Anastacia-Reneé has never invested in the idea of “writer’s block.” Since 2010, the writer, educator and interdisciplinary artist has written every single day about the world around her. It’s a practice that has been with her through numerous awards and residencies and during her “big year” in 2017 where she became the city’s second Seattle Civic Poet, published three books and married her wife, Naa Akua. Now she prepares to take that practice with her to New York City as she and her wife prepare to leave the area Anastacia-Reneé has called home for over 15 years in search of their next chapter.
As her daily writing practice continued during a difficult two years of the pandemic, Anastacia-Reneé said she found herself having “a lot more to say.”
“It made me feel so good that I’m a creative person, that I’m a writer and that I do art” said Anastacia-Reneé, “because I’m not sure how I would have gotten through if I didn’t have those creative outlets to express what I was feeling or even get away from what I was feeling.”
It’s no surprise then that Anastacia-Reneé has a busy slate ahead of her. She teased two new upcoming books — “Sidenotes from the Archivist,” a mix of poetry, prose and a lot of ‘80s nostalgia, and “Here in the (Middle) of Nowhere,” a mix of flash fiction and science fiction prose — in addition to an upcoming book tour. She’s also working on a new queer novella, a new play and a new art installation on top of her plans to continue teaching after her move to the East Coast.
Anastasia-Reneé says she loves seeing the glimmer in the eye of someone who is in the zone writing. Over the years, she taught at Seattle Girls’ School, for Young Women Empowered, with Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools program and through Seattle community writing centers like Jack Straw Cultural Center and Hugo House. There were early years where Anastacia-Reneé lived in Mukilteo, sometimes commuting into Seattle up to two to four times a day while raising her two kids because, “there was nowhere for me to teach or do my art in Mukilteo.”
“Sometimes I look and I’m saying to myself, how are you doing this?” said Anastacia-Reneé. “I don’t even know. But I have. I have done it.”
When we spoke earlier this month, Anastacia-Reneé said she loved the people she’s met, the events she’s been able to attend and yes, even the rain while here in Seattle. As she now prepares to take her writing, teaching and talent to New York City, we asked her to take a moment and reflect on her time in Seattle’s artistic community.
How has Seattle helped you grow as an artist over the years?
Certainly, the Hugo House Poet-in-Residence [program] was a big deal for me, and I loved being a Poet-in-Residence because I loved being of service to the people. And same with being Seattle’s second Seattle Civic Poet. Really big jobs that I loved. Then being the Jack Straw 2020 curator after being a Jack Straw Fellow myself in 2014. One thing I’ve loved about Seattle is watching the trajectory of myself circle back around to institutions, doing the work that I like to do.
I cannot say that Seattle is not without its problems. Every place has its problems. I’ve had to tackle a few institutions maybe not readily assessing where they are in terms of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism or classism. So I feel like my work has been that of a poet and writer, but I’ve also tried really hard to be an activist for multiple communities while I’m having my career.
Over the last couple years in particular, it seems like the artistic community overall is attempting to have more intentional examination of representation and in particular supporting artists of color and LGBTQ+ artists. What do you see as the biggest change in that area in Seattle? And what are the biggest challenges remaining?
The biggest change, believe it or not, is that some institutions are like, “Oh, my God, I didn’t even realize we had no [people of color] on staff.” Or, “Wow, if you go to our website, there’s only been one Black person who’s been a Poet-in-Residence, this has never occurred to us.” So one thing is happening is little epiphanies. There were a slew of statements made when George Floyd was murdered like, “We assessed this, we know this is happening.” But after that, only a few of those institutions followed up. OK, now you know it, what are you going to do to make some changes within the organizations and the community?
Because I am one of the artists here who’s been here a while, I felt like there was a huge pull for me to do even more work, though I had been doing work behind the scenes and inside institutions for a long time. I don’t like the term “racial reckoning” — I feel like we’ve always been in a racial reckoning. Now we know this is happening, what are we going to do about it?
What sort of things can the city of Seattle — and when I say that, I mean the community as much as the officials — do to forward that movement?
The first thing is to understand that people of color should not be responsible for deciding what is going to be done about it. The organizations and institutions that are in power are well equipped with quite enough information to see for themselves. I’ve worked with these people in these institutions, these are brilliant people. Institutions just need to widen their eyes and do more.
Also, funding. I’ve watched some people get huge amounts of funding while others have had to work so hard just to get minimal funding or even acknowledgment. So, though the city is working hard and I have seen some changes, there definitely needs to be a push for more funding and support for artists and writers who are really giving their all to the craft. It takes a lot of work, both energetic and creative, to produce work and sustain production. If you’re an artist, you can’t be like, “Well, that one thing I painted.” We have to keep on producing, and we need the energy and the financial sustainment to be able to do that.
I’ve heard it called “the treadmill” — you have to stay on that treadmill of work and continue to produce. As you look back on your career overall, what would you tell your younger self, or tell a young artist today, about how to approach this work so that you’re not getting burnt out or staying on the treadmill so long you lose yourself?
I think about that a lot. Once a year, I usually write a letter to my younger self. I tell my younger self that you are indeed making a choice to be on the treadmill. Even though you are energetically and creatively driven, you’re choosing. Once you make that choice, you have to realize there’s not always going to be a team of people rooting for you. Sometimes you may feel like you’re the only one rooting for yourself.
The other thing I would tell younger artists or my younger self is that you’re a miracle. It’s a miracle you’re even here. When you think about the ancestors’ shoulders that you stand upon and all the things that have happened in the past, what a miracle it is to sit down and create a poem, or have an installation at the Frye Museum or something like that. You are miraculous.