The Art in Sound, the Sound of Art: Susanna Childress’ Campus Reading

By: Kalani Padilla

Before I talk about Susanna Childress and her poetry, I want to dwell for a moment on the venue.

I still take a lot of (undeserved) pride in the 1.5 semesters I endured as a music major. I sympathize with the struggles of friends now braving upper division theory and ear training classes; I criticize this melodic line or that chord, this translation or that key change; I monopolize the Lantern for long study hours and leave highly-trained musicians to use the lounge just outside the bathrooms. Even before non-music majors, I pretend to qualify as an honorary. After finding out Susanna Childress would be reading in the recital hall, I told people they should “come early,” recalling my own memories of the room being full to overflowing with hosts of loving peers, and hordes of procrastinators (trying to get their last three required recital hours all on one night).

The recital hall is a special place, but when I pushed through the door, I immediately started to prickle with past anxieties. I was remembering all the tears I’ve seen shed— all the tears that I’d shed—in that room as a voice student. Though seeing the room filled with people from my new home department made me feel protected, I also felt like a traitor and a coward. So you’re back, I felt the room say, what are you here for? What are you here as?

And yet, I was given, by Susanna Childress’ performance, the audacity to answer both. Childress’s poems, (and the kind voice with which she gave them) were open invitations to each of us to share in her joy and vulnerability. Her confessional and inquisitive writing compels us to identify with all these jagged notions of love, from the viewpoint of child, father, wife, stranger, daughter. These were poems about the physicality of solitude, the familiarity of strangers, the predictability of intimacy. Poems about learning to embrace that which could cut you. Poems about worlds small enough to cradle like a bird. Poems infused with the laughter and tears that inspired them.

And when she sang, when she sang! I feel like we’re so selfish as audiences, to be projecting our own sorry images onto those brave enough to take the stage. But it happens. I closed my eyes and remembered what it was like to give the gift of my voice without the assurance of it being accepted. Speaking with her after her reading, she laughed when she stated that she wasn’t a trained singer, and I marveled to myself about the journey in-between that, and the stack of fully produced albums to her left. Here was Susanna Childress, boldly demonstrating to us that art is loving the things you’ve created so much that you must share them—even when, and especially when it makes you vulnerable.

This morning I listen to a song cascade from the Lantern’s grand piano down to Main Street, with Childress’s Jagged With Love open on my lap. From here I know the quietude, the turbulent grace, and honest longing of art, and that the sound of the heart is equal parts poetry and song.

Kalani Padilla (’19) is a student of English, Theology, and Film & Visual Narrative at Whitworth University. She is also involved in the music program as a singer and Campus Worship leader. Most of all, Kalani is a proud kama’aina, inspired in all things by the people, culture, and Creator of her home in the state of Hawai’i.

At the End of the World: On Self-Publishing a Book and Whitworth’s Role

By: Sarah Michelle Cruz

Whitworth’s English Department offers an amazing class taught by Thom Caraway, where your final project is to literally publish a book. When I took it, the class was called, “Literary Editing and Design,” so we learned how to use In-Design in order to create every aspect of what our finished product would look like, from front to back: The book cover, to the binding, type of material, font, and the list goes on. At the same time, we learned some material editing aspects to prepare us for the publication of our own book.

It was a lot to compact into one course, but definitely rewarding. If you want to know what the self-publishing journey feels like, it’s a little bit like a process full of sweat, tears, frustration, excitement, trial and error. Editing in itself takes a large amount of time with a huge amount of attention to detail. Depending on how long ago you wrote your text, you might end up over-critical toward your writing. I remember that one of my classmates said it would be “a pain in the ass” if she found typos in her published copy. I laughed and didn’t think much of it until I found a typo on the first page of my finished product. In addition, learning to use the In-Design program is difficult in itself, and if you didn’t constantly press save, you have the potential to lose hours of work progress. Sometimes there are issues of missing details on the program, and the mistake is pretty visible in the printed produce. It all takes patience and a willingness to persevere even when your book doesn’t “look” like how you imagined it. But on that note, there’s potential for the book to look even better than you imagine it.

Watching my book come to life was incredibly fun. It is called, “At the End of the World,” and it is a compilation of short stories in the perspective of characters living in a time where the Earth’s trajectory toward spiraling into the sun is inevitable, and the world’s destruction is undeniable. It’s separated into five sections: North, South, East, West, and Andalusia Sky (the “fabled” city in the sky that is believed to survive after the Earth’s destruction), and each sections consisted of four short stories. I had a distinct image of what I wanted the book cover to be, but didn’t have the art skills to make it a reality. So I sketched an image of a man holding a suitcase, looking over the edge of a cliff with a giant orange sun behind him, then I sent it to my friend to paint it. Her adaption of my image is now the cover of my book! As I played around with drawing tools in In-Design, I found that I could create some interesting abstract images. Playing around with that turned into symbolic chapter section images, and the final few pages of my book consists of a series of abstract images that actually look like an explosion that dies down to nothing. That was just a fun result of playing around, which can happen to anyone during the publication process!

If you’re a writer and thinking of ways to publish your book, going the self-publishing route leaves you with many options to create it any way you want, and then distribute it any way you want. I’m currently in the process of figuring out how to publish my book traditionally, and that takes paying large amounts for an editor, finding agents, and waiting for a reliable publication company to publish the product. If anything, there’s even Amazon publishing. I would just encourage any writer to move past the fear of having your work “out there,” whether in a blog or published and sold in stores. You have something wonderful to offer, and the publication process will grow you as an individual, and help you to become a stronger artist.   

Sarah Michelle Cruz is a Whitworth Alum (’16) who majored in English Writing and Psychology. She is currently living in California’s Bay Area, focusing on writing her second novel and readying her first book for publication. She is also a singer/songwriter working on producing her music just for the sake of sharing it.

Thursday April 6th: Come to the Susanna Childress Poetry Reading!

Join the Whitworth University English Reading Series in welcoming poet Susanna Childress.

The reading will take place in the Cowles Music Building in the recital hall at 7pm.

Her most recent book, Entering the House of Awe, was publish by New Issues Press, and won the 2012 prize in poetry from the Society of Midland Authors. Her first book, Jagged with Love, was awarded the Brittingham Prize in Poetry from the University of Wisconsin and the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award from the University of Southern Illinois-Carbondale. She has received an AWP Intro Journals Award, the National Career Award in Poetry from the National Society of Arts and Letters, and a Lilly post-doctoral fellowship. She lives in Holland, Michigan.