Travis Rountree (Instructor): Okay. I’m going to turn it over to Stephen. [Unintelligible]
Stephen Mills: Well, thank you for inviting me to talk to your class. This is really kind of an interesting experience for me because I have not been in Richmond in over probably twelve or thirteen years so, a lot has changed in Richmond on all fronts is those years since I was here, but also just seeing a class like this and the kind of work you’re doing is really not something that I would necessarily have imagined happening in Richmond even still today. I think you can see some of that from your professors that this does mean a lot to a lot of people, this kind of work that’s being done and this idea of archiving and recording histories of our community that obviously has existed but has been sort of ignored in a lot of ways in this kind of area here.
S: I’ll tell you just a little background of myself. I was born here in Richmond and I was born in 82′, I don’t think that was super long ago to the people in this room. [Laughs] It may seem longer ago than that. But, yeah I was born here and my family was all from here. My dad was born and raised in Richmond. My mom lived sort of outside kind of more towards Centerville area. So, my family is all very grounded in this area and so I completely grew up right here. I lived just down the road, like the Westchester edition off of 27 if you just keep going in that direction, farther North. I grew up right around this area actually right here and I went to Highland heights Elementary school. I don’t know if that school is still around. I went to that elementary school…right as I was sort of in elementary school they started a special school what we used to call gifted and talented programs which now is a problematic term in education. But, this was the late 80’s-early 90’s and I actually went to a school called [LOGOS of the Lab school] (02:41) which I am not sure actually selects us anymore or not. I think it’s changed. I know it change in iterations. It used to be its own completely own building. I went there for middle school which is probably one of the best things that ever happened to me in terms of education wise, because it was a very…in middle schools usually a pretty terrible time for people and maybe more terrible for some of you in this room.
S: Middle school can be a hard time for everyone and actually was the best part of my educational experience in Richmond. But that was mostly because I was in this sort of isolated… the school had like 60 students and we did all kinds of weird projects. It was very kind of an experimental school and you did sort of things that were very different. That sort of helped open up, I think, my ideas about a lot of different things and I think in terms of the gay community something you weren’t really aware of growing up. So when you start feel like you are different in some way, there wasn’t a lot of examples of that. I think for that can still be the truth for many people today in certain areas. The only biggest difference I would say, today even if you are a young person and there is still a lot of access. There’s more access now to information and representation through media, through entertainment. When I was a kid it was really huge deal and the 90’s sort of had all these big pop culture gay moments throughout there like the first gay male kiss was on Dawson’s Creek or something.
S: Ellen DeGeneres coming out on her show was kind of a monumental moment and that’s something that I sort of remember really clearly because I was a really big fan of that show before she came out and so it was something that I was watching and watching this sort of unfold. I was like thirteen maybe twelve-thirteen around the time that that happened. In middle school I was in eighth grade when that happened and we used to do; that school we used to do these Socratic seminars in the eighth grade and every week. Socratic Seminars is this idea of a discussion we did in these two rings so some people were just observers of the discussion and other people were participants. Every week a different group of students was in charge of picking the piece that we read. My group; and what’s really funny, my best friend in middle school also came out as gay later though we never spoke about that as kids. We picked an article about Ellen DeGeneres coming out was a really big story. It’s interesting when you are having these feelings and you don’t have the words for yourself, you often times are still drawn to pieces and to people and to these stories and you’re watching what’s happening and you’re watching people’s reactions to what’s happening. So like that moment and the idea of a character on TV showing saying they’re gay and being this huge monumental moment. For a lot of younger people in the room that may seem kind of silly because you see gay characters on lots of shows now and movies and things like that. 6:10 …great representation but they’re there in lots of ways. So, that moment was really kind of this huge thing that lots of people were talking about whether they watched the show or didn’t watch the show. Then I remember watching the final season because it was cancelled after she did that, she had one more season of the show, and before every episode there was this warning that came up on the screen that said this has adult content and it was just an ABC sitcom it was not that shocking that material there. That really hurt Ellen DeGeneres I mean you know obviously she’s a huge person now but she went through years of pretty much being ignored by Hollywood for a really long time. There was sort of those moments that you’re watching and you’re seeing even just through entertainment a lot of that stuff was just happening as I was growing up and watching those things.
