Leah Umansky: Poet, Creator of COUPLET_Series, SuperFan Game of Thrones

Leah Umansky, Poet, Central Park, New York City Poet’s Walk. Photo: Suze Bienaimee

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Leah Umansky! We met at Poets’ Walk in Central Park, New York City and strolled under the lush green, majestic, extremely rare American elm trees arching overhead and I asked Leah my favorite StudioSeeds question: Leah, what inspires you?

LEAH UMANSKY: So many things inspire me like reading, movies, television, and pop culture, but ultimately it’s language and words. Even in regards to the TV Shows I love (Mad-Men, Westworld, Mr. Robot, The Crown, Game of Thrones)it’s really just the words and story of those characters. Their stories relate to our own stories. Also, being a middle and high school English teacher influences my writing, as well, but I rarely write poems about teaching. I’m not quite sure why! I also enjoy going to museums and readings, and when I do, I always take notes either by writing in a notebook or dictating into my smartphone (into a free app called WunderList that I love).

Leah Umansky dictated into her smartphone app to create this list.
Leah’s Notes/Notebook

When I write, I almost always write on my laptop. I wish I was able to write poems in a notebook but it never works for me. I think I’m just faster at typing and it just comes easier to me at a computer. I often look at my notes for inspiration, on my phone or in one of my many notebooks and journals, to see where that takes me.

Inspiration can come from anything: a comment of a character on television, something I overheard on the subway, or a phrase from a book or article. For example, my last chapbook’s title, Straight Away the Emptied World, is a phrase from a sentence from Helen MacDonald’s book H is for Hawk.

Straight Away the Emptied World, Poems, Kattywompus Press by Leah Umansky,

Like I said, I’m a big annotator — a big dork in that way. So, when I was reading H is for Hawk, the phrase, “straight away the emptied world” jumped out at me. I wrote it down in my notebook. When writing my last book, I struggled with a title, until I came across that phrase in my notebook. I remember looking through my notes and said hmmm, “straight away the emptied world” is sounds just perfect for this book, and very dystopian.

Even with my Mad-Men inspired poems (Don Dreams and I Dream) and my Game of Thrones inspired poems (The Barbarous Century, forthcoming in 2018), those poems came from pausing the “HBO On-Demand” button. When I realized I was stopping and taking notes, I was sort of shocked. I had never written poems about television before. I thought to myself: wait, why am I taking notes?

When I sat down to write for the week, I looked at my notebook and saw this note: “in my next life, I want to be an ad man” and that was the title of the first poem I wrote for my Mad-Men chapbook, Don Dreams and I Dream.

Fun! Matchbook ephemera from Leah Umansky’s book, Don Dreams and I Dream.

Inspiration struck in very much the same way with my Game of Thrones inspired poems (The Barbarous Century, 2018). The first note I made was because I was so impressed with Ned Stark. I felt he was such a good and strong man. I longed for that sort of decency. My note was, “I want to be Stark-like” and that inspired my first Game of Thrones poem.

Leah Umansky with her poetry books: Domestic Uncertainties, Don Dreams and I Dream (the Mad-Men inspired poems), Straight Away the Emptied World, Kattywompus Press. Not pictured: The Barbarous Century, Eyewear Publishing (Game of Thrones inspired poems) is forthcoming in 2018. Photo: Suze Bienaimee

The thing about inspiration is that it has to strike me. It’s not like I can say, okay, today I’m going to write a poem about this or that. I never really know what I’m going to write about.

I read a lot, too, and it often shakes up my language. When I read the weekend New York Times, I underline phrases and words, which often find their way into my writing. This helps me so I don’t use the same words I might gravitate to naturally.

In terms of my writing process, sometimes, I’ll sit down to write one poem which will lead to my being inspired and writing three or four poems. Often, if I’m lucky, one or two are strong. Sometimes, none at all are strong, but I might save a line…

In an odd way, I also find rejections inspiring. I’ve made one major goal for myself as a writer. I don’t beat myself up if I don’t write every week, or if I don’t submit every week, but I do send new poems out the same day I receive a rejection. I try to treat it like a game. Often, if the guidelines don’t state otherwise, I’ll send a new batch of poems to the same journal that rejected me and to a different journal. I think more writers need to do this, especially women. Why not? What is there to lose? I find that treating submissions like a game relieves some of the stress of being a writer. It’s a lot of hard work.

