Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Q&A with Laura Shovan




Laura Shovan is the author of the new poetry collection Welcome to Monsterville. It includes illustrations by the late poet Michael Rothenberg. Shovan's other books include the middle grade novel Takedown. She teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she's based in Maryland.


Q: How did you and Michael Rothenberg collaborate on Welcome to Monsterville?


A: I visited Michael and his wife Terri in January of 2020. While I was at their home in Tallahassee, Michael showed me some of the art he’d been working on. His son had died earlier that year and, unable to write, Michael turned to art therapy as a creative outlet.


Most of his works were abstract, so I was surprised when I returned home and Michael sent me a picture of a denim-blue creature blowing green bubbles. I drafted a poem about this monster, recorded myself reading it, and sent it back, hoping to add a little happiness to Michael’s day.


The next day, he sent me another monster. Of course, I replied with a second poem. Not long after that, Michael asked how many monsters we would need for a book.


Q: The writer Janet Wong said of the book, “In this collection of welcoming poems, master poet Laura Shovan gives us a verbal hug with words of acceptance and appreciation that we all can use right now...” What do you think of that assessment?


A: As Michael and I began working on Monsterville together, the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic was stretching across the world.


Engaging in the creative play of drawing monsters and dreaming up poems about them was comforting for both of us during that dark time. I think that’s what resonated with Janet Wong.


It's what young readers respond to when they read the poems in Welcome to Monsterville. Whether the monsters are being silly, shy, or scary, there’s something powerful in calling them into the light and telling their stories.


Q: Of the various monsters in the book, do you have any particular favorites?


A: So many! I love the epic temper tantrum and the pink-gooey illustration of Bubblegum Head. The Monster of Costavablink is one of my favorites. When I was a kid, I would have identified with that shy monster.


And I have a soft spot in my heart for the moment when Archie Pellago expresses self-love in these lines:


He loves his long trunk.

He has a cute chin.

And there’s no one else

with such holey green skin.

Archie Pellago

is perfectly him.


Q: How would you describe Michael Rothenberg's legacy?


A: I don’t think I could describe it. It was too vast. Michael’s creative drive was boundless and extended from poetry to exotic plants to performing with musicians. Everything he did was grounded in activism.


He and Terri Carrion co-founded the 100 Thousand Poets for Change movement, which is how I first met Michael. Through that organization, Michael befriended and nurtured poets around the world.


When he passed away in November of 2022, almost every person I spoke with said that they had been close with Michael. He was their mentor, friend, or brother-by-choice. It was his great gift to connect with people and let them know how much he valued them.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on a picture book in verse, my first picture book! And I’m also working on my next middle grade novel, which is set here in Maryland.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes! I have several classes coming up this spring.


Feeling It: Creating Emotional Depth in Your Novel

(co-leading with Karen Krossing)

Thursday evenings, February 15-March 7

Offered through Whale Rock Writing Workshops


Virtual Poetry Mini

April 11 and April 18

Offered through the Highlights Foundation


Poetry Techniques for the Verse Novelist

Laura’s six-session private course

Please contact me directly for information about the Spring 2024 class.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Laura Shovan.

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