Wednesday, January 05, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kelli Stevens Kane

Kelli Stevens Kane is a poet, playwright, and oral historian. She’s the author of Hallelujah Science (Spuyten Duyvil, 2020). She's a Cave Canem Fellow who has also studied at VONA, Hurston/Wright, and Callaloo. She's an August Wilson Center Fellow, and a recipient of Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grants from The Pittsburgh Foundation. Kane’s poems have appeared in North American Review, Little Patuxent Review, Under a Warm Green Linden, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Split This Rock. She's read her poetry and oral history and performed her one woman show, Big George, nationally. For more information visit

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My 1st book, Hallelujah Science, was published in October 2020 so I’ll just speak to that. It took 25 years (and 72 submissions) from writing to publication. I’m pretty objective about rejections but now that the book’s out, to use a music analogy, I feel like there was a chord in that part of my life that’s finally resolved. I hadn’t heard the dissonance as clearly as I feel the resolution.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I was a preschool teacher reading picture books to children. I started trying to write picture books and realized they were poems.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
All of the above. I’ve walked barefoot to Camp Copious Notes, and I’ve given proverbial birth in the back of a taxi.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I don’t think I have a Usually. It varies, I guess. Hallelujah Science is composed of short pieces that combined, while my next two books (in progress) were conceived as books.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I like to try things in readings that allow me to discover something new in the text. It’s always an experiment. I want the reading to be its own act of creation. So yes! I enjoy doing readings.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Those questions and concerns, whatever they are, go about their business in my subconscious like an engine.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
We give frame of reference transplants. A way to escape yourself & return to an expanded version that has more imagination & empathy.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Feedback from the right people is essential. They see what you need to but can’t. They are honest with you. Interactions with them leave you feeling energized & full of ideas.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to plays to oral histories)? What do you see as the appeal?
I guess it’s been pretty easy because it’s not really a decision. The individual projects tell me what they are, and I follow.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I’ve been an early bird and a night owl. During the pandemic I’ve been the owl. The day begins with an inventory of things to be grateful for. Like the ability to breathe deeply.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Composting. Cleaning. Dancing. Decluttering.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Home is the smell that everyone can smell, except those who dwell therein.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I adore the idiosyncrasies of human speech. And the art of being half awake.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

For years I’ve had a shelf of books (in alphabetical order) written by writers I’ve met. Any time a poem of mine was published in a print journal, I’d put the journal in my spot on the shelf as a placeholder. Finally having my own book among those books, and being an author among those authors, is incredibly meaningful and mind-blowing.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I like math, contracts, and the business side of things.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Reading aloud to children and listening to their early speech (when I was a preschool teacher) created the conditions for me to discover language all over again and become a writer.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
There are so many! For books: The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw, Heavy by Kiese Laymon, and Layla’s Happiness by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie; and for film: Through the Banks of the Red Cedar by Maya Washington, 13th by Ava DuVernay, and Disclosure by Sam Feder.

20 - What are you currently working on?
My second and third books. One is oral history based and the other is a picture book. (I talked about my first book ten years prior to publication—waaaay too early—so this time around I’m going with the zipped lip approach.) Stay tuned!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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