Our Spotlight series introduces you to the people behind Perennial Press. In our seventh post, we hear from This I Can Tell You author and super / natural contributor Brandi Spering. Spering talks to us about her current reading list, the quarantine literary scene, and one of her favorite Philly authors.
What book are you reading right now? How did you find it?
For a while, I forbid myself from buying new books, since I don’t have much space for them. With the pandemic, I have abandoned that logic in attempts to support independent bookstores while reading more. I started with Twenty Stories, as they curate a new list of twenty titles each month. I needed suggestions and went straight to Nonfiction.
I am currently reading, A Fish Growing Lungs by Alysia Li Yang Sawchyn. Lately, I have been drawn to essays, but I was also intrigued by the subject. I find it easy to relate to the concept of self-discovery, as most do, but this book is so much more than that. I cannot imagine the toll of a misdiagnosis, especially pertaining to mental health. It was clear before reading, that there would be an ache felt throughout the book, as well as a rawness. However as I read, I notice the breeze in which it flows, the care knitted through each section, each paragraph. It is raw in the aspect of vulnerability, and incredibly strong through its presentation and process. A Fish Growing Lungs is insightful, shedding light on the faults in the healthcare system surrounding mental health, particularly for women of color.
Have you been going to any online art / writing events? Tell us about the last one.
I just started dipping my toes into virtual events and feel the need to share a little about the last two. The first was an open mic called Poetic Underground KC, put on through Kansas City Poetry Slam and organized by Abby Bland. (Keep an eye out for her chapbook: The Odds Against A Starry Cosmos). It has been about a year since I last performed in another room with anyone, and this open mic was just what I needed. It was an intimate gathering of wonderful writers, which I would not have met otherwise, most of us in different states.
The second event was a book launch put on by indie press The Elephants, to present two recent publications: Freedom and Prostitution by Cassandra Troyan and WhatThis Breathing by Laura Elrick. I had the honor of studying under Laura Elrick in college, and if it weren’t for her, my book This I Can Tell You, would be nonexistent or at least, extremely different. I cannot explain the bliss I felt just by being in the same virtual room as her, and to hear her work, along with the work of Cassandra Troyan. I urge everyone to check them both out, as well as other virtual events; there are plenty of free events out there to take advantage of, while supporting small presses.
Did you go to school for writing / art? How was that?
I studied Creative Writing at Pratt Institute, with a focus on poetry. Despite the debt of student loans, I do not regret it one bit. It was a privilege in every sense. Each class was rather small, making it possible for each student’s work to be critiqued and discussed thoroughly. It was through these interactions and responses that I learned the most about my writing and processes. It is always important to have some sort of writing community. To have others to share ideas with, for feedback and maybe collaborations.
The first reading series I went to while at Pratt, was hosted by a student named Jack. He would go from class to class, making sure to include everyone from every year, personally asking them to share their work. That sort of communal attitude was present throughout; I felt that most people made a constant effort to support others, which boosted everyone’s confidence.
What books did you need to read in order to write yours?
Jane, A Murder by Maggie Nelson, showed me that I could have both poetry and prose, varying form per page. I learned how to write an investigative text, piecing together bits of the past. Another book I felt was another guide in experimenting with hybrid forms, was I Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time, by Kristin Prevallet. It felt like a friend, a moment of clarity, keeping my company while I revisited through writing about a great loss of my own.
Spotlight chain: Tell us a little about a local/indie author!
Go check out Philly-based writer Athena Dixon. She recently published a book of essays titled The Incredible Shrinking Woman, which is “…a gentle unpacking of the roles [Dixon] learned to inhabit, growing up as a Black woman in a small midwestern town, to avoid disruption” (Split/Lip Press, 2020). Maybe my initial reaction was due to judging its impeccable cover or title, but the essence of the book as well as its author, are powerful forces. I know perceptions from social media do not represent the real world, but there is something to be said about those who aren’t afraid of showing the less savory parts of life. Athena Dixon’s approach is refreshingly honest and made me even more drawn to her writing, where the heart is thick and rapid. Each essay is poetic and poignant, traversing through layers of her life, from identity, loss, growth and renewal. My words do not do it justice, so go read! Follow her on Instagram, where she often posts heartfelt videos about the process of being a writer. She also co-hosts a podcast on the New Books Network, titled New Books in Poetry Podcast.