S: Then I went to Richmond High School as most people do back here as most people do. There’s not a lot choices in terms of that. I really just hardly knew any other gay people. There wasn’t really “out” people. There wasn’t a Gay/Straight Alliance at Richmond High School when I was there. It was just not something people really talked a lot about. In that way it wasn’t necessarily that I was surrounded around a lot of negative comments and that can be very true especially in a mid-west area. There’s sort of a politeness. It’s just more not discussed not necessarily always…absolutely there can be hateful things that happen but a lot of times it’s more an ignoring issue. It’s just more not discussed not necessarily always…absolutely there can be hateful things that happen but a lot of times it’s more an ignoring issue. So there’s not discussions happening. You’re not seeing people and growing up is more of just hearing rumors about different people. My uncle’s business partner I think was gay. It was kind of implied in various ways without ever being said. My mom had really good friend she worked with and she had a best friend that was gay. But it was never really said it was only just sort of “that” person there that they’re relationships were never spoken about. Anything about that they were just the person that was there. They had that idea, that notion.
S: I was never “out” in any way shape or form through those years and when I graduated from high school I went to Hanover College which is in southern Indiana a small liberal arts school. It’s a very small school just like 1000 students total it’s a beautiful school. It’s a really good school. It’s like the oldest private school in Indiana. So I went there and also didn’t really any other gay people because it’s all very small and I really didn’t know that. I went through freshman year and things were fine. I enjoyed the school a lot, you made friends. My freshman year is kind of an odd year of school because it was also when 9/11 happened like two weeks into my freshman year of college. This was the world suddenly changing and the conversation kind of globally changing greatly after that. So it really wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I came out. I sort of went into a depression during that school year and slowly realized that was really the cause of it. Was not really admitting that to myself and luckily Hanover is a very conservative school but like many colleges, even conservative colleges sometimes, what you find often times is the faculty were extremely open, extremely accepting, and great. The administration, not so much. Students, kind of a mixture of that. You had the faculty there and they were really great and we did have good counseling services and that was the first place that I went and talked to a counselor for the first time ever. It sort of worked those things, but for me it was really once I was able to admit that to myself and admit that I was gay, it really just flipped something in my head. I was really like, “oh”, it was almost like that. Oh, that makes sense. It felt like my life up to that point made sense to me suddenly. It was really more of just a relief.
So, then I just was like, “Well I just want to get this over with and tell everybody. I’m done with this”. I was pretty much just like, “let’s just go with this”. I started telling people slowly at first a little bit. I didn’t feel like I had that much to worry about in terms of the college because it wasn’t something I really said or not said. It wasn’t, in the environment, it wasn’t really that problematic.Telling some of my high school friends so, I remember calling one of my best friends from high school and this is like 2002-2003 maybe. In Hanover I had a cell phone there was like a stick and barley worked in Hanover because Hanover is just in the middle of nowhere. I had to go outside in my dorm parking lot to ever get a signal or sometimes I would drive down the street and sit in the motel 8’s parking lot because it had a better signal. I was just a little down [unintelligible] 12:40 I called and told her and of course she was like, “Oh, I was waiting for you to tell me this”. So, often times that can be the case for people that do know you or know you well. Then I went home for, it was in April of that, my sophomore year. I went home for the weekend. I had told my older sister and my brother in law that I was really close to at the time. All of my family lived here in Richmond at that time. I came back here and sort of called a family meeting, which is something we kind of didn’t do so my mother was really concerned about it and was confused why we were doing it. I just kind of told my whole family at one time. My family was very accepting. My mother’s side, she was like, “Oh, I thought you going to tell me you’re an atheist”. [Laughs] I mean I am, but I wouldn’t call a meeting for that. That was her first reaction, so I guess she was relived in some way. My family, they took it pretty well. I didn’t have a negative experience with my parents or anyone in my immediate family. That was really not an issue or not a huge issue for them.