Leah Umansky, Poet and Anglophile in Central Park, New York City at the Alice in Wonderland sculpture by José de Creef. Photo: Suze Bienaimee

You know, what’s funny about pop culture and social media is that some of my Game of Thrones poems, for example, were really popular when they were first published in Poetry Magazine. There are people I’ve become friends with on social media who have tweeted to me: “watch this show, you will get really good poems out of it,” but that’s not the way it works for me. For example, I love the show, Mr. Robot, but I can’t manage a single decent poem from any of the notes I’ve taken. With HBO’s Westworld, on the otherhand, I’ve had the opposite experience. I’ve written around six Westworld inspired poems so far, and some of them will be published this summer (2017).

I had a poem, This is to Calm You When You Arrive, published in the September 2016 of Slice Literary Magazine. The poem was inspired by a couple of different things, one being the 30/30 writing prompt of National Poetry Month, and by my friend and poet, Kaveh Akbar who solicited submissions for an upcoming issue of Pleiades which will feature Franz Wright inspired poems. I wanted to submit a few, so I gave myself an assignment to read more of Wright’s work and see if inspiration would strike. I ended up writing three or four Wright inspired poems. I’m glad to say that some of those poems have been accepted for publication in journals and/or anthologies this year.

So, the following poem, This is to Calm You When You Arrive, in Slice Literary Magazine came out of that assignment I mentioned, but it was also inspired by a tarot card reading. One of the things the reader said to me in the reading is in the poem.

 

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Thank you Leah! Words! Yes, they are powerful! I also love that you treat publication rejections in a positive way. Thank you for sharing your inspiration with StudioSeeds readers!

Please connect with Leah Umansky in the COMMENTS section of this post.

MORE INFORMATION

BOOKS
The Barbarous Century is forthcoming in 2018 from Eyewear Publishing, UK, a new full-length poetry collection

Straight Away the Emptied World (Kattywompus Press, 2016), a dystopian-themed poetry collection

Don Dreams and I Dream, voted one of The Top 10 Chapbooks To Read Now in 2014 by Time Out New York. (Kattywompus Press, 2014), a Mad-Men inspired chapbook

Domestic Uncertainties, (BlazeVOX, 2012), full-length poetry collection

BIO
Leah Umansky is a graduate of the MFA Program in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and a graduate of the MA in English Education – Secondary Education from CUNY- Hunter College. Leah earned her undergraduate degree from SUNY Binghamton in English/Creative Writing, where she graduated with honors.

Founder, creator, curator, host: COUPLET Reading Series in New York City, 5 years old in 2016, founded in 2011 and on Facebook, #CoupletNYC

Translations: Game of Thrones (#GoT) poems have been translated into Norwegian by Beijing Trodheim

Collage-artist: Designed her book covers for Domestic UncertaintiesDon Dreams and I Dream, Straight Away the Emptied World

Poets and Writers Magazine Directory Listing

Anthologies: Read Woman: An Anthology (Locked Horn Press, 2014), The American Voice in Poetry (Poetry Center Passaic County Community College, 2010), Golden Shovel Anthology, (Amazon, 2017)

Journals: Barrow Street, Coconut Magazine, Cream City Review, Forklift, Ohio, Harpur Palate, Lips, Magma Poetry, Paterson Literary Review, Ping Pong, Poetry Magazine, Posit, PSA Poetry Review, Slice Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Poetry Review, Pleiades, Coconut Magazine, Cream City , Harpur Palate and LIPs, The Journal, Queen Mob’s Teahouse

PRESS
Time Out New York: Don Dreams and I Dream, voted one of The Top 10 Chapbooks To Read Now, in 2014 by Time Out New York

The New York Times Poetry Pairing | ‘Khaleesi Says’ Poem by Leah Umansky, article by Shannon Doyne

