Brenda Bell Brown on Living as an Artist and the Importance of Poetry

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This week’s guest was Brenda Bell Brown, a poet, playwright, actress, former Minneapolis Arts Commissioner and candidate for the MFA in Creative Writing degree at Hamline University. You might know Brenda as a music host of The Morning Blend on KFAI. Brenda showed up with a stack of earmarked books, ready to read some poetry. (Her poetry reading skills are solid – Audible should hire her as a voice talent.) We shared some beers and talked about devoting life to art. Thanks for coming on Brenda!

Get to know Brenda more below. (And subscribe to Writingness on the iTunes Store and on Sound Cloud!)

(Brenda reads several of her poems on this podcast. If you’d like to think on them more or read along with your eyes, you can find them all here.)

Can you talk about how growing up in a community of artists influenced you as a writer? What about the time and cultural context you were in?

The formulatic structure of time, place and race was a powerful dynamic in the making of me: I, who was born into and nurtured within an all-Black suburb in Memphis, TN during the soul-stirring ’60s, who grew into Black consciousness during the ’70s. I was blessed to live through a “laying on of hands” welded by doctors and lawyers and preachers and teachers and poets and singers and truckers and athletes, all gifted, all Black, all heroic to me, some insane. Thank you mother Mary and daddy Bennie. I was blessed.

Playing the role of Angelique Watt in Brown's docu-drama "There but for the Grace of God: responding to the revelation"

Playing the role of Angelique Watt in Brown’s docu-drama “There but for the Grace of God: responding to the revelation”

You’ve said that at age 50 you decided to fully place your own art at the center of your life. Can you talk about that decision? Would you urge others to do so, even sooner?

Turning a bad day into a life opportunity, with no other option but “now,” I enrolled in Hamline University’s MFA in Creative Writing program and revived my life vocation in the arts. Throughout my youth, I was encouraged to write, dance, act, sew, orate, bead, recite, sing solo (so low so that no one can hear you, begged my mother), so I always believed that I would become a successful artist when I was grown. My confidence diminished when my mother, forever supportive yet practical, recommended that I secure a teaching license as I pursued my BA in Theatre. I did (I never used it, shhhhh).

I did continue to act and sew and write, etc., etc., etc., while I worked full-time+ as a mother, a wife and an employee of state, local and federal government and other entities. However, life changed at fifty. Husband: gone. Children: grown and gone. Even with Masters, good-paying jobs were gone, gone and gone.

I literally woke up one day and saw my life as a blessing, and . . . the rest is history. To those who aspire to the artist life, I pray for your epiphany and look forward to the day when artists can truly pursue their vocations, unfettered by the need to work on-the-side to maintain their livelihood. The more we assert that dream, the sooner we realize it, oh ye voters who also art.

 3 generations strong.jpg: Me and my youth players--members of the Kipper family (Saint Paul, MN) and my son, Malik (lower rt)--in character for our Theatre Unbound production of "Strength: a moving tableau vivant pas de deux", 2008 Directors' Gym Project: Folktales with a Fresh Perspective


3 generations strong: Brenda and her youth players–members of the Kipper family (Saint Paul, MN) and her son, Malik (lower right)–in character for their Theatre Unbound production of “Strength: a moving tableau vivant pas de deux,” 2008 Directors’ Gym Project: Folktales with a Fresh Perspective

Often the problem of dealing with representation in storytelling is put on the shoulders of people from diverse communities. How can larger media establishments take this on as their responsibility too?

Working from the perspective of who truly bankrolls America makes this question a moot point for me; keeping my eyes on the prize.

The cover to Brenda's chapbook, in search of publisher, "FUNK: Writing about what I know based on the pieces that I see"

The cover to Brenda’s chapbook, in search of publisher, “FUNK: Writing about what I know based on the pieces that I see”

Read Brenda’s Poems here. The link includes the following poems:

We All Got to Git

Stank. Ho.

You Remind Me of My Father (thanks his wife)

Books mentioned in this podcast: