LWR Holiday-Year End Edition 2022
Thankful and excited to make 2023 our best yet!
New Year = New Leadership
Photos taken during our holiday potluck gathering where thirty of our members got to know each other better, ate wonderful food, and shared their work. Photos taken by Lisa Haneberg and Gwenda Bond.
New Board Chair, Gwenda Bond
Lisa Haneberg, here. When the calendar flips over to 2023, the Lexington Writer’s Room will have a new Board Chair and I couldn’t be happier or more hopeful for our organization’s future. Gwenda Bond has been my partner-in-leadership-crime at the LWR since pre-incorporation. She, Christopher Rowe, and I met at Base110 for a spirited “what if?” discussion during which this organization and its mission was born. That very day we went up to the empty fifth floor of Base 110 to explore what became our first location. Here’s how our minds and the space began. Wide open.
Fast forward through all the high-highs and low-lows that we’ve told you about in previous news. Opening…pandemic…moving…fire…moving again…re-opening. It has been an amazing ride. And while I will remain on the board and support it wholeheartedly, it’s the right time for me to step back and play a smaller role so I can tackle several health challenges and spend more time in New Mexico.
Gwenda is a rare human and talent. She’s one of the most kind and giving humans I’ve ever met. Her people instincts are spot on. And if that’s not enough, Gwenda Bond’s professional and creative talents and experiences are impressive. I’m grateful to be able to call her colleague and friend. Here’s a brief video of Gwenda expressing our collective gratitude for your support and our optimism for what lies ahead.
Video produced and edited by Jeff Hoagland.
We have a New Community Manager!
We previously shared the exciting news that we’ll be hiring our first part-time paid employee in January and that we’d hired Samar Johnson to be our community manager. We recently sat down with Samar to learn a bit more about them and what is fueling their creative and professional interest in the LWR.
by LWR Board Member Jeff Hoagland
JH: One thing that jumps out immediately when looking over your bio is that you are a talented vocalist.
SJ: I had no intention of going into operatic singing when I was younger. I wanted in high school to do something related to psychology, or working with people, and the only reason why I think music happened to me, in the way that it did, is that I found out you could go to school for it if you were good enough. So I auditioned at this small, private liberal arts women’s college. I got my Bachelor’s in Music there. It’s given me the opportunity to literally sing all over the world, which is amazing.
But over time, I realized that I spent more and more time talking to people behind the scenes, when we were not on stage rehearsing, getting to know people, trying to connect people—I really love doing that. And I spent a lot of time and energy researching the backgrounds of the operas and the composers, and how they fit in socially, and how it would impact my character socially, and what was my character saying, or wanted to say. And so I eventually left operatic singing.
JH: What I’m hearing is that you began to recognize during your career that you might be more of an ethnologist or sociologist or an academic than a vocalist.
JH: You’re a community-builder.
SJ: Yes. The opera world is saturated with singers, and there are so many talented singers, and it’s also a very toxic field. There is a movement to make it more accessible, but it’s still very much drenched in an old, white man tradition. So I went back to school for my Ph.D, and then the pandemic hit and I had an opportunity to start growing some online communities on Facebook, and now I’m here today. I still will sing if there are opportunities. I sing to my kids. Our family watches a lot of Encanto.
JH: It’s a great film. You mention home and family – where was home originally, and where is home now?
SJ: I was born in Huntsville, Alabama, and I was raised in Sheffield—which is an hour or so north of Huntsville. I lived there until I was eighteen, and then I lived in South Carolina for a bit and in Indiana. Then I ended up here in Kentucky, and I absolutely love it.
JH: That’s good to hear! We don’t always get that reaction from newcomers.
SJ: I love it here. I love Kentucky. And I actually found out not too long ago that one of my ancestors was actually enslaved on a farm in western Kentucky, over by land of the lakes. So I feel very connected to Kentucky in an almost ancestral way. And now both of my kids were born here.
