhibitions across the country and has collaborated with educational institutions to address the issue of mass incarceration. Presentations have taken place in schools, active prisons, and inactive prisons such as Alcatraz.

Rucker has received numerous grants, awards, and residencies for visual art and music. He is a 2012 Creative Capital grantee in visual art as well as a 2014 MAP (Multi-Arts Production) fund grantee for performance. In 2015 he received a prestigious Joan Mitchell Painters & Sculptors Grant as well as the Mary Sawyer Baker Award. In 2016 Paul received the Rauschenberg Artist as Activist fellowship and the Smithsonian Artist Research fellowship, for which he is the first artist in residence at the new National Museum of African American Culture.

Ann Bracken is the author of two collections of poetry, No Barking in the Hallways: Poems from the Classroom (2017) and The Altar of Innocence (2015), both published by New Academia Publishing’s Scarith imprint, and the deputy editor for Little Patuxent Review. Her poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in anthologies and journals, including Bared: Contemporary Poetry and Art on Bras and Breasts, New Verse News, Reckless Writing Anthology: Emerging Poets of the 21st Century, and Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence. She co-hosts the popular reading series Wilde Readings and offers poetry and writing workshops in prisons, adult education centers and schools, and at creativity conferences.

 

Steven Leyva: The Editor’s Reflections

Three years ago, Laura Shovan called me to offer the position of Editor of the Little Patuxent Review. I was, of course, both flabbergasted and flattered, having only recently been published in LPR through the Enoch Pratt Free Poetry Contest (1st runner up). Laura and I didn’t know each other well, but I knew her reputation as an insightful, kind, and attentive editor of a regional literary journal that always managed to land some pretty big name interviews. That phone call is one of three literary moments that profoundly affected me as a writer. The other two are being selected as a Cave Canem Fellow and finishing my MFA at the University of Baltimore.

Steven Leyva, Editor

From the moment I said yes to the offer, I knew that I was both entering an organization with a good foundation and one that I could help move forward in various ways. I saw my role as twofold – act as a good steward of LPR’s egalitarian ethos and seek out excellent writing from diverse voices. I thought of the literary journal as serving the same purpose as the old town halls. LPR would be a meeting place for the community, by providing an ether of ideas and the physical space for literary events and readings. Get sharp people in the same (metaphorical) room and good things will happen was my unspoken motto.

Looking back on three years of editing with its ebbs and flows, I am most proud of how often LPR had the privilege to publish women of color. One particular issue, Summer 2015, is one where I think LPR grew close to having its pages look like the demographic landscape of central Maryland, and the Mid-Atlantic region as a whole. That issue featured the poets, t’ai freedom ford, Rachel Nelson, Breauna L. Roach, and Mary More Easter, alongside fiction by Nandini Dhar and others. The audience of the launch reading for that issue looked like the 95 corridor from DC to New York. Black, brown, and white faces beamed as authors read their work aloud. People talked, mingled, and shared stories during the reception afterwards. It wasn’t a perfect representation of diversity, but there was growth from where LPR had been. And that growth felt sustainable, without gimmick, and without any whispers of tokenism. And I think beyond any individual examples, honest and equitable growth towards building diverse literary spaces is a goal we reach towards in every issue.

As LPR continues to grow I don’t want to lose sight of the rhizomes that connect the journal to its local communities, but I also want that network of roots to expand. We can to do more to be a welcoming space for LGBTQ artists and writers. We can do more to bring the journal to different economic communities around the region. Not everyone can make it to Columbia, MD, twice a year for a launch event, particularly if you don’t own a car. We can do more to highlight emerging visual artists and put them in conversation with diverse communities. There is always more to be done, but I have come to realize that the literary journal isn’t the finish line. It’s the baton. The goal isn’t to run as hard as you can, passing all others, but rather to hand the baton off well. And anyone who’s ever run a relay can tell you that it requires trust, patience, and practice. I look forward to continuing to cultivate all three in the issues ahead.