USA Today’s Pop CandyCountdown to ‘Mad-Men’. Read a Don Draper-inspired Poem, The Times, by Leah Umansky. Article by Whitney Matheson

The PEN Ten with Leah Umansky is PEN America’s weekly interview series curated by Lauren Cerand

Flavorwire named Leah Umansky one of the People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry by Jason Diamond

Coldfront Magazine On Poetry & Pop Culture: Lisa Marie Basile Interviews Leah Umansky

Huffington Post Deconstructing the Poetry Goddess by Jill Di Donato. Leah Umansky writes:

My favorite women writers are confessional poets. Of course, there are other kinds. I know tons of poets who do not write about themselves in any shape or form. My first book, Domestic Uncertainties, is a memoir of my marriage and divorce told through poetry. In my Mad-Men and Game of Thrones poems, I’m writing about gender and power through the lens of pop culture. Khaleesi and Peggy or Ned Stark and Don Draper take over. But I’m still in there. The poet’s always there.

—  Leah Umansky

 

PRIZES & SCHOLARSHIPS
Honorable Mention for the 2012 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize sponsored by the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College

Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts studying with Christopher Ricks. She was the recipient of a week-long scholarship, 2010.

FAVORITES
Books: Wuthering Heights; The Passion; Mysteries of Pittsburgh; Written on the Body; Station Eleven; The Woman Upstairs; English Patient; Tiny Beautiful Things; All the Light We Cannot See; A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing.

Authors: Emily Bronte; Jeanette Winterson; Carole Maso; Anne Carson, Marie Howe, Andrew Sean Greer, Eimear McBride 

CONNECT
Website: LeahUmansky.com for more poems and information 

E-mail: LeahUmansky@gmail.com

Poets & Writers Directory Listing

Twitter: @Lady_Bronte

Twitter: @COUPLET_Series

Next COUPLET_Series reading: April 21, 2017

Twitter: @BestAmPo Best American Poetry Blog – live tweets a few times a year

Facebook.com/LeahUmanskyPoet

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Leah Umansky: Poet, Creator of COUPLET_Series, SuperFan Game of Thrones StudioSeeds Inspire By Suze Bienaimee

Molly Peacock: Sparks & Triggers for Inspiration

MOLLY_LUNCH 2
Tea and Conversation: Molly Peacock in New York City

Meet Molly Peacock. She is a multi-genre writer of poetry, biography, essays, memoir, fiction and even a one-woman show! Her poetry includes eight collections with her newest, The Analyst, due in early 2017.

Molly Peacock reading from Alphabetique at The Corner Bookstore, Madison Avenue, New York City, Spring 2016
Molly Peacock reading from Alphabetique at The Corner Bookstore, Madison Avenue, New York City, Spring 2016

Other books include a genre-busting Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic FictionsIt is a creative delight with lush illustrations by Kara Kosaka.

MOLLY_ Paper Garden
The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 by Molly Peacock

Molly’s non-fiction work includes The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, about an 18th-century artist who came into her creative powers as a septuagenarian.
Molly has another biography in process about a 19th- and early 20th-century American-Canadian artist. It’s titled Flower Diary: Mary Hiester Reid Speaks Up at Last. 

MOLLY_ POETRY IN MOTION LADY LIBERTY
Molly Peacock: goes back to the founding of the New York City Poetry in Motion project. Here is an August 2016 poster with a poem by Nathalie Handal,  illustration by Olympia Zagnoli, and reflections from the subway car.

Long active in public service for literature, Molly was one of the founders of the New York City subway arts project, Poetry in Motion in 1992. Now living in Toronto for fifteen years, she inaugurated the annual publication of The Best of Canadian Poetry and is also the editor. (A more detailed biography for Molly can be found at the link below our conversation.)

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 4.49.39 PM

On a sunny day in New York City, Molly Peacock and I met at a French cafe that turned out to be a favorite we had both been to many times before. The windows were open to the street and the breeze cooled the restaurant, the sun reached in from the sidewalk, so amid the shriek of brakes, fire engine sirens, the clack of dishes and hums from fellow diners’ conversations, we began and in typical New Yorker fashion, we only heard each other.

