What are you reading on the subway or in the waiting room today?
Well. I tend toward poetry collections, lyric essays, experimental fiction…all those things that help me look avant-garde, but in true VIDA fashion, I thought I should have more diversity in my reading habits, so I just finished 50 Shades of Grey. I really like the book, and the second movie the best.
I also recently finished The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, which made me laugh a lot and tear up regularly.
I’m currently reading the anthology, Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes & Shifts of Los Angeles out of Tia Chucha Press.
What book popped for you in 2016?
Humans of Ballou from Shout Mouse Press, a photo and essay collection written by Ballou high school students in Anacostia. The collection has a two-fold mission: One, for students to work with writing coaches on their scholarship and personal essays for college, and two, to amplify and celebrate the stories of youth who know the other side of Washington DC where the tour buses don’t go. In this book, these authors say, “Come to my side of town and see what’s monuments to me.”
In a beautiful way to end the 2016-2017 school year, Ballou (has had a history of low graduation rates) received national attention for reporting 100% of graduating seniors applying to and getting accepted into at least one college! You can check out the article celebrating them here.
Whose words do you return to regularly?
Sarah Vap’s words, especially from The End of the Sentimental Journey.
Is there an author you can’t wait to read next?
What are you working on now?
My first collection of poetry won the 2016 Cleveland State University First Book Prize and came out this past April. I’ve been celebrating that, and then thinking it was all a dream, and then getting to hold the book in my hands and remember all the work and all the people that supported me to bring me to this moment.
Mostly I’ve been working on my garden and feeling proud watching the seeds sprout and the first flowers of the season bloom. I’ve been drawing my meditation forests, one of which is the cover of my book.
Writing has been more like essay these days and seems to be revolving around and piercing the line from daughterrarium “I was angry, and I was shamed for being angry./ Then my way of expressing anger became to feel ashamed,” so I look forward to seeing where that takes me.
What do you hope your work for the VIDA Count will achieve?
Having worked so intimately on the VIDA Count for the past several years, I continue to hope that the people who are doing the good work of analyzing power structures, taking inventory of their lives and hearts, and putting their artistic powers to beautiful use by telling their stories, feel like they still have community in VIDA and a band in solidarity behind them fighting against discrimination and white supremacy.
Every year, the VIDA Count becomes bigger and more ambitious and reflects on its intersectionality approach. We make serious attempts at being critical of the previous year’s process. This critical reflection is crucial to VIDA’s mission, and I hope all its volunteers continue to feel proud about their work throughout the complexity and how unending the work can seem.
In the wake of Joseph Bernstein’s article “Here’s How Breitbart And Milo Smuggled Nazi and White Nationalist Ideas Into The Mainstream,” I hope it is further written into stone that systemic and institutional discrimination isn’t conspiracy theory. VIDA is putting fact in front of power.
Have you witnessed any of the effects of the VIDA Count in the literary world?
Of course. Every time at AWP when a stranger would walk up to me at the VIDA booth and shake my hand. Or when another would argue that in fact women and people of color were actually getting all the jobs right now, and I would easily point to our pie charts and say, “well…as you can see from our data…” and they wouldn’t have a response.
I have seen the effects in myself. All the people who make up VIDA have helped shaped my feminist identity and have made me more critical and more courageous.
Sheila McMullin is author of daughterrarium, winner of the 2017 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize chosen by Daniel Borzutzky. She co-edited the collections Humans of Ballou and The Day Tajon Got Shot from Shout Mouse Press. She volunteers at her local animal rescue, is a youth ally and organizer, and holds an M.F.A. from George Mason University. Find more about her writing, editing, and activism online at http://www.moonspitpoetry.com.