S: They kind of went through feeling like they had to do a lot of thinking and reading about it and things like that. Which looking back, that’s somewhat ridiculous. My mom read some weird books about it or something. But it wasn’t a really a huge issue within that. Extended family there was a lot of issues like family members not wanting to come to Thanksgiving or around and random weird stuff like that. You know, that happens. My immediate family and people I really cared about, it was not a large issue. I really returned to Hanover for my junior year in a very different place that I have ever been. Feeling a lot more confident in who I was and all of those things. My junior year I met my partner, we have been together for almost 16 years. We met that year at Hanover. I found that they did have a gay organization at Hanover. It was called Love Out Loud. You know, it was like LOL. I didn’t name it. I found it, I found this group and I was like alright I’ll just go to this meeting. I go and it’s in our campus center. It like upstairs in this backroom, the door is closed, everyone’s kind of terrified inside. I was like, what is this? So, yeah. The group was very kind of closed and nervous and quiet and didn’t really do a lot on campus. Basically within six months I was running the group and had made them do a lot of things they didn’t want to do. Then they kind of came around. We started, actually, doing a lot of things on campus. My junior and senior year I spent running that organization and really pushing the administration to do a lot of things that they needed to do that there really kind of really ignoring and made the group an actual campus group. It was an official campus group but nobody knew because they didn’t do any events. They just sort of met quietly behind the door. I really opened that door. I got a lot of other people involved, I mean it’s a small campus so we had to really rely a lot on allies, of other straight allies and things like that. There was more gay people that started kind of coming in and coming out but you still only have maybe eight or nine “out” people on campus. It was a pretty small number. It is a very traditional school so the education was kind of an old school methodology but in a positive way in some ways. Like it was very focused on you learning to be able to argue and to have conversations to really make your point. So, no one ever would say no to you. That was kind like their…they would sit down and I would have meetings with like high ups and they would give you a meeting. They would listen to you and they would give various points. It was very back and forth. They really liked that sort of conversation. I was really like this slow like pushing and a lot of what we did was get the faculty on board with us and really pushed that.
We ended up hosting the college’s first summer pride week where we did a whole week of events. We brought a group of drag queens to campus for the very first time and we did a huge event and we raised like a $1000 for an 18:11 [HMB organization] in Louisville because that’s pretty close, about 40 minutes from Louisville. We really started pushing that. We started doing a mock wedding event on campus. This was before marriage equality and this is really when marriage equality in like 2003-2004 is really where marriage equality issues really became front and center in a lot discussions. George W. Bush viewed it as a huge issue in the 2004 election. It might have partly helped him win re-election in the 2004 election. Also, a lot of states passed bans of gay marriage which was kind of ridiculous because you’re banning something that already wasn’t legal. It was a double ban. It was sort of an unnecessary piece of legislation because it was already not legal. So this is the time period where that’s a huge issue. A lot of people are having conversations around it. 2004 is also became a big story. The mayor of San Francisco just started issuing marriage licenses to people and that became a huge map he just sort of said screw it I’m just going to start giving out marriage licenses to gay couples and it became a really big story. We started doing this mock wedding event in February, it was called National Freedom to Marry Day which I guess doesn’t exist anymore. It doesn’t have to exist anymore. It was an event in February and we did this mock wedding event where we had a lesbian couple, a gay couple, and a straight couple, and this mock wedding in the campus center. Then we hosted like a wedding reception where we showed a documentary about gay marriage and had wedding cake and those sort of things. So we started doing these kind of more in your face events that people had to see and had to responded in some way. Some of those responses obviously were not positive responses. We had campus fliers ripped down constantly for our events. One group really disliked us. They would rip them down like every day, all over campus. Then some group put up like these mock fliers making fun of the flier. So, we just printed hundreds of fliers. We got every faculty member who was willing to put one on their office door. We basically just responded by increasing the volume of the fliers. There was various push back from that. That was happening in a lot of places. In that time period people would think, oh things are so much better. In my experiences being in a more conservative area, I was doing a lot of work that some schools had done many years before and doing that in the early 2000’s when it was a lot. But, it was a really positive experience for me because I think it helped sort of ground my perspective a lot and grounded my desire to be active and to be vocal and help me find my voice in that front. It’s an environment that really allowed me to do that in an interesting way. I really enjoyed that experience but we definitely pushed a lot of boundaries. A positive is that it greatly changed Hanover and they now have an actual gay/lesbian center on campus with their own room and their own plaque and their own information. They’re still hosting a pride week every year and all the things that we do, we did actually are still happening nearly 15 years later. That was a really positive experience. I went back there about four years ago, this is when my second book came out then, to be on campus and it was really great to see these things that you were doing and seeing the effect of that. I think that’s a really important aspect of when you are working on projects is that there is a long lasting effect. Sometimes what you are doing even if you don’t see that right away or when you’re doing something. I think that’s important to keep in mind even in the work that you guys are thinking about and doing here is that there can be really lasting effects from that. In terms of people looking back at this or being able to recognize, oh wow there are other people that are from this area that are part of this community or have ties to this community in various ways.
S: That’s just a little rambling or background on where I’ve come from and sort of my Indiana experience. After college I did move out of the state. I went to graduate school at Florida State and I kind of left Indiana. But I was here in Indiana for my first 22 years of my life and I left and went directly from undergrad to graduate school. I lived in Florida for seven years and then I live in New York now so I’ve been in New York for almost seven years as well. I thought I would read a little bit. I know that when Travis was asking about coming to the class I sort of had this sudden flash that I had forgot I had written this poem because it’s not in one of my books. It was published in a literary magazine a few years ago and this is the most Richmond poem I have ever written and it is really…I think it does highlight a lot of things that I’m interested in my work. Again, if you come to the reading later you’ll see a lot of other examples of that. I am very interested in history and in attaching my experience to history. Looking back and seeing how that informs my thinking and my process of how I look at where I am now but also where I’ve come from, where people I care about have come from, all of those aspects. I do, often times, a lot of research when I’m writing. Sometimes people think to have the misconception that creative writing is just creative. You are just sitting down and you’re just writing whatever comes into your head. But, a lot of creative writing is very based in research. There is a lot of research that goes into all kinds of writing. Whether you are writing a novel or a poem or anything, you are often times having to research something to figure out, how I put this all together. So, I do a lot of that in my poetry. This poem that Travis said to share with you guys it’s a very long poem. I do write a lot of really long poems. I like dealing with length in a lot of different ways. So, I’m not going to read all of it to you because it’s 20 pages and I believe you’ve read it. I will not read all of it. So, I’m going read some excerpts from it. This poem does capture a lot of different aspects here. My goal was to capture part of the history of Richmond in the poem. Part of my family history as well.
S: I also do a little bit of my own growing up and coming out within the poem and then also look at broader historical contexts of the state. In particular, are the connect to racism and the KKK’s presence in Indiana which has often times been ignored by a lot of people that this state has a really deep history of a lot of those things that people sometimes only associate with the south or only associate with other areas. So all those things sort of come together within this poem and I think give a sense partly to my relationship of the city as well.
T: If you want to I’m letting people use computers to follow along if you want to follow along if you have a device and it’s simple you can. Feel free to. I like to kind of nerd like that.
S: I am going to skip around but I’m going to skip through and read some different sections here. So, this poem is called “The Brief History of How My Parents Didn’t Die.”
“My mother and father are not part of the dead, but are there in the city, in the city where they were born on hot July days, Knee high corn, blue skies, land locked, In the city where I will be born 14 years later, on Monday in November, Fall leaves, brisk wind, 14 years after tragedy, events people never get over, a city raveled by disaster, no longer, no longer in the bubble of can’t happen here, it is April in the city, Spring, flowers blooming, warm breeze, my parents are not part of the dead, are not burned beyond recognition, are alive, and I , I’m not even a thought in their heads, or a quiver in their groins, Indiana, decades before the explosion, 1920’s, the second rising of the clan, the KKK, they will fight against the Jews, the Catholics, the great migration of African Americans to the North for industrial work, and drinking, prohibition, Indiana will be the clan’s greatest success, a land ripe with hate ,ready to stamp out intruders, shotgun in hand, my parents didn’t know each other on that day in April 1968, but a car was blown 50 feet and a woman was lifted off the ground and onto a rooftop, alive, but terrified, my parents didn’t know this lady, or the owner of that car, but were there in the city, on a normal Spring afternoon, a Saturday, they won’t actually meet for a few years, when they do it will be in a shoe store, a shoe store downtown, near where the explosion happened, but I’d like to think they crossed paths that day, young versions of themselves, both happy for the weekend, both full for the future, kids with no cares, perhaps their eyes met, unaware that one day they would fall in love, have a family, live right here in the city, where they didn’t die, are not part of the dead, are alive.”
