by Amy K. Lavender
West Georgia recently welcomed Allison Joseph to the area as the first artist in residence in conjunction with the New Georgia Arts Collaborative. Joseph is the author of seven collections of poetry and winner of numerous accolades. She is also well known for her work as an advocate for young writers.
As part of her visit, the author spent two weeks speaking to area youth and budding artists at various locations, including the University of West Georgia, Newnan High School and UWG Newnan. Various Atlanta locations were also included in her schedule. In addition to reading selections from her most recent book of poetry “Mercurial,” Joseph also spoke to audiences about the vital role of poets and writers in our society.
The collaborative is a coalition of writers, educators and patrons sponsoring cultural events and community outreach in the greater Atlanta area. As part of their outreach, the collaborative awards an annual prize —the New Georgia Arts Literary Achievement Award. The prize honors a writer who exhibits exceptional talent on the printed page, as well as meaningful social commitments on the public stage. Joseph was chosen as this year’s winner.
“The New Georgia Prize honors a writer who exhibits, as we say with a little rhyme, ‘exceptional talent on the printed page, as well as meaningful social commitments on the public stage.’ Allison certainly fits the bill,” said UWG Professor Dr. Gregory Fraser during Joseph’s recent reading at Kathy Cashen Hall at UWG. “She is the author of numerous collections of poetry—all well received by the critics—and the winner of many literary accolades. But she is equally well known for her work as an advocate for young writers—like many of you in the audience tonight.”
As recipient of the award, Joseph served as a resident artist at Newnan ArtRez and AIR Serenbe and received a $10,000 honorarium, funded and administered by the New Georgia Arts Collaborative in conjunction with UWG’s School of the Arts, the Blackwell Trust and the Warren and Ava Sewell Foundation.
One of her final visits during her trip was to Newnan High School to speak to students about writing and becoming a writer. She told students she never really aimed at becoming a poet and never thought of it as a job in itself.
“There’s no one occupation that says poet, where you show up and go to the poet factory and spend eight hours writing poems and then clock out,” she laughed. “You’re always doing something else and writing as well.”
Joseph also encouraged students to write what they know . . . and sometimes who they know.
“A lot of the poems I write are memories of my parents because both of my parents are no longer living, and they had really interesting lives from an author’s standpoint. On one hand they’re my parents, the people who raised me, but on the other hand as a writer you begin to see the people around you as characters.”
She also encouraged students to be persistent.
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think it was the poet William Stafford who said, and I’m paraphrasing him, ‘If you are experiencing writer’s block just lower your aim.’ Aim lower,” she said. “One of my assignments for my students—and you can try this too—is to write about the smallest possible thing you find interesting. Something infinitesimal, something tiny, and make it interesting for your reader.”
At the end of the event, students asked her various questions, including, ‘What is the thing that keeps you writing?’ Joseph replied that it was her love of language.
“The thing that keeps me writing is that combination of words, and I think this is related to the way people who are serious mathematicians relate to numbers, those people think in numbers. Just like people who are musically gifted think in music. I think in language. I think in metaphor. I think in comparisons. And if you’re around me long enough and you say something really awesome and clever, watch out because I will steal it!” she laughed. “I will take it from you and run with it!”Posted on