Writer Emma Wisniewski’s story “5Pointz: A Subjective Obituary” was featured in Issue #4 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed her about her writing, and her answers are below. You can find out more about Emma at her website, or follow her on Twitter @emmaactor76.
What is your relationship to Queens?
Born and raised! I grew up in Astoria, and went to school in Jackson Heights and Long Island City. I’m very proud of being a Queens native, and anyone who knows me will tell you not to knock my hood in my presence. : ) It’s literally the most diverse place in the whole world, and I’m constantly in awe of the sheer variety to be found – of people, art, culture, language, food, music, pretty much everything. It’s the perfect place for an actor to grow up.
How would you describe the writing you do?
As an actor specifically, I’m interested in how and why people tell stories – what people include and what they leave out, what they remember and what that says about their character and their circumstances. And as a creative person generally, I’m always thinking about how to live a creative life in a relentlessly practical world; I’m actually working on a play right now about two painters and their struggle to balance their art and their bills, and the toll that takes on their relationship. It’s a question pretty much everyone I know has struggled with at some point, but it’s not only a question for professional artists. I think pretty much everyone has experienced the feeling of being torn between their desires and their obligations, and I’m interested in how people handle that.
In terms of my style, I think a lot about rhythm. I started writing and performing slam poetry when I was 12, and it was a huge part of my creative life throughout my teenage years. And even though I write more prose than poetry nowadays, I obsess a lot over how things sound. I also idolize Virginia Woolf – as an actor, I’m in awe of the way she captured the human thought process – and her work inspires me to consider the way specific people think, and the gap between peoples’ thoughts and how they express them.
How did you come to writing?
I was a reader first. As a child I read absolutely anything I could get my hands on. I would even read the cereal box over breakfast! My father is also a writer, of plays and screenplays, and it was powerful to have that – to be able to see that a living breathing person could be a writer, that writers were not these unapproachable icons, to learn that it was a matter of working at it every day. I also was incredibly fortunate to have an English teacher in seventh grade who convinced me to enroll in an after-school slam poetry class. It’s impossible for me to overstate the effect slam poetry had on me – it made me a better actor, a more confident student, gave me a safe space to experiment and express myself, and I developed a sense of power and agency that I had never felt before. That was when I started calling myself a writer.
What inspires you?
As I mentioned above, I’m so inspired by all creative people (and not just professionally creative ones), and how they live creative lives. I’m also inspired by the relationship between place and memory, and the way memories can seem like physical, tangible things that take up space. That’s one of the reasons why the 5Pointz was always to fascinating to me – the way the artwork has been layered on the walls year after year, it was like the neighborhood’s memory bank, as well as being an incredible celebration of the street art movement, and a living breathing piece of art in itself. Not to mention its proximity to my high school, which means I have some very important memories attached to the place. It was a confluence of pretty much everything I’m interested in, and even now that it’s gone, I find myself going back to it.
What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
Queens is absolutely overflowing with fascinating stories that demand to be told, and I think we have an obligation to tell those stories, especially the ones that no one else wants to take on. I think on some level that’s true of every community, but it’s especially true here.
And, finally, my favorite question: What should I be asking you that I didn’t?
What am I reading right now? (Chimananda Ngozi Adichie – her work is just brilliant on every possible level; and Brene Brown – inspiring research on the power of vulnerability. All good things.)
Readers, mark your calendars:
- Work on your development and revision skills! Heightening Stories presents the Community Writing Exercise Workshop. The next four-session cycle begins September 15, with enrollment open until November 10; register by September 8 to save $30 on a three-cycle package.
- Delve deep into your personal writing as Heightening Stories presents the Creative Nonfiction/Autobiographical Fiction workshop. The next four-session cycle begins September 9, with enrollment open until November 4.
- Boundless Tales kicks off their fourth season on September 10 at 7:00 p.m. at the Astoria Bookshop, featuring Aida Zilelian-Silak, Jacqueline Tchakalian, Yi Wu, David Kutz-Marks, and Marleen Bar. Come support some great Queens writers!
- On September 15 at 8:00 p.m., the LIC Reading Series presents: Akhil Sharma, Justin Taylor, and Sam Lipsyte. Check out some great Queens writers in Brooklyn as part of this official Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event.
- Also on September 15, The Risk of Discovery Poetry Workshop and Open Mic will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Q.E.D.: A Place to Show and Tell.
- Come help us celebrate the books published by Queens LGBT authors in 2015! Support five local writers at LGBT Queens Book Night 2015, a reading, discussion, reception, and book signing on Thursday, September 17 at 7:00 p.m. at Queens Pride House,
- Want to give your writing a kick in the pants? Heightening Stories presents the Jumpstart Your Writing online workshop starting September 20. Register by September 10 to save $25.
- The Queens Young Authors and Poets Contest needs your support! QYAP is the biggest writing contest in the borough, inviting kids in grades 3 through 12 to submit poetry or prose. The winners get published right here in Newtown Literary. Between now and September 30, you can support the contest at our IndieGoGo page, where you can learn more about the contest and the great perks we have for donors!
- Will you be at the 2015 Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference on October 3 at The New School? If you are, be sure to look for our own founder, Tim Fredrick, as he leads a panel on getting published in mainstream literary journals.