“April 6, 2003, home from college to tell them, to look them in the eye, to change their lives and mine, the unspeakable, spoken, silent no more, Springtime in Indiana, 1922, Indiana passes a bill to create a Klan day at the state fair, the same state fair I will attend 70 years later, with funnel cakes, Ferris wheels, cattle, a 4-H member, a Midwest boy, Klan day has passed, a day for real men, Indian men, white men, complete with a cross burning at night, a symbol on fire, Governor McCray vetoes the bill, the Klan won’t back down, they dig in their heels, digging dirt on the Cray’s finances, smearing him in the newspapers, forcing him to resign, 20 buildings are condemned, demolished, my father says Richmond was a mess for a long long time, they replaced the area with a pedestrian mall, finished in 1972, ten years before my birth, four years after the explosion, they called it the Promenade, like in olden days when people paraded through town in their Sunday best, though that was more modern, modern for 72′, I remember the white mushroom-looking posts that decorated the area, and how they cast long shadows in the late summer, department stores went up, places to shop, to eat, to spend Saturday afternoons, the rubble gone, the bodies carried away, and those mushrooms, like the mushrooms on my mother’s cookie jar, a wedding gift, where everywhere, like they sprouted right out of the dead.”
“My father knew two boys in his freshman class and one girl, who were killed, bodies destroyed, unrecognizable, two boys one girl, all three my father’s age, from the same class and school, the same school I would later attend, Richmond Red Devils Ra Ra Ra, it was a story I grew up with, the day of the big explosion, how my mother almost died, could’ve been right there in the mix of it, she was only twelve, a girl, young, pretty, a story of survival, of chance, of faith, she lived therefore setting into motion every event of my life, it is a story I grew up with, the explosion that could’ve ended us all, before we began, it was another death, my mother read in a book that it’s like losing a child, that you grief for the son you no longer have, or more accurately the son you never had, I didn’t go anywhere, but she shed tears, a life was buried deep in the back yard under the old maple tree, I wonder if she visits that other boy, that other version of me, I wonder what he says back to her.”
“My grandmother wants new carpet, carpet for the living room, she goes out shopping with her two girls on a normal Saturday afternoon in April, last errand, picking up carpet samples at [Old House Furniture] 32:26 downtown, the girls are excited to help, to run their fingers along big spools of carpet, to image their modest home done in lavish decor, knowing all the while something sensible, something reasonable, will be selected, they drive around the block, my grandmother, my mother, my aunt, no parking spots can be found, my mother and aunt, eager young girls, beg her to go around again, just one more time, my grandmother hands on the wheel, pauses, thinks for a moment, then turns to them and says, ‘Another time girls, another time’. On the drive home, the clock strikes 1:47 PM Eastern standard time. They don’t hear the boom, but about the time they arrive home, Old House Furniture is destroyed.”
“November 22, 1982, 9:04 PM, Eastern standard time, I enter the world, a 9 pound 12 ounce baby boy, this is after 35 hours of labor, which began on a Sunday morning in a Quaker church in Richmond Indiana. Yes, 35 hours of my mother coaxing me out, there inside her I waited, unaware, unsure, and just as they lifted my weakened mother onto a gurney, prepping her for a C-section, I broke free, barreled into the world, screaming, red, and alive. My mother with a broken tail bone caused by me, held me in her arms, thankful, relieved, elated. Her last child had been a miscarriage, a death that gave me life. My life began there in that hospital, in the city, where my parents didn’t die.”