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Molly Peacock, writer and poet, extraordinaire! You inspire me. What inspires you?

MOLLY PEACOCK: I’ve never quite been asked this question. I love it!

What inspires me is a combination of noticing something small that then sparks a memory.

One time on the street in New York City I saw someone had dumped a huge bunch of flowers in one of those big wastebaskets (that’s like a giant inverted basketball net). I looked down inside it, and the flowers were coming up.

That’s the kind of thing that might spark a poem in me. The image will float around then surface in my consciousness. Inspiration requires me to be alone. I wouldn’t have noticed this if I’d been talking to someone. Noticing something also evokes memory. Whatever memory it brings up eventually adds to the poem.

MOLLY_ OFFICE WITH G'MOTHER TABLE
Molly’s desk: her grandmother’s table

A new project I’m working on is to take every inherited object I have and to write a poem about it. I’m not going to just focus the poem on describing the object — how boring!

Since I don’t have children of my own, I’m going to pass these things on to younger cousins I don’t know very well. I’m hoping to memorialize each object in a poem. The poems might give my cousins some sense of the importance of these pieces of furniture, dishes, and textiles. The cousins didn’t grow up living with these things, so they might think, “oh, some grandmother’s table, let’s sell it,” and I want to avoid that!

But back to inspiration, the poems combine each object with a memory, and I hope this equation will create something even larger.

Sometimes I abandon these projects, though. I am not a perfectionist. (Laughs.) Art has taught me not to be a perfectionist.

The Analyst, Poems by Molly Peacock due in early 2017
The Analyst, Poems by Molly Peacock

Another thing that inspires me, but I hesitate to call it inspiration, is necessity. Often there is something pressing inside me that I absolutely have to write about to understand.

The Analyst, my new book of poems coming out in January 2017, was written from necessity. It’s about my analyst who had a stroke at age seventy-seven. She lost both memory and subtlety with language, so she had to close her practice. I was devastated, yet amazed because she rekindled her youthful artistic talent and turned her therapy room into an art studio. Although she had a big memory blast, she was able to reach out to me because we went back so far in time — forty years. Although obviously I was no longer in therapy with her, I would visit her, and I had the privilege of watching her transformation as she valiantly reconstructed her life.

Joan Stein, The Analyst, and Molly Peacock
Joan Stein, The Analyst, and Molly Peacock

She had been a talented painter as a girl, so talented that she studied with adults, but when she went to Radcliffe, things dramatically changed. She was harshly critiqued in her first painting class. We have all had to take classroom criticism, or witnessed it. This can be absolutely brutal. (Yes, yes, it’s especially a young woman’s story.) Because of what she called this “excoriating” critique, she turned away from painting completely and started taking psychology courses. She didn’t pick up a brush for 25 years — till she was in her forties.

Her youthful gift turned out to rescue her in her old age.

In my devastation at thinking I would never see her again, I wrote. The poems just poured out from my state of shock and abandonment. The Analyst is both a portrait of her and also a portrait of what she did for me.

But unwittingly during the years of our analysis in my late thirties and forties, I also did something for her. Just as she was helping me to recognize my talent, she was rediscovering her own gift. As she helped me manage rejection, she was taking painting classes. Of course I never knew that at the time. I found out more about her life post-analysis. As she helped me gain the strength to write book after book, my own energy was validating hers for painting.

Lemons by Joan Stein
Lemons, by Joan Stein, watercolor, 8  x 6″H. See poem “Fret Not” below.

After her stroke all this hit me. Oh gosh! She wasn’t able to overcome that professor’s criticism, but she was able to give me an incredible resilience to rejection. She walked away for twenty-five years, but she helped me stay my course. (I can’t tell you how often I’ve been rejected, but have, of course, gone on.)

