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“Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even a half hour of solo writing time is an accomplishment, especially, when balancing writing while parenting.” ~JP Howard, Lambda Literary finalist, and award-winning poet.
PP: Describe your life in the context of writing, parenting and other employment (if applicable).
JPH: I’m a black lesbian poet, wife, mama of two suns (sons), a curator and nurturer of Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS), an educator who facilitates many writing workshops and community discussions, an activist who often writes about the intersections of being a queer black woman in america and I’m also a full-time practicing public interest attorney in NYC. I have two amazing suns (sons), Jordan and Nicholas, ages 21 and 14. I live in Brooklyn, but I often say my heart is still in Sugar Hill, Harlem, the neighborhood where I grew up and also the place where I fell in love with poetry at the Hamilton Grange Library over on 145th Street.
PP: How do you integrate creative writing into your parenting/work responsibilities?
JPH: My schedule is busy! I work full time as a public interest attorney and some days I can deal with as many as 70 or 80 litigants in the courthouse where I work. My work-day usually flies by because I’m so busy. I’m married and my wife and I recently celebrated 25 years as life partners and lovers which was pretty sweet. Together we co-parent our youngest son, who is 14 and just started high school this past fall. Our oldest old son goes to college. I usually come home and make dinner for my family after work, then chill for awhile with my wife, before I work on my own poetry, prepare for my poetry workshops, give feedback to poetry students enrolled in my workshops and/or work on promoting and scheduling my monthly literary Salons later in the evening. Usually my most productive “creative writing” time is when everyone else in our home is asleep! Late nights and weekends are when I get my best writing done, but unfortunately, not always on a consistent basis. I definitely struggle to balance my time between attorney work, creative writing work, parenting and being a supportive spouse/partner. It’s a balancing act and probably my biggest challenge is carving out enough time to center and focus on my creative writing. I’m currently working on editing one new full length manuscript and one chapbook length manuscript. I also am working sporadically on a memoir-in-progress that has a long way to go!
PP: What’s awesome about being a parent who writes?
JPH: A lot of my poems (actually a whole chapbook-manuscript full) are about parenting, including my perspective on parenting two sons, specifically as a black queer woman parenting two black sons in this country, including the challenges, fears and joys that entails. Parenting literally informs a lot of my writing. I am a part of a number of incredibly supportive writing communities, including my own literary Salon, Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, Cave Canem, VONA Writers of Color, Lambda Literary Fellows and I have a group of poet friends who often give me feedback and encourage me to center my writing priorities or listen when I vent about not meeting writing goals. They always encourage me to continue with those goals. I also have a group of poet friends who I have been participating in National Poetry Month (NaPoMo) exchanges (online) with for over eight years, possibly longer. Every April we exchange a poem a day and the last few years I’ve committed to being a part of two separate NaPoMo groups, which is one of my most productive writing months, thanks to my brilliant community of poet friends. My poem “praise poets and their pens”, essentially, a thank you poem to these poet friends, was dedicated to my NaPoMo crew and previously published as part of The Academy of American Poets poem-a-day series. It speaks to the power of receiving a new poem in my inbox every day all month long. Writer friends/writing communities help to get me back into a frame of mind to be creative. They provide a safe space for me to share both my literary disappointments and successes.
PP: What’s most rewarding about being a writing parent?
JPH: One of the most rewarding parts of being a writing parent has been watching my two sons write and perform their own powerful poetry. They are both activist poets, writing about their experiences as a black boy/black man in this country and I’m incredibly proud of both of them and their powerful voices. My oldest son is a black queer man and his poetry inspires me. It has sometimes been painful to listen to them share their experiences/ perspectives as young black males in this country. I will always remember when my son Nicholas was just seven years old and wrote and performed a poem where he “wished that Trayvon Martin’s parents could just hear his voice one more time” ~ it was both heartbreaking powerful to hear those words from such a young poet.
PP: What’s challenging about it?
JPH: Mostly I struggle with finding work/life/creative balance. It’s something I’m always working to improve and a discussion I often have with my friends who are fellow parent writers. It’s good to know I’m not alone!
PP: What do you need?
JPH: Honestly I need (to find/make/carve out) a chunk of time to just focus on my creative writing. I’ve applied to a few upcoming writing fellowships/ retreats/ residencies for later in the year and could benefit from a a decent amount of time away from my busy schedule to just WRITE. By decent, even just a few days solo to focus on my writing, would be a welcome luxury. Fingers crossed!
PP: What’s your advice for other parents who write?
JPH: Make sure to carve out writing/solo time and set those schedules up early on, when possible, to get your writing done. Establish that writing schedule/solo time early on with your partner if you are co-parenting. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even a half hour of solo writing time is an accomplishment, especially, when balancing writing while parenting.
PP: How has parenting and writing changed as your children have grown?
JPH: Now that my children are older and basically self-sufficient, I now have the ability to devote more time to my writing, without having to worry about childcare, etc.
My youngest son is a teen now, so we don’t collaborate as much on our poetry together as we used to, but a highlight of parenting with a child poet was our many poetry collaborations when he was younger. When Nicholas was just 10 years old, we participated in #BlackPoetsSpeakOut poetry collaborations. It was a powerful experience and I was and still am a proud Mama Poet! This video is one of our poetic collaborations: #BlackPoetsSpeakOut with JP & Nicholas
JP Howard’s debut poetry collection, SAY/MIRROR (The Operating System), was a 2016 Lambda Literary finalist. She is also the author of bury your love poems here (Belladonna*). JP is a 2019 featured author in Lambda Literary’s LGBTQ Writers in Schools program. She was a Split this Rock Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism finalist and is featured in the Lesbian Poet Trading Card Series from Headmistress Press. JP was the recipient of a Lambda Literary Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award and has received fellowships and grants from Cave Canem, VONA, Lambda, Astraea and Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC). JP curates Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, a NY-based forum offering all writers, but especially women, a monthly venue to collaborate. JP is an Editor-at-Large at Mom Egg Review online and co-edited Sinister Wisdom Journal Black Lesbians–We Are the Revolution! (2018) Her poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Academy of American Poets, Anomaly, Apogee Journal, The Feminist Wire, Split this Rock, Muzzle Magazine, and The Best American Poetry Blog. Her poetry is widely anthologized. JP holds a BA from Barnard College, an MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York and a JD from Brooklyn Law School. Visit JP online at: http://www.jp-howard.com