“My grandfather want a new car. He goes car shopping with his only son, his only child, my father. It is a Saturday in April, male bonding, first stop the drugstore, to pick up a prescription for my grandmother, can’t forget this. 1:47 PM Eastern standard time, they’re there in the drugstore downtown. They hear the boom, the building shakes, smoke can be seen out of the store front, heavy black smoke. I can imagine my father terrified, uncertain, inherited my grandmother’s nerves, and my grandfather? He’s just a silhouette against the window, against the black smoke rising, I never knew him.”
“In grade school no one taught us about our clan, the Indiana KKK. We read about white hoods southern accents, burning crosses, we read about Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia. We spent a week on the explosion, watched a short film my teacher threaded through the projector, grainy shaky, it didn’t seem real, not this Richmond, no this small city, where I was born, where my parents also grew up, where I feared I might die, might never escape. I am here in the city, in the city where my parents didn’t die, did not buy carpet, did not buy a new car. The city where they met, fell in love, raised a family, the city where I was born, born in the city, in November, the city that birthed me, made me, grew me, terrified me. The city where I first dreamed of boy’s touch, kiss, embrace. The city I longed to escape. I am here, standing in the place where bodies were found, buildings destroyed, where gas leaks started to seep, where my young mother almost died, where my young father stood in horror watching the black clouds of smoke rise above his city, a city full of history, of silence. A city as white as hoods hung in closets waiting for their day in the sun. I am here, in the city, I can never fully escape, in the city where I was born, in the city where my parent didn’t die, where I didn’t die.”
S: That’s the abbreviated version of the poem. So, there’s lots of other parts of the poem that I skipped over. It sort of weaves together various narratives there and I read a little more of the personal parts about the poem. If you read it, looked at it, you saw I bring in other voices from…some of those are based on actual interviews of people that were here during the explosion and all those things. So, that’s kind of weaved in as well as some more things about the racial contexts of that moment. I’m really open to if there’s questions about really anything. About my experience, about the poem, about writing, about Richmond, if people have any questions, comments, or thoughts. Anything you want to say or share?
T: We do have that 1:47 film which I showed my class last year/last semester. They do have it at the library and they have a digital copy if you would like to check it out. Jean Harper is in the English department. She directed the movie, so that’s just kind of a side note. If you are curious more about the explosion.
S: Yeah, I actually used that film for research for this. When I was writing this piece.
Student 1: So, you said the explosion threw her twelve feet in the air, on top of a building? Did that actually happen?
S: Yeah, that’s what people claim. Those are stories that are told. There are a lot of really kind of crazy situations and stories that happened. It’s definitely a very monumental, terrible, sort of situation that happened right here. Yeah that was all based on research that people said, yes.
T: Anytime you have that, you’re going to have a mythology in public memory around the topic. So we have someone that have said that or seen it, or could have happened. It’s also great you’re picking up writing about the students. You’re creating your own realism too and it’s incredible.
S: Sure, yeah.
Student 2: How did you get into your poetry?
S: I’ve really always wanted to be a writer. Really from the time I was a really small kid. Kind of before I was really able to write. I used to sort of write weird scribbles down and read them to my mother. They weren’t, this was before I could really write. It was really something I always always wanted to do just from a very young age. I always loved reading. My mom used to take me to the library all the time. My first job was at Morrison Reeves Library as well. I always had a love for reading and writing but I really kind of writing more fiction as kid. That’s really more of what you often times are exposed to. I would read a lot more like novel and stories and things like that. That’s sort of where I started writing. Then I started gravitating, in high school I started playing around with poetry a bit more. When I was applying to colleges I really was trying to figure out where to go. I almost went to Columbia College in Chicago which is a creative school that normally have creative degrees. I was accepted there and my parents were real nervous because of moving to Chicago. It was also going to be really expensive. Hanover is expensive enough. Hanover is one of the most reasonable private schools. But, it was going to be real expensive as well. But, I went to Hanover and my freshman year I took a creative writing class. Hanover three semesters. We do a fall, spring, and a May term, where in May you just take one class and it’s an intensive class that you go every day. There’s a lot of really fun classes during that month so it’s actually a fun kind of structure. They do a lot of abroad classes as well. One year I went to England and did a Shakespeare class for the month. There’s a lot of fun options. But, I did a creative writing class for my first May term. It was kind of a joint. You did some fiction, some poetry. The professor there, the mentor of mine, she really encouraged me in the poetry direction and really told me that I was a poet. Sometimes having someone identify you or give you that encouragement, kind of pushed more in the direction.