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 3.58.13 PM

Sometimes I am so busy that for inspiration to be available I have to disconnect from the world. For me, this disconnection is a mental action that feels physical. I feel like I’ve taken all my strength and put it in my arms to push the whole world away. Only then do I have a little bit of space in front of me where nothing’s coming in, and I can write. Part of the receptivity to inspiration means making that almost physical space for creativity. Is this only true for busy women? (Laughs.) I’ve done one busy woman’s biography (The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, photo of the cover above) and I’m working on another now. I’ve been researching an obscure but totally marvelous painter named Mary Hiester Reid, since 2012 and I’m writing her book now. Cross your fingers. It’s called The Flower Diary of Mary Hiester Reid: Her Painting, Her Husband and Her RivalThere’s no pub date yet.

Mary Hiester Reid, Roses in a Vase, 1891
Mary Hiester Reid, Roses in a Vase, 1891

And then there is play. Just as a child has to be safe in order to play, there have to be boundaries that make a safe playing space for art. It’s just a matter of dimensions, the way a hopscotch game is marked out in chalk or a baseball diamond is marked with plates. Once those outlines are designated, you can begin to play. In a poem the “play” takes place within the lines and stanzas.

MOLLY_GARDEN IN SPRING_TORONTO VIEW
View of Toronto from Molly Peacock’s Garden Balcony

I do think people are saved by their imaginations, and it’s our imaginations that give us strength. I absolutely believe this, and I think that if we falter out of fear, It’s because we’re not trusting our imaginations.

Anyone who has successfully survived trauma knows this.

I’m not exactly sure how to connect trauma to inspiration, but I know that inspiration is being available to your senses, and this availability to touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste cultivates imagination. Without the senses, no imagination; without imagination, no inspiration.

MOLLY_IN NEW OFFICE
Molly Peacock in her new office created by Canadian master cabinet-maker Vince Fyfie. He made everything, including the desk. Her grandmother’s table — gone!

This brings me to delight. Even if I am writing about my most devastated and weakened moments, the writing itself lets me feel a certain kind of delight in the act. Even in a poem about a grave event, I find myself surprised by a realization. I’ll go “Oh!” That “Oh!” of surprise recognition is a delight. It helps make sense out of devastation.

Last story.

MOLLY CAVE HANDS
Hand prints from the El Castillo Caves in Cantabria, Spain.

Other people’s “making” inspires mine. So much of art is made in response to other peoples’ art. Some say “I don’t like art about art,” and I understand about distrusting too much artifice, but I’m speaking about the broader enterprise of human making.

As part of my research for my new book, Flower Diary, about Mary Hiester Reid, I was lucky enough to receive a grant from Access Copyright Canada to replicate Reid’s trip to Spain.

I announced my trip in a newsletter with an offhand comment that if someone ever finds a cave painting of a flower, then the rest of us will know there were women artists forty thousand years ago. Bascove, the painter, wrote back to me with a link to the El Castillo Caves in Cantabria, the site of many prehistoric small hand prints, perhaps by women. I looked at a map and realized I didn’t have to make a big detour, so I went. It was absolutely amazing. It was wet, cold and I went down, down. There were stalactites and stalagmites and I was following a flashlight held by our guide; it was slippery; a person could die from a bad fall just inching down those rocks.

MOLLY HANDS CAVE LOTS
Hand prints from the El Castillo Caves in Cantabria, Spain.

At last we saw the hundreds of small hand prints. Some  anthropologists think they are the handprints of women. (It’s controversial. But there’s no doubt that some hands have female configuration. Women tend to have ring fingers that are shorter than their index fingers, and men tend to have ring fingers that are longer.) I was so excited at the possibility of these hundreds of women’s hands!

This destroys the narrative that says men went out to hunt and returned to the caves to draw animals, while women cooked, had babies, and had no thought of expressing themselves. The ritual gestures of these possibly female hands are so inspiring.

These handprints are far down inside the caves. But cave dwellers actually lived at the surface openings, where daylight was available. Yet they put their handprints safe in a deep, protected place—a place for ritual.

You can still go to the caves, but I’m sure they will be closed one day like the larger and more famous cave painting sites are. Yet because I could actually go there, it was utterly inspiring — just to be in contact with the human capacity of “making” is inspiring.