Robin Talbert’s Essay: “Please,North Carolina,Be the State of Love”

Robin Talbert serves as one of LPR’s nonfiction reviewers and graciously granted us permission to reprint her essay.  Talbert offers us a lot to consider about making our society more just, welcoming, and inclusive.

Byline: By Robin Talbert, Reprinted from The Charlotte Observer

When I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, I was quietly aware of disparities that seemed both commonplace and unfair. We sang a song in Sunday school that instilled in us the belief that Jesus loved everyone, regardless of color. We took it to heart as we innocently sang the well-intentioned, if insensitive, words, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

In those days, North Carolina was a segregated society. The rural Appalachian county where we lived was home to neither the KKK nor to civil rights activists, but Jim Crow was the cultural norm. In our small cotton mill town, blacks lived on a dirt road, referred to as the white line. Black men worked as janitors and black women in white people’s homes cooking, cleaning, and caring for children. African-American children were bused miles away to attend the county’s “colored” schools.

Robin Talbert

Gradually, things began to change. Church seemed to be one place where soul-searching about racism and segregation could happen. I’ve never forgotten the night our youth group leader made a confession. He was a young, “cool” high school teacher, and the older teens looked up to him.
Pacing and sweating, he told us about attending a meeting in a town nearby. Both white and black leaders were there. That would have been unusual, perhaps a first for him, as it would have been for most of us. He said that after the event ended, he went directly to the restroom and washed his hands. After some self-reflection, he realized he was washing because he had shaken hands with a black man.

Like a good educator and preacher, he taught us with a parable so vivid, so personal, so disturbing, that none of us could help but wonder if we would have done the same thing. Racism, we learned from him that evening, was a sin we might not even be aware we were committing.

When I started elementary school, my naïve belief that North Carolina was part of the north during the Civil War was shattered. No matter how eager I was to be a Carolinian on the good side, our state had a long way to go. But that young white teacher at my church, and many others, wanted to change. They inspired us. They eventually led us in peaceful integration of our schools. We wanted to do the right thing. We wanted to live up the teachings of Jesus.

“Political correctness” was neither a phrase nor a value in those days. Coming to terms with our history, culture, and personal beliefs and actions on race was a moral imperative.

Over the past several decades, North Carolina has made much progress towards racial equality. Yet there is still much to be done. Minority voting rights are threatened, and now there are new targets for bigotry – including immigrants and gay and transgender people.

It appears to me North Carolina is, once again, at a crossroads. Communities face a choice between values that are forged in fear and disdain, or those that spring from love and acceptance for all – regardless of race, religion, country of origin, gender preference or identity. We all must look in the mirror sometimes to examine the roots of our discomfort, to challenge our assumptions and stereotypes, and to question our actions and reactions.

When our older son was about 10, he figured out that some of his relatives in North Carolina were in a different political party than his parents. “But they go to church,” he said, struggling to reconcile what to him was inconsistent. I explained that good people could have different political beliefs. I want to believe that, and I hope and pray that our nation is able to overcome disharmony by focusing on what we have in common, while also embracing our diversity.

I’m proud of my home state for many reasons – mountains and beaches, music and culture, barbecue and basketball. I hope the good and gentle people who live there don’t give in to the haters. Please, North Carolina, be the state of acceptance. Be the state of love.

End Note: This article was first published by The Charlotte Observer on May 6, 2017.

Bio: Robin Talbert’s work has appeared in The Healing Muse, Chest, Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Better After 50, Global Impact, and Stoneboat, and was included in Ekphrasis,an exhibit presented by the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  She is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books and a nonfiction reviewer for The Little Patuxent Review.   A nonprofit management consultant, she was formerly a legal aid lawyer and was President of the AARP Foundation.

Introducing Julia Gerhardt: LPR’s New Online Editor

The LPR staff and board are happy to welcome Julia Gerhardt as our new online editor. Julia worked as an intern for us and volunteered as a poetry reader from August 2016 to May 2017.  Desiree Magney, our co-publisher,  and I met her when we all worked at the AWP conference in February of this year. We’re all looking forward to Julia’s contributions and the fresh energy she’ll bring to the LPR blog. Welcome, Julia.

