artist interview

Green Answers to Questions: an artist interview with Roanne Kolvenbach

Wouldn’t it be nice to dive a little deeper, to investigate, to engage? Curiosity can sometimes feel like holding our breath, but at least this way we can swim down into a deep subject, without swallowing any water.


Metaphors enough. For this weekend’s post the idea of interviewing a fellow writer made a lot of sense. Roanne, who happened to interview me last week for her graduate thesis, agreed to answer a few of my questions about her life and her work. She doesn’t disappoint, but amazes, charms, and informs us in a style quite her own.


The curious reader, after discovering Roanne’s jewelry outlet and art workshops online, might want to know that her writing work deals with family relationships, far off sailors, and the intimate details of mad artists. It should come to no surprise, being that Roanne herself has experience juggling the various acts of motherhood, writer, artist, and citizen of the world — sometimes with ease and excellence, other times not to much, as she admits.


My image of Roanne will always be that of us exiting the 11th Street New School building together, at our workshop’s end at 10:30-something.


“Goodbye, everybody,” she says, snapping on a bike helmet.


“Really?” I ask. “You bike home at this hour?”


She smiles, nods, and peddles off into the night, back home, to her desk and her children.


What is your relationship to biking? (I’m thinking of you ridding into the night every Tuesday!)


I choose biking over riding underground whenever possible. But even though it’s so much more pleasant, I rarely bike for pleasure. Although teaching my kids to bike was pure pleasure.


Where did you go to undergrad and what did you study?


Tulane University, New Orleans, LA

BFA in studio art, my concentration was ceramic sculpture. You know, something useful with high paying employment opportunities.


Could you describe the thought process that led you to apply to MFA programs?


I have worked as a designer/artist for 30 years. I began writing seven years ago while my father was dying. He was sick for a long time and I was commuting back and forth to Boston to see him. It was such a crazy time, I needed some kind of portable outlet; I turned to writing. He died and I ended up with a novel. I sent it out and it got rejected down the line. So I wrote another. Sent that out which also got rejected. And for the first time in my life I stopped making work altogether. Complete artistic shut down with no end in sight, which was terrifying and horrible. I applied to MFA programs in the hopes that being back in school in a structured environment would reignite the furnace. Luckily it has, but it’s been a humbling experience.


What are your top priorities for this coming month?
  1. Need to finalize plans for my mother’s move from the house she’s lived in for the past 60 years to a senior retirement community. It’s been a challenging process getting her to commit to the move and figuring out how to pay for it.
  2. Need to sign my older son up for an SAT prep class. I’ve kind of dropped the ball and need to make sure I get on top of it. (It costs $800 and I’ve been stalling.)
  3. My younger son has to do 50 hours of community service for school and I have yet to find a place for him to volunteer and it’s already November! He wants to work with animals but can’t volunteer in shelters because he’s not 18. Any suggestions? 
  4. Start flossing. (But that’s been every month’s priority for years.)
  5. Lose 5 pounds. (But that’s been every month’s priority for years.) (And now it’s more like 10.)
  6. Be nicer to my mother over Thanksgiving. (But that’s been every Thanksgiving’s priority for years.)


Do you prefer to write in solitude, in public, in motion, or somewhere secret?


I have to be alone. Can’t do the cafe thing because I work through most of it out loud. To hear how the sentences sound and particularly the dialog. Although the idea of being a crazy old lady in the middle of some hipster communal table talking to herself is very appealing. Maybe I’ll try it.


What stories interest you?


I’m interested in deep dives of any kind: the science of something, the brutality of addiction, the love of dogs… whatever. As long as the story goes all the way in. 


If you could invite any ten people to dinner, deceased or alive, real or fictional, who would you invite? (And, of course, what would you cook?)


Jesus, David Sedaris, Flannery O’Conner, Pipi Longstocking, Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, Mark Twain, Alice Neel, Frida Kahlo, Sanford Kaplan, Leon Scheepers

(Probably lasagna because you can make it in advance. With these people around the table I don’t want to miss anything by having to be in the kitchen.)


How do you balance being a writer, being a reader, and being a citizen?




How has being a mother informed, distracted, nurtured, or maybe even inspired your writing? 


Being a mom has informed, distracted and inspired everything, not just the writing. I’m terrified they’ll think I’m a failure or a hack. I want them to be proud of me. And I want them to see me making brave choices in the hopes that they’ll make their own brave choices. They’re pulling away, as teenagers do, which is nervous making, exciting and heartbreaking. But that pulling away has left space for me to write. Having kids is a complicated endeavor, difficult to do well. Like writing. 


Lastly, imagine you are sitting at a blank page, watching the cursor blink on and off: What do you tell yourself to just start writing?

That delete is just a tap away.


Right you are, Roanne. How right you are. Thank you.

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