Her Spotlight Interview with Amanda Johnston (Author of Another Way to Enter)

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For our latest, Her Spotlight interview, we chatted with author Amanda Johnston about her recent work. Amanda Johnston earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine. She has been featured in numerous online and print publications, among them, Callaloo, Poetry, Kinfolks Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, Muzzle, Pluck!, No, Dear and the anthologies, Small Batch, Full, di-ver-city, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, and Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism. She has also been the recipient of multiple Artist Enrichment grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Christina Sergeyevna Award from the Austin International Poetry Festival, she is a member of the Affrilachian Poets and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. Johnston is a Stonecoast MFA faculty member, a co-founder of Black Poets Speak Out, and founding executive director of Torch Literary Arts. She serves on the Cave Canem Foundation board of directors and currently lives in Texas. 

If you're interested in learning more about the industry and this distinguished author, keep reading. 

Tell us about your work, and what inspired you to become a writer? 

I’m a poet. My debut full-length collection, Another Way to Say Enter (Argus House Press), draws from moments of womanhood, love, and struggle. I began writing as a form of therapeutic creative expression, it still is, but as a professional writer, I’m drawn to the language and what’s revealed in stillness and the work of crafting my way deeper into each poem.

How long have you been a writer? 

I’ve been writing with the intention for nearly 20 years. I’m the author of two chapbooks, GUAP and Lock & Key, and one full-length collection, Another Way to Say Enter.

Tell us about your most recent book, Another Way to Say Enter. 

This book has been over ten years in the making. Each poem took its time with me and I found myself with a stack of poems that were speaking to each other and for me. I wouldn’t say that it’s different from my other writing, but as a collection, the work offers a fuller view into my understanding, and questioning, of what this life in this body has been for me. I’m at a point in my life where a lot is changing professionally and personally and, in many ways, it felt like I couldn’t move forward with either if I didn’t complete this book. Writing Another Way to Say Enter created a door for me to pass through into the next phase of my life.

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Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

As a poet, I strive for each poem to stand on its own. I trust that they will lead me toward the arc of each collection. As with the poems, my intention is for each book to stand as a complete offering, but when reading across the body of my work, I hope to further discover and share my voice and vision as an author. I also don’t want to limit what that might look like on or off the page. I’m excited to listen and follow inspiration into new work wherever it leads me.

How do you select the names of characters and titles for your books?

There aren’t really characters in my poems, but the titles of my collections so far have come from poems within them. Another Way to Say Enter is from a line in the poem “Lock” which is in the book. My publisher and editor, Teneice Durrant, suggested the line. It was perfect and we agreed it spoke to the collection as a whole.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

My objective in writing is to follow the line into a deeper contemplation of the ideas and images that pulled me to the page. I believe we are all experiencing different points on the same line of humanity. Some of those experiences are similar, some are extraordinarily unique. Together, as writer and reader, we are in conversation through the work and that can be a moment of personal discovery or comforting familiarity.

What’s the most difficult part of the artistic process?

Time and space. I have a busy schedule with work and family responsibilities, so reserving time for rest and creativity can be a challenge. But I know, as Audre Lorde wrote, “Poetry is not a luxury.” This work is necessary for my mind, body, and spirit and is the foundation for the world I want to live in.

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Does your family support your career as a writer?

Yes! However, we did go through some growing pains. Our stories are never our own and thinking about having any part of one’s story committed to page can make some people uncomfortable. Trust, time, and care in the writing goes a long way.

How do you balance the demands of being a writer with other responsibilities/practices self-care?

I know that self-care is health-care. If I’m going to live, write, and love in this world, I have to listen to my body and tend to it daily. Sometimes that means sitting still in silence or sleeping. Maybe it looks like dancing and going out with friends. It can also be the stack of books by my bed I’m reading. When I’ve taken care of my mental and physical needs, I find I’m open to receiving inspiration and am moved to create. I do the best I can with scheduling. I often fail and am behind on projects and deadlines. It’s not ideal, but it is honest and I’m still here. I call that balance. Once I started writing seriously, I considered my other employment financial support for my work with words. The real change came in how I see myself in the world and the time and commitment I was willing to put toward that vision. Writing, publishing, and engaging the literary community is my life’s work. Sometimes it’s more or less demanding, but it will always be a major part of my existence well after I’m gone.

What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to  and events for writers to attend? 

Subscribe to magazines and journals you like. Attend events with friends where you feel supported and have fun. Read a lot of journals. Attended sand support local events with your friends. Find your community. Your library and local independent bookstores are great places to start.

What are you most excited about accomplishing this year?

My book was published this past November. 2018 has been full of readings and workshops and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share it across the country.  

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to write your truth.

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More about Amanda….

Name your top 3 favorite books or movies of all time.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Blood, Tin, Straw by Sharon Olds

Get Out by Jordan Peele

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A lawyer. Adults said I would be a good lawyer because I liked to argue. What they saw in me was passion and empathy: my poet heart.

Your favorite weekend activity?

Sleeping in and having a lazy day with my husband, coffee, books, and watching television.

The music playing in your car right now?

Pandora: Today’s Dancehall Radio, Cardi B, Vince Staples Radio

If you could have lunch with one woman (past or present) who would it be and why?

My grandmother, Margaret Sanlin. She loved me unconditionally. I miss her.

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