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Julia Gerhardt

Dear LPR Readers,

Hello there! My name is Julia Gerhardt, and it is with great pleasure that I write to you as LPR’s new online editor. I’ve noticed that whenever I want to speak honestly with a family member, friend, or beloved, I find myself bent over my desk writing a letter on my old Betty Boop-themed stationary. Now, while I cannot address a letter to every single one of you, the readers, consider this online blog post my personal, open letter to all of you.

Like all the LPR staff, I too, love reading and writing, although my relationship to literature had a fairly tumultuous start. When I was in first grade, I refused to read and write. I have a sister who is five-and-a-half years older than I and was getting straight A’s at the time, so the bar in my family was set pretty high. Instead of trying to reach for it, I gave up thinking that I would never be as smart as her (completely unaware that I would ever get any older and smarter). So, after refusing to read and write, it was either repeating another year or attending summer school. Summer school it was, and I abhorred it. My teacher was tough, the workload was heavy, (for a five-year-old that is) and the summer was hot. Yet, it was that tough-love attitude of my teacher that finally got me to start reading. Her stature may have been short, but her big, frizzy, gray curls, commanding voice, and piercing brown eyes always made her presence known in a room. The best way to avoid that eye contact was planting my face in a book, and so I did, again and again and again until I loved it.

My love for reading and writing continued into Goucher College where I received my bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. Prior to entering college, my only editors were my mother and my sister who were the equivalent of the good cop, bad cop dynamic of writing. My mom was in constant praise of my work (even when undeserving), and my sister would take a literary knife to my essays until they bled red ink, always holding me to a higher standard. In all honesty, while I’m grateful for both types of feedback, my sister prepared me for only half the critiques I would get in college.

I wrote my first short story for a beginning fiction class my freshman year of college. It was a stream-of-consciousness piece from the perspective of an eight-year-old British boy. Friendly reminder: I had never been to England at that time, and all the British vernacular that I used I found on the internet. Needless to say, it was not a success story, and my classmates’ responses were clear on that score. While devastating to my freshman ego, that failed attempt at a story was the best thing to happen to my writing process. I realized that the more people critiqued my writing, the more they cared. After four years of people caring, I’ve grown a tough hide to criticism, but an open heart to feedback. My efforts resulted in my first short story being published during my junior year in a magazine called Sun & Sandstone.

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Since graduating college, I took the opportunity to travel and backpack through Europe alone. I should mention that I am so geographically inept, I once got lost in my own city for over an hour. However, this extended trip was an opportunity to prove to myself that I could trust my instincts and my intuition a little more. While abroad, I traveled throughout England, Scotland, and Italy. In the United Kingdom I visited various friends; however, while in Italy, I worked as a farmer for an organic vineyard through the World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming (WWOOF) network. I earned a fellowship from Goucher College to write a short story based on my experiences working in a vineyard and learning more about Italian wine culture. Now that I am safely back in the United States, I’m happy to report that I have not gotten lost in the city.

So there you have it—my troubled writing past and my hopeful writing endeavors for the future. While navigating post-grad life as a young writer isn’t easy, I’m grateful to be writing and learning the way with you.

Yours truly,

Julia Gerhardt

10th Anniversary: Once You’re Inside

This interview was originally published on September 11, 2015. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

prison wallsNote: All the men’s names have been changed to preserve their anonymity.

I didn’t know what to expect when Linda Moghadam and I visited the men’s writing group at the Patuxent Institute. I had a clue as to the motivation and tenor of the men from reading a brochure Linda had given me about the creative group. Working together, the members had this to say about the purpose of forming a group and the power of the arts:

“The group wants to have a positive impact on people involved with the street culture, prisons, and policy makers who can re-introduce educational programs into the prison systems.…


NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 13: Doubt. https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/13-winter-2013/