But no, I didn’t go home and write a poem about it. (Molly made a long and thoughtful pause.) Yet.

The end!

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Molly, thank you, thank you! Your generosity of time and spirit are inspiring in addition to all of your wonderful triggers and sparks for inspiration.

Also, thank you for sharing your poem, Fret Not, with StudioSeeds readers:

FRET NOT
by Molly Peacock

When you welcomed me for the first time since
your brain hemorrhaged, you looked so trim and well
in black and white you could almost convince
us both you were whole.  Your living room welled
with light, the wall above the couch arranged
with your watercolors.  “I hung them myself,”
you said proudly.  Almost nothing was changed
(except for the attendant, making herself
small by sitting silently.)  You’re witnessed now,
as you’ve witnessed me.  “May I have a painting?”
I’d been afraid to ask, but I did somehow.
“You really want one of my paintings?
Then come in here.”  Your bedroom?  But I was
your patient!  Before your brain bled.  Yes, was.

I followed you into the narrow room:
plain as plain.  Like a nun’s cell, the bed,
a single pallet, no headboard, a deep red
blanket instead of a coverlet.  Blood bloom.
Nuns fret not at their narrow convent’s room.
No one could climb into that cot but one.
A tall row of wooden cabinets.  One
you opened, and small paintings that had loomed
above my head (as I’d lain on your couch
and talked about, around, for, yet, because…and wept)
you brought out now from where you slept.
Your pallet.  Next to your palette.
Red blanket like a hemorrhage contained
after a time bomb exploded your brain.

The painting I chose was small: two lemons
against a blue background, one with a tip,
a salmon-colored aureola.  Lemons
like breasts, nurturing companions, the tip
of a sensuous world on a piece of paper
folding out and beyond and inward and
onto the contours of the conquered land
of your mind, landmined.  We’re.  Were.
You laid the yellow watercolor down
on your bed, a camp cot for the wounded
in a tent pitched on a plot of scanty ground.
Fret not.  Fret you not.  Forget-me-not:  found.
So I lifted it up—then laid it in this frame
now on my wall.  Hourly I pass your name.

Fret Not was originally published in Plume and is in Molly’s new book, The AnalystPoems to be published by W. W. Norton.

Please connect with Molly Peacock in the COMMENTS section for this post.

Molly Peacock’s Website Be sure to sign up for Molly’s “Museletter” at the bottom of the first page of her website.

Detailed Biography for Molly Peacock

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Connect with Suze Bienaimee: StudioSeeds, ArtNow.org or SuzeBienaimee.com

Molly Peacock: Sparks & Triggers for Inspiration StudioSeeds Inspire By Suze Bienaimee

Kathryn Smith, Author of The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency

00_AT VERY TOP Cropped KKathryn Smith, journalist, community activist / co-founder of the Cancer Association of Anderson in South Carolina and now Missy LeHand biographer with The Gatekeeper:  Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency  (publisher Touchstone Books a division of Simon & Schuster, September 2016) is a delight to talk to, listen to her slow jazz Southern drawl and explore what inspires her.

And so we began to talk while driving on narrow country roads, on a clear and balmy day in November; I discovered Kathryn’s inspiration.

Our conversation follows.

SUZE BIENAIMEE: The purpose of StudioSeeds.com and @StudioSeeds on Twitter is to explore inspiration in people who inspire.

What inspires you?

KATHRYN SMITH: History inspires me and it always has every since I was a little kid. And it’s funny, you know, I find these threads that I’ve followed since I was an early teen. I’ve always been interested in the Tudors and Henry VIII; since my early 30s, it’s been the Pre-Raphaelites and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I’ve been interested in Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the 1920s since I was in high school and I continue to be.

There was something FDR biographer Geoffrey Ward said about history being a moving river, things keep being uncovered from the river — dredged out of the river — history changes even though it’s history. So I guess I just really enjoy when there is some new fact or some new person — that’s my inspiration.

