An interview with Breena Clarke

\"\"Breena Clarke is this year\’s featured after-lunch speaker.  She was interviewed by Liz Bedell.

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

Firstly, No biting, especially not insects. I come naturally to writing I would say. I have always been inspired by books, since my very first trip to the public library. These buildings in my childhood in Washington, D.C. were pleasant places. I majored in theater, acting at Howard University and I wrote and directed and performed plays. So I’ve always felt like a writerly person. But the thing or series of events that made me into a committed, daily, working writer began with the early death of my son, Najeeb. Motivated to record all of his life that I could remember, I began keeping small notebooks capturing thoughts and observations. A friend said that writing is like a muscle. The more exercise it gets, the stronger it becomes. I suppose I exercised my writer’s imagination through these books that I still have and that have never actually served any purpose other than as personal writing. The important part is that I began a training regimen for my mind. I consumed the good books written by others and launched into my own inquiries. I set aside time for writing, for developing an idea.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?

Non seriously, but with humor at self: Reading what you’ve written a few days earlier that reads well and you think, “Hey, this girl is good, who is she?”

Seriously, but not wanting to sound self-satisfied: When someone comes up to you and tells you how moved they were when they read your work or heard you read. This is the moment of greatest satisfaction for me. It comes right before the “hey, who is this girl?” moment.

And the most frustrating part of being a writer?

I don’t know that yet. I haven’t gotten there yet. My mind is still sharp, and my energy is good, so I feel productive as a writer. Productivity relieves writerly frustration for me.

Can you tell us about your most recent novel? What inspired it?

I was inspired to write ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE by an interest in imagining the lives and community of people living outside the strictures imposed by racist white America. It’s set in mid-19th century New Jersey. Loosely based on the so-called Ramapo Mountain people, who were said to have been a tri-racial maroon community in the mid-Atlantic region, the people of Russell’s Knob privilege no color above another. And though they are insular, they welcome those who escape from oppression in the white towns. I enjoyed speculating on this somewhat utopian vision of racial amalgamation rather than separation. The novel has at its climax the horrible events of the New York City Draft Riots (July 13-16, 1863). I’ve written about Russell’s Knob on my blog.

You’re the afternoon keynote speaker for WriteAngles. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?

I’m recently very interested in speculative fiction. I’m not a fan of science fiction, but I’m intrigued by the ways people write about the future and the past, what they imagine. I’m also very excited by some millennial writers who are speculating about a world without white privilege. I’m going to share my thoughts on that topic.

What are you working on now?

I\’m working on a group of short stories. I hope to collect and publish them. I’m calling them “curiosity tales” because each story has an unexpected or curious narrator or it relates unusual events.

Is there anything you would like to add?

For the past five years, I’ve been co-organizer of The Hobart Festival of Women Writers which takes place in September in Hobart, New York, the book village of The Catskills and the reading capital of New York State. We’ve hosted about eighty published women writers in all genres who’ve offered readings and workshops. We’ve forged friendships and working relationships and created a platform for women writers.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *