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Author Vernita Hall on Write-Life Balance

Vernita Hall will be speaking on a panel discussing “write-life balance” as part of Philadelphia Stories’ write-a-thon, taking place at Rosemont College’s center City location on May 21 from 11am-6pm. Click here for more information and to reserve your seat.

A Rosemont College MFA, Vernita Hall placed second in American Literary Review's Creative Nonfiction Contest; was a finalist for the Cutthroat Barry Lopez Nonfiction, Rita Dove, Atlanta Review, and Paumanok Poetry Awards; a semi-finalist in the Naugatuck River Review Narrative Poetry Contest and Ruminate’s VanderMey Nonfiction Prize. Her poetry collection, The Hitchhiking Robot Learns About Philadelphians, won the 2016 Moonstone Chapbook Contest, judged by Afaa Michael Weaver. Poetry and essays have also appeared or are forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Philadelphia Stories, and many others. Vernita spoke with Philadelphia Stories’ Christine Weiser about the importance of making time for writing.

How do you make a living?

I’m recently retired. But I worked for over 30 years in the Information Technology (Computer Science) field.

How do you find time for writing in your busy life?

More and more I’m drawn to writing. Even if something else has to wait. When I get an idea, I’ve got to write it down immediately, or it’s lost. And you wouldn’t let a pearl fall from your grasp, would you?

Why do you do it?

I can’t not do it. (Think Vulcans and meditation.) If I go too long without developing some idea in a satisfying way, I start feeling restless, incomplete and, yes, cranky. If something bothers me (like elections), I remind myself the event, situation, or character is just more fodder for story. You know the saying: “Living well is the best revenge.” I think writing ranks up there, too. Never piss off a writer!

But seriously, I’m finding now that I’m hungry for answers, to understand, make sense of things. I contemplate an idea to arrive at meaning, or meld new meaning from disparate thoughts or images. Maybe to communicate in a manner that might be memorable or thought-provoking, advocate for causes I believe in, leave something behind. I think Christian Wiman, former editor of Poetry, phrased it superbly and provocatively: “Let us remember...that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”

How do you see the time spent writing enriching other aspects of your life?

Writing is a gift I give myself. It improves my concentration and sharpens my focus; helps me to stay peaceful and joyful. To write I have to achieve a meditative state, which is deeply calming— and at the same time highly enervating. When you create a work of beauty, of insight, there arises a deep joy and satisfaction—and gratitude—at being able to produce something perhaps worthy of the name “art,” something you might feel comfortable or excited to share with others.

What tips can you offer your writing peers?

Read. Check out documentaries, (auto)biographies. And as Lamont Steptoe recently advised us at Rosemont’s LitLife Poetry Conference, learn something about everything, anything. You never know from what source inspiration will strike! Support your fellow artists. The community of nurture and welcome I’ve found there is such a powerful, uplifting force. Human beings functioning at their most individual, most energized, and most noble state. The affirmation of one another, the dignity of this engagement, the sharing. Mmmm. Wonderful.

Interview by Christine Weiser, Executive Director of Philadelphia Stories and author of Come As You Are, a novel about balancing work, life, and a chick rock band.

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