Kelle Grace Gaddis’s My Myths, a hybrid work of poetry and fiction, was published by Yellow Chair Press this past December 2016. Other recently published works appear in Rhetoric Askew, Dispatches Editions Resist Much / Obey Little, Vending Machine Presses Very Fine Writing, BlazeVOX, Knot Literary Magazine, Entropy, Dove Tales, and elsewhere. Ms. Gaddis is honored to be one of 4Culture’s “Poetry on the Buses” contest winners in 2015 and 2017. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington in 2014.
Tell us about your recently published book, My Myths. What inspired it? BTW, I’ve read great reviews of it on Goodreads.
That’s wonderful! My Myths book sales have been exceptional. It makes me really happy to know that people are enjoying my work. I was genuinely surprised how quickly it’s been selling out. I know Open Books: A Poem Emporium in Seattle, still has a few copies, and I believe Yellow Chair Press might still have a small number to sell, but other than that they’re gone. On the bright side, I will finish a short story collection and novel this year.
I am already meandering, to the questions!
I am already meandering, to the questions!
My Myths is a diverse poetry and fiction collection loosely based on my life, travels, and political leanings. The two short stories at the end are fiction. The central themes are the malleability of identity, heritage, grief, and, to some extent, self-discovery although this last theme mainly manifests in the epic poems “Be,” and “Polishing A Gem On The Surface Of The Sea.”
I was inspired to write my journey through my Native American and Irish ancestries. Essentially, my family didn’t fully relate to the identities they were handed. So, like many in the 70’s, we tried on everything we were before discarding it all and settling on an American identity. We let go of our cultural heritage to mainstream in the dominant culture. I know this isn’t popular to say or admit these days, but it was popular at the time to focus on national identity, assimilation, and upward mobility more than preserving cultural ties. I was only 10-years-old when the identity exploration began so I was, more or less, along for the ride.
Overall, I believe my family’s choices helped me realize that I could be whoever or whatever I wanted in this life so I don’t experience regret over our path as much as loss, most specifically, the loss of place and people. But, beyond loss there is acceptance of a new way of being that, in hindsight, felt like trying on clothes until something fit.
Because I prefer to focus on the present and future rather than the past; and don’t wish to be tied to a singular identity in the way many writers are today My Myths is likely the only time I’ll write about this facet of my history. In general I feel that my imagination is bigger than my personal history which is saying something since my life has been an adventure that took me all over the globe, starting in Florida and spiraling outward from one reservation to the next, before my family settled in a small town in Washington State. After that, I moved to Seattle, Ireland, England, and travelled extensively, for years, to Europe, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, The Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia, and many destinations in Canada and South America as well as the United States.
I try to tread softly when explaining why I wrote My Myths to avoid upsetting others that have lived different experiences in spite of having a similar start. I recognize that people view heritage uniquely and understand that many cannot transition from one cultural sphere to another as seamlessly as my family has. To that end, My Myths is about my journey and it is not meant to comment on anyone else’s way of being. It definitely is not a guidebook for anything or judgment upon any whose identity is largely informed by heritage.
Here’s what I’ve concluded, my parents were young dreamers looking for a better life. They didn’t get bogged down in identity politics because, to them, it felt like a dead end. A few people have told me that they think that’s “sad” or “a betrayal of my heritage” but I don’t feel like that at all because it’s still my heritage whether I wrap myself in it or not.
I also believe in destiny and am always changing. For me, the only identities that have remained constant are my identities as a writer and spiritual being. This is why there are a few poems in My Myths about being a writer as well as spirituality, love, love lost, and personal growth after loss, specifically the death of my fiancé. Writing My Myths allowed me to revisit the people and places of my ancestry and to reflect on who I am and who I am becoming. Life inspires me to write and what I’ve lived inspires what I write.
Maybe I’ve over-answered the first question? I hope not! My Myths took all the courage I had to write because saying, “I’m happy that I assimilated” and, “There is life after tragedy” aren’t always what people, at least poets, want to hear. But it is true, and it is my story, so I’ll leave it at that.
Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a publisher. What prompted it? How have your struggles and perks as a publisher supported or frustrated your career as a writer?
One month before I graduated from the University of Washington Bothell in 2014 I decided I wanted to create an anthology that curated the great poetic voices of our time as well as some of the newer voices from across the nation, and, although blasphemous to some in in the poetry community, I chose to include a few of my recently published works in each anthology as well. The latter almost had to happen because even though I graduated at the top of my class GPA-wise and was thriving at poetry and fiction readings, I felt that some of the people I’d encountered in my MFA wanted to cause me more harm than good in the poetry scene. It was necessary for me to reach beyond my academic sphere into the mainstream and to other academic arenas, including UW’s Seattle campus, to make my mark. I knew I wasn’t going to get the hand up that the professor’s friends were getting in my program, so, I created Brightly Press to give myself an entry point.
I became friends with established writers beyond my MFA like Tammy Robacker, Deborah Woodard, and CA Conrad. My association with Woodard and Conrad has been pivotal to the continuation of Brightly Press and the Shake The Tree anthologies. Their literary contributions have been greatly appreciated and their support will never be forgotten. One remembers those that saved you when others were trying to drown you.
Later, new friends like American Book Award winner Craig Santos Perez, Christopher P. Locke, Cynthia Atkins, and all the other amazing writers that have contributed work to Brightly Press’s Shake The Tree series also helped me grow the press just by being willing to sign on to a unique project.
There was a lot of good timing, chance encounters, and elegance that allowed my press to thrive, but there were struggles too. It’s expensive. I pay writers a decent honorarium and produce a beautiful large book that is truly a thing of beauty. These things, and hosting the literary events to launch the anthology each year, are a five-figure endeavor and no small task for one that isn’t (yet) wealthy.
The biggest obstacle, of course, is time. So much so that after I publish Shake The Tree 2017 I plan to go on hiatus for a year to finish my second collection of poetry, a collection of short stories, and my novel all of which are fairly far along but nowhere near done. Time is key. I’ll keep my web store open and begin Shake The Tree 2018 in the fall of 2018. I am, after all, a writer first and a publisher second.
A few other perks that were likely aided by Brightly Press include my being asked to read and having my work read by people whose opinions I value. Just last year, I read to a sold out house with CA Conrad, Deborah Woodard, and Anastacia Renee Tolbert at Seattle’s Jewel Box Theater. Soon after, CA Conrad, Craig Santos Perez, Christopher P. Locke and Anastacia Renee Tolbert opted to write book jacket blurbs for My Myths. Still, even with these positives, I’m not sure I’d recommend opening a press to anyone. One needs to have a high tolerance for stress, money, or the willingness to survive without a lot of money, and the time to make it work.
What’s your writer’s dream of the future? What’s your (inner) child’s dream of the future?
All writing is my passion but literary fiction is my dream. I hope to reach the top tiers of publishing in this medium. I have decades of copies of The Best American Short Stories and have literally read thousands of books, so it’s easy to understand why I’d want to be in a prestigious collection and, beyond that, who wouldn’t want to have one’s work read at Selected Shorts Symphony Space, be in The Paris Review, or win a Pulitzer?
Thank you for the second part of this question! I believe the magical aspect of my inner child still guides me. She allows me to hope, expect, and reach for my literary dreams in spite of life’s hardships. When the adult me gets worn down she is in there being eternally optimistic.
Thank you for inviting me to Readers and Writers II. It’s been a pleasure.
KELLE GRACE GADDIS