By Finola Mc Donald
(An except of an interview with Alumna, Joanna Valente, in our upcoming 2017 issue)
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Sexting the Dead (Unknown Press, 2017) & Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes, Poetry and the managing editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms and Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, BUST, Spork Press, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets.
FM: What moves you to create?
JV: The need to be seen, to change the status quo, to change how women and queer people are viewed. For me, being an artist of any kind means you see what others don’t. Being an artist is intensely political to me, and while I don’t necessarily think all artists have to be, I also can’t imagine not being political, not fighting for equality or the betterment of people. I want us to live in a kinder, better world, and that is what writing is for me, to highlight experiences that aren’t seen as “norm” and to normalize them. To highlight the nuances of human interaction, because we live in more grays and shades than extremes.
FM: How and when did you first get into writing?
JV: I was 11 and I had just gotten my period and started listening to music like The Cure and Tori Amos and began reading Emily Dickinson, and I think the combination of all those things led me to it. That being said, I was also intensely shy and introspective and was deeply into visual art (often I could be found painting or drawing), so in some way, it was just another outlet for me to express something, myself.
Rebellion is also a big part of art for me. And I think my English teacher at the time would always give me 89% on essays and I wanted so bad to get a 90, so in some strange way, I think that really prompted me to excel at writing because I knew I could, I knew that I was capable. The same running theme of rebellion has always been the case for me. As I got older, being a femme was something that was a barrier, being assaulted, being silenced. And I’ve rebelled against that.
Even in my MFA program, my writing was often seen as “women’s work”, as if writing about womanhood or queerness was seen as something other that men didn’t have to be interested in. Being non-binary, of course, is doubly erased by people, so right now I’m trying to write to that experience. Perhaps it’s half-rebellion and half just me trying to understand myself better, but finding your real identity is a rebellion in itself.