01_Missy Portrait Sq

Marguerite (Missy) LeHand

I’m dredging a body out of the river myself with Missy because she has been ignored, misunderstood, mischaracterized and really just forgotten; thanks to her great-nieces who have an incredible archive of her life, and my own digging, luck and connections, I feel like I’ve fleshed her out, though she is still mysterious, an enigma even to me.

01_LeHand with FDRMissy with FDR at his desk in the White House.

And Paris totally inspires. I am completely obsessed with Paris and the history of Paris, the hidden history of Paris, the catacombs under Paris. How those thousands and thousands of bodies ended up in the catacombs under the streets of Paris. It is really a violent city and tragic in so many ways and there is all that beauty on top of all that sad and violent history.

I get to Paris as often as I can — fairly often — I counted seven times in the last ten years. My mother always says: “you’re going to Paris again? Why don’t you go somewhere else?” But I don’t want to go anywhere else. It’s just because every time I go to Paris, I go to the old places I’ve been before, but I always find something new and it’s at least thousand year old city and there is something new every time I go. Plus it’s a modern, thriving City — with art, theatre, fashion — everything is changing and evolving, so it’s not like a museum.

Oscar'stomb-2 copy

Photo by Kathryn Smith of Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Paris:
“We will never forget the importance of being earnest” is written in white. 

My love for Little Red Riding Hood started when I took a snapshot of my daughter Elizabeth in a red hoodie when she was about three. She was peeping out with a sort of wary look that made me think of Little Red and the wolf. As a result, I made a series of quilts on this theme, including one I turned into a book; I have collected dozens of versions of the book, from old vintage ones to modern incarnations to foreign editions in French, Japanese, and Czech, among other languages.

03_RRHood Cover

Kathryn’s Red Riding Hood quilt on the cover of her book.

03_Red and Wolf

Kathryn as Little Red, partying with the wolf.

I also love making things. I’ve always worked with textiles since I was a really small child. My mother actually still has the first quilt I made. It’s about the size of an egg I guess, and it was made of little scraps of felt from some Christmas ornaments she was making in the 1960s; I sewed them together all these little scraps and I made this little quilt. She has it in a frame: “Kathryn’s First Quilt”. (chuckling)

So I still love quilting. I especially love to find old quilts that need help or have never been finished. To find a quilt-top that’s never been quilted, to repair it and to make it useful is a favorite thing to do.

04_K with GGM restored Quilt

Photo: Kathryn and her restored quilt; it was her great grandmother’s. 

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Threads! Threads inspire Kathryn Smith. The threads of history, Paris, Little Red Riding Hood and fabric — they all inspire her.

And Kathryn Smith inspires!

Thank you Kathryn.

Please connect with Kathryn Smith in the COMMENTS section for this post.

05_K typewriter etc.

A writer’s still life. Here is a corner of inspiration in Kathryn’s library.
From the left, clockwise: typewriter that belonged to a foreign correspondent in Japan; photograph of Missy & FDR; popular bust of FDR; a beer-opener donkey from FDR’s first presidential campaign in 1932;  Missy LeHand’s donkey from her White House desk.

04_K as Missy_Friend as ER

On the right: Kathryn Smith is dressed as Missy LeHand at a costume fundraiser for the Cancer Association of Anderson she co-founded. On the left is her friend dressed as Eleanor Roosevelt with a faux-fox-fur Kathryn made.

Join Kathryn on Facebook and on her website KathrynSmithWords.com.

The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency
The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency by Kathryn Smith

Read an excerpt from the Gatekeeper on Politico.com by Kathryn Smith, published August 28, 2016:

FDR’s Secretary’s Secret Hand in the New Deal

The most powerful presidential secretary in history, Missy LeHand made key introductions, advocated for legislation—and cemented Roosevelt’s biggest legacy.

Read on Politico and follow @politico on Twitter | Politico on Facebook

Missy
FDR’s Secretary’s Secret Hand in the New Deal The most powerful presidential secretary in history, Missy LeHand made key introductions, advocated for legislation—and cemented Roosevelt’s biggest legacy. By Kathryn Smith, August 28, 2016

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Kathryn Smith, Author of The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency StudioSeeds Inspire By Suze Bienaimee