ColumbusArts.com Profile: HANNAH STEPHENSON

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This month’s profile features Hannah Stephenson, founder of Paging Columbus and The Storialist. Stephenson is a poet, storyteller, and blogger living in Columbus, Ohio. She is a poetry blogger for The Huffington PostRecently,served as editor for The Ides of March: An Anthology of of Ohio Poets, and an author to her full-length collection, In the Kettle, the Shriek

Greater Columbus Arts Council: Tell us a little about yourself.

Hannah Stephenson: I’m a poet, editor, and instructor at both CCAD and Otterbein University, currently living in German Village. My husband and I lived on the west coast from 2007-2011, and then we moved back to Columbus. It’s been wonderful being back around family and friends, and also re-encountering the city as a creative person. I studied English and philosophy and Hiram College, and then transferred to OSU, where I completed an M.A. in literature focusing on contemporary poetry. I was lucky enough to take a couple of poetry workshops at OSU–I always felt that I had one foot in critical work, and the other in creative work (although these are not entirely separate!).

GCAC: How long have you been writing poetry? 

HS: I’ve been writing since I was really young. I always had journals growing up, and in high school I was writing lots of poems. I grew up here in Columbus, in Grandview. In my senior year of high school, I was lucky to have a teacher who recognized my poetry obsession (thank you, Joe Hecker!). He and I had an independent study working our way through a contemporary poetry anthology. This was so helpful for me!

GCAC: When did you know this was something you were going to seriously pursue?

HS: I definitely saw myself as a writer throughout college and graduate school. In undergrad, I inched my way toward becoming more “serious” about writing….I did campus readings and starting sending out my first painstaking poetry submissions.

After grad school, I definitely felt that I was a poet, but found that I had trouble forcing myself to write. When I did generate new poems, I wasn’t really sharing them with anyone.  I felt very disconnected from other writers.

What saved me: BLOGGING! Anyone who knows me knows of my undying love for blogging. In 2008, while I was living in Vancouver, BC, I started my blog, The Storialist, as a way to get into the habit of writing on weekdays. Starting the blog was a huge turning point in my creative life…I finally prioritized the practice of writing for myself. I also was able to connect with other writers, artists and creative people all over the map.  Blogging has given me discipline and shown me how much I value community.

GCAC: What are you working on currently?

HS: I have a new manuscript of poems, and am co-editing New Poetry from the Midwest (an anthology). Also, school is in session, so you’ll likely find me scurrying around CCAD and Otterbein, coffee in hand.

GCAC: What inspires your writing? Explain your creative process.

HS: Process is something I’m endlessly fascinated with! We discuss it in my classes at CCAD, and I love interviewing artists about their own methods/strategies.

I have actually made process videos before, where I record my desktop while writing a poem. If you’d like to take a look, here is an example: www.bit.ly/process_video

My process has evolved and shifted, but this is what it looks like right now. I use my blog as a sort of sketchbook/studio–almost all of the writing I do begins on the blog. These poems also link to an image which has somehow inspired the poem. The poems are not at all dependent on the images–the images just serve as a trigger or diving board or guardrail for me.

I might begin by looking at the image, and letting it call to mind a phrase or line. Sometimes, I have a work or idea when I sit down to write, and bounce that off of the image.

I prefer to write to music.  I usually create a station on Spotify (for example, a Volcano Choir or Damien Jurado station). It takes me about 45 minutes to an hour and a half to write a poem. I post new poems on my site from Monday-Thursday (on Friday, I post something fun, like an interview or video or links, but it’s not a poem).

Maybe something like 73% of my poems have been written with my cat, Quincy, on my lap.

GCAC: In what ways have you been involved in the poetry community in Columbus?

HS: After moving back in 2011, I really wanted to be involved in the poetry community. There are so many wonderful writers and artists living in Columbus–I can’t stress this enough. Another unique quality about Columbus writers is that we are very supportive of and interested in one another. There are many different reading series here in town (in addition to mine, which is Paging Columbus)–Writers’ Block, Writing Wrongs, readings at the various universities in town.  I love hitting up the different venues and seeing friends read. I’ve also taken part in some super interesting and fun events in the last few years, and gotten to read my own work around town. I love reading for the Poetry Forum, and will be doing that again in fall. Over the summer, I taught poetry workshops for middle schoolers at the writing camp at Thurber House.  Oh, it was such fun! I also review books (poetry and all genres), and profile writers for Columbus Alive.

GCAC: Tell us a little more about Paging Columbus!

HS: Paging Columbus is a monthly reading series that I run at the wonderful OSU Urban Arts Space (they are such a fantastic gallery and group of people.  It is a joy to work with them). It happens on the second Thursday of the month, and runs from 6-8 p.m. Each event is themed, and I invite 3-4 writers to share work that somehow connects to that theme. My goal is for it to be creative, inspiring, accessible, and strengthening/showcasing the amazing writers in central Ohio.

The next event is Paging Columbus: Green and Growing on September 11. Kevin Cordi, Beverly Wilkinson, Stephen Morrow, and photographer Stephen Tomasko will each share creative work that touches on this theme. It’s gonna be a good one.

I’ve been running Paging Columbus since 2011, and it’s been fantastic to see it grow and develop. The focus is always on showcasing the writers who call Columbus home, and also hosting writers and artists who happen to be visiting Columbus from elsewhere. Delightfully, this is a free event and is open to all.

GCAC: How do you think being involved in poetry has enhanced your experiences living in Columbus?

HS: My life as an artist and my life as a human are completely intertwined; I am grateful for this. I feel extremely fortunate to know so many gifted and lovely writers (especially poets) here in Columbus. We teach together, we come to one another’s readings, we meet for coffee or beers and get to blab about the weirdo projects we’re working on. I am proud to be involved in such a thriving, exciting, open-hearted creative community.

GCAC: Where can people find you? Facebook, website, events, etc?

HS: The Storialist: www.thestorialist.com (there are links to FacebookTwitter and other social media on the site itself)

Paging Columbus: bit.ly/pagingcolumbus and www.facebook.com/PagingColumbus

Keep an eye out on alternating Thursdays for my literary columns in Columbus Alive!

Learn more about Stephenson by visiting her artist profile at www.columbusarts.com.  Are you an artist?  Sign up for your free profile today!