S: Obviously through college I started reading a lot more poetry. Which helps a lot. A lot of times you just started doing what you’re supposed to. As I said, you’re more exposed usually to fiction. Not a lot of poetry is often times taught in K-12. Sometimes very few pieces are taught or very select few. Once you start exploring and seeing, oh wow, poetry is so diverse. So many things. Sometimes people that experienced poetry they’ve have to read a Shakespeare sonnet or they’ve had to read maybe an Emily Dickinson poem. So people think of poetry as something that is very old or doesn’t sound like they speak. Usually that’s because you haven’t any poems published from like 1900 on. So poetry is very very different. Even old poetry you might think of as old sounds a lot different than you might expect. I sort of started exploring that a lot more. So, through college I wrote a lot. At Hanover you have to do what they call and independent study your senior year. It’s basically kind of like writing a thesis like you do in graduate school. [Unintelligible] Hanover does a lot different things. They also are one of the only, I think there are only seven schools left in the country that still do comprehensive exams as well. At the end of your four years you have to take an oral comprehensive exam to faculty members where they ask you any question about any course you took in your major. So you’re given like a reading list of everything you were supposed to have read for…and I also was really stupid and took all of my electives which was also English classes so my list was huge. I had tons of things. I did a creative independent study. So I did it on creative writing and wrote part of an essay about my identity as a creative writer as paired with poems and things like that. Yeah, so just kind of went from there. I enjoyed the freedom of poetry. I think poetry is one of the most free forms because there is some many options of what can and not do. You create what you want through it. It really went from there and then I applied to in the faith programs and creative writing for my master’s and went to Florida State for that. That just kind of took off from there. That’s a bit of a long answer to that question. That’s the sort of journey through that, yes.
T: Let’s do about two more questions for this…
S: Oh no, I’m good. I’m good.
Student 3: What was the first experience you had where you learned that language and words have power?
S: That’s a really good question. You start realizing…you know I think partly, maybe even just as a young that experience of starting to read and to read things and read experiences. Even as a really young kid I think that is something I recognized I guess very early in terms of just… maybe something that drew me to writing was that I could see, think it’s just fascinating that I can hold this book that someone I would never meet and that I could connect to a story that written down. Maybe it was an old story or new story. I think you start seeing that. But I think as you get older you start seeing… other instances of that and I think even when I started even the pop culture aspects of growing up and making the connection to the gay community…Like talking about the Ellen DeGeneres example, you know that was this really powerful, her just saying “I’m gay” on that TV show was this…you know that was a powerful, in simple words, had this really big power for the community and for people watching who wanted to come out into their own time and those things. Those thing can definitely have power and then on the other side you recognize obviously that words can have negative effects on people. You have plenty of examples of that of you knowing calling them ‘fag’ endless times, different places. You never know when it’s going to happen. So a lot of that and I think you just learn and I think through writing you learn how to use language to your benefit and how to explore language in a lot of ways. It maybe turns problematic how you can explore those terms in various ways. I think that’s a great question, yeah. I’m still thinking of other examples of that. I do think it was something that I was aware of pretty early on just that words did have power. I think they just had an effect on me personally just from reading other people’s work.
S: Yeah, go ahead.
Student 3: I have another one.
T: Let’s hear from one other person and then maybe come back to yours.
Student 4: You said you were raised Quaker.
S: Sure, yeah!
S4: What was that like?
