Karuna Riazi, our first Tightwires guest!

When I envisioned Tightwires last summer, I knew— because of my journalism background—I would eventually want to interview other people. Specifically, that I would want to interview other writers.

Interviews build community, and if there’s one thing I learned in my MFA, it’s that building a community is paramount to success in writing. Initial creation might occur in solitude, but nurturing an artistic practice requires throwing the door wide open. I am who I am because of the communities that nurture me.

How fitting, then, that my first Tightwires interview is with author and diversity advocate Karuna Riazi, an absolute powerhouse of a creator who becomes an invaluable part of every community she enters!

I so enjoyed reading A BIT OF EARTH, Karuna’s latest book, last month. This searing reimagining of a beloved classic is sure to be a big hit. I can’t wait for everyone else to read it too!

A BIT OF EARTH will be released next Tuesday, March 14. Preorder it now from at any of these retailers: Bookshop, IndieBound, B&N, Amazon, and don’t forget to submit your preorder receipt through Karuna’s site for preorder goodies and a chance to win a prize pack!

And in the meantime, check out my conversation with Karuna below! I had so much fun.

Interested in being a future featured guest? Let me know!

Introducing TIGHTWIRES

2022 has been a wild year full of endings and beginnings. The nature of endings in particular is that as they happen, they call to mind other, more painful endings. 

As a college sophomore in 2016, I launched Swipe Right, a humor column for my college newspaper. Pieces from the column went on to win awards, were republished in 34 newspapers across the U.S. and Cuba, got me early agent interest, and probably even landed me some grad school acceptances. 

It was an incredible experience that I miss dearly. I left the newspaper and ended Swipe Right because, as a senior double majoring in the honors college and applying to MFA programs, I wanted to prioritize my creative writing. It wasn’t an easy decision by any means, and it always felt like it lacked closure. 

I’ve long thought about bringing Swipe Right back in some capacity, though I think I’ve always known it would have to be different. To bring it back now— after I’ve finished grad school, made it to the next step in my writing career, and obtained a frontal lobe— feels like a full-circle moment; an attempt at closure. 

Meet Tightwires, a somewhat-unhinged vlog series about navigating life after the MFA and attempting to rediscover the joy in writing! Think of it as Swipe Right but with a frontal lobe, a camera, and much more free time.

I floated the idea earlier this year with some of my former newsroom colleagues and was so ecstatic to reconnect with the original Swipe Right logo designer, Cameron Cummins, to create the new Tightwires logo and also the animation above. [Thank you, Cameron, for rendering my vision so perfectly and holding my secret for so long!]

Through Tightwires, I’ll be posting writing vlogs, tutorials, analyses, and reviews. I’ll also be completing quarterly writing challenges. The first of these begins next Monday, Dec. 19, when I’ll be challenging myself to write a 50,000 word novel in the last ten weekdays of 2022 and documenting the entire process in daily vlogs on YouTube. I’m so excited to get this started, and I hope that my reasons for delving into this challenge (explained in the video below) will convince you to join me!

When art forms collide, or the coolest poetry reading I’ve ever done

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how different art mediums can interact with and inform one another.

A few months ago, I participated in “COLLISION: When Visions Combine,” an annual collaboration between The Momentary, our local modern arts museum housed in a decommissioned 63,000-square-foot cheese factory, and CACHE, a local arts organization. The two combined their wildly prescient forces to pair artists of different mediums together for two fifteen-minute performances across the Momentary.

Before revealing our partners, they had us confirm we were willing to participate. I said yes, thrilled by the possibility. I hoped they’d pair me with one of the many incredible musicians I’d met in the past year through events sponsored by Artists 360. I looked forward to discovering how to combine original music and poetry.

But they hadn’t paired me with a musician. 

They’d paired me with Bekah Skaggs, an immensely talented professional dancer. I had no idea how we’d make it work because— as someone who is very much known for being the opposite of graceful— I’d never collaborated with a dancer before. But I had already agreed to the challenge, so I met Bekah with an open mind and shared with her my work and experience. 

Before the show with our marquee

During our initial conversations, Bekah mentioned she had recently danced with fire as part of a performance. She couldn’t see, because it was over the phone, but my eyes lit up immediately. I had just completed a novel-in-verse that prominently features water, so I asked Bekah if she had ever danced with water. She hadn’t— but when I told her about my project, she jumped at the challenge. 

The post-show artists’ talk

I pieced together a portion of my novel more explicitly dealing with water— including, literally, an entire contrapuntal from a violent lake’s point of view— and she designed a makeshift water stage. 

We both learned a lot from the collaborative process. I learned how to factor movement and breath into my writing (when Bekah asked for more time to move from the wet tarp floor to the lollipop pole) and she learned how to choreograph spoken word poetry. The resulting performance was unbelievably incredible, transportive and amazing— and beyond anything the two of us could have imagined. Everything from the space (which provided an endless, resonant echo), to the music (“Apex Instrumental,” a track by Modeling, which just so happens to be a band comprised of Bekah’s cousins); and the very fact that we had been paired felt transcendent. And dare I say, magical. 

I won’t be able to share the full video of our performance today, even though it was professionally recorded, because it does include some especially shocking spoilers in the novel, which is currently on submission to editors. But I hope that I’ll have the chance to share it someday in a distant future. 

For now, enjoy these incredible photos that offer just a glimpse of the incredibly transportive experience. And catch a glimpse of the performance in this sped-up clip.

Photos and video provided courtesy of Jared Sorrells, Novo Studio.

An agent, an MFA, an Artists 360 presentation

So many exciting things have happened in the past few months. Where to begin? I signed with a literary agent, seven years after sending my first query letter! I graduated with my MFA after four years of workshops and wallowing! I shared my somewhat-depressing writing journey at the 2022 Artists 360 convening in the Great Hall at Crystal Bridges! And I had a deeply personal poem published by Hobart, one of my favorite online journals!

I’ve also dealt with some not-so-exciting things. Turns out, job hunting during an [allegedly] impending recession is brutal. And I don’t love the feeling of being completely free-floating for the first time in my life. But I’m lucky to have options, for maybe the first time in my life. And to take risks.

Before my presentation at the convening, some of my fellow artists gave this advice:

If you’re feeling afraid, tell your brain that you’re excited instead— it won’t know the difference because both emotions trigger the same physiological response.

I think I’ve always known this, deep down inside, and I really am genuinely excited for what the future holds. Genuinely! But some days, when I face new rejections and the world feels bleak, I am choosing to channel my fear into excitement instead.

What are you excited about?

Courtesy of Mid-America Arts Alliance. Photo by Stephen Ironside, Ironside Photography