S: Sure! That’s a great question. I was raised Quaker for…I went to Quaker church for the first kind of 11 or 12 years of my life. Then we switched to a First Christian church here in Richmond. I actually had a positive effect really. Quaker…has anyone been raised Quaker here? There is obviously a large Quaker community here. Earlham College is one of the most famous Quaker colleges in the country. Most people obviously living out of Richmond will a lot of times when you say Richmond sometimes people are aware of Earlham College. Quakers were really some of the very first people to accept the gay and lesbian community. They are some of the first people to really accept women in lots of different roles. They had a very different sort of philosophy than a lot of other sects of Christianity. They really believe more of an individual relationship with God and not sort of formalized idea and part of most Quaker services is sort of a silent time where anyone can sort of speak during it. They don’t really believe in a lot symbols. They don’t have symbols. They don’t use communion or baptism or crosses even. They’re not really used symbols in ceremony. I was really drawn toward the simplicity of that. It was always a positive experience. I really never had negative experiences with religion in the sense and I never went to a church here that never really talked about gay issues in a negative way or maybe even talked about them hardly at all. I remember some hints, I feel like there were some discussion at the Quaker church around the time I was probably ten or eleven of some conversation of gay issues within the church. Even the First Christian Church then that we went to for rest of my growing up, was also was a fairly liberal church. It was run by a married couple, so there was a female and a male pastor. So I never really had any negative issues with that. But, the Quaker philosophy, even though I’m not a religious person now. I do respect and Quakers also had a lot of activism. They were some of the people that really stood out with social issues. They greatly protested the Vietnam War as an example. They are often times very involved in those things. Very against the death penalty those kinds of things. They do a lot of things that I believe in as well. I think everyone’s had a respect for that.
Student 3: Who is your biggest inspiration in your life? Do you have just one person?
S: Oh, I don’t know. That is a hard question. I guess maybe on a personal, like someone that I personally know…I think my mom had a very good example in terms of hard work and just determination. My mom is from a generation that people where not, both of my parents are from that generation, people were not encouraged to go to college. Especially in the areas like this. It just wasn’t necessarily something that had, you didn’t necessarily have to. You actually at that time period could exit high school and get an okay paying job and be able to buy a house and all those things. Which you can’t do now if you don’t go to college. So there’s…In a very different time period and also being female at that time period. So my mom didn’t go to school, college, and my dad didn’t either. Once my sisters and I were into elementary school, my older sister and I was in middle school, she decided that she wanted something more and realized I need to figure out something different. She had been a stay at home mom before that. She actually started taking evening classes right here at IU East and she got her RN degree right here. That was really something looking back, at the time I was 7-8-9 years old so you’re like ‘oh, whatever’. Then becoming an adult person and realizing she did that while she babysat other people’s kids during the day to make money. She got straight A’s all through her bachelor’s degree and that really changed the course of our lives. It gave us more financial stability because we were one family in common until that point. My dad worked at Wayne Works which used to be a school bus factory that doesn’t exist anymore. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up and so that really changed that. So, I think she’s always been an inspiration of just that hard work when I then went to school and all I was doing was going to school. You get down, ‘oh, I’ve got all this to do and all this work to do’, and then realizing that other people have been in a lot of different situations and had it a lot harder. I think she’s always definitely been a role model for me in terms of just doing, working hard. Also deciding to do different things at different times in your life, you know. My mom did that I think she was actually quite younger than I am now, but. You think of your parents as older when you’re younger, then once you get to those ages you’re like ‘They weren’t old’. She changed the course of her life by making that decision and gave me inspiration by saying you can always do that. You can change your life and do something different. Just because you haven’t done it doesn’t mean you can’t start doing it. I think she would definitely be a person on that front buy yeah, there’s probably many people, though. It is hard. Many people have definitely had created inspiration to me and definitely a lot of teachers through school have. Professors, my high school, I don’t know of any of you, I was a big journalism kid so you guys probably all had [Ms. Ferrell] 55:32 too young if you went to Richmond High School. But, [Mrs. Herman] 55:35 was the advisor for the school newspaper and yearbook and she was a really great person. From there to all of my teachers and professors that really helped shaped me and supported me also coincidentally influences for sure.
T: So, let’s thank Stephen again for coming to class. [Clapping] Again, we will be here tonight at 5:30 in the Community room across from The Den. There is going to be a little reception too so there will be food afterwards. So, thank you and see you next week. Have a safe Spring Break. Be careful.