There is something very special about Kentucky. I worked at the Governor’s School for the Arts and was able to work with other creative students, and it’s just…people sleep on this place. There is so much creativity. There is so much potential. And there is so much richness in the people here and their lives.
JH: Kentucky I think has sometimes struggled with its identity as a place. Who are we? What are we? I’m glad you’ve found something here that you didn’t necessarily find in other places.
SJ: I remember driving into Kentucky for the first time and seeing the bluegrass, and it sounds so cheesy, but it really did take my breath away. I’ve been here since 2012 and I love it.
JH: So that brings us to the Lexington Writer’s Room. You’ve mentioned the communities you’ve lived and worked in, and this is obviously a writer’s community; it’s a place for writers to come in and do their work. Why were you interested in coming here, and what is your relationship to writing?
SJ: I follow Gwenda on Instagram, and I saw a post at one point about LWR, and I was like, ‘the Writer’s Room…that might be helpful.’ Especially because I’m getting to the part of my degree where I will be dissertating, and I also have two small children at home. I don’t have a dedicated space at home for creative work, so I wanted something where I could come into a different world and do what I needed to do.
And so I set up a meeting with Lisa and I walked into the space, and everyone was so friendly. Just the overall ambience of this place was very special, and as someone who understands the importance of being able to read a room—I’ve had to do that as an opera singer—that was very important to me. So I thought, ‘I want to be a part of this’.
I was also getting to a point in my life where I wanted to actually call myself a writer. I’ve written secretly, and I wanted to finally say it out loud. And being here and realizing that the LWR is not a stiff, “you need to have published” sort of place—it’s a community where people come to tell stories.
JH: What caught me off guard when I started coming here was people asking me what I write. It’s such a simple question, but I was not ready to answer it. Writing was this hidden, protected thing. But you can protect something so much that it wilts.
SJ: Yes! It’s necessary to have that affirmation as you find your way creatively. I specifically don’t say “find your voice” because I think your voice is innate, but finding a way to brush the mess away from your voice, so that it’s more organic, is the key.
So when the opportunity came to apply for the community manager position, I was like “Oh my gosh! Yes!” —because so much of it seemed like what I love to do. I love creating safe spaces for people to be themselves, for them to unfold. Some people don’t realize it, but even the choices of snacks or coffee—those choices mean something.
Plus I really love people.
JH: What do the next 3-5 years look for you? What would you like to accomplish as a writer, now that you’ve claimed that mantle?
SJ: When I began my PhD, my focus was in Russian Vocal Music and also disability studies—specifically how disability is disembodied in music. I wrote a paper on Janelle Monáe, and it discussed aspects of my own identity—being queer and them and black—and seeing how that was voiced in her album Dirty Computer, and it caused me to make a huge pivot. Even though I adore Russian vocal music and disability studies, writing about my identity and its intersections seems more organic, and is also very much needed in academia. Especially in musicology and ethnomusicology, because western music history has been dominated by white supremacy, and I want to be part of some sort of shift in academia. There are people who believe in burning things to the ground and starting anew, but my opinion is, “Let’s cut out what is cancerous and leave something more beautiful in its place.”
That’s my goal in academia. I’m hoping to finish my dissertation, which is on some aspect of liberated, black, sonic geographies, so the idea of music creating geographies in space and time—how that sounds, how that manifests musically.
And I also want to start writing some fiction. I love speculative fiction, and while I love afro-futurism, I’m interested in not always coming from a place of trauma. There’s a lot of trauma—slavery is pretty heavy. But there is so much more to blackness than trauma. Blackness is not a monolith. I want to see magic and creativity and nerdiness.
JH: Black writers want to write about ghosts and wizards and nutty abstract silliness, too.
SJ: Yes! That’s the goal.
JH: Well we’re happy to have you here, and I’m glad to be one of the first to welcome you as our first community manager!
SJ: I’m ready to go!
How You Can Support Us
We’ve been through many challenges and have accomplished much, but we could not’ve done it without your support. THANK YOU.
And…knock on wood…we’re happy to be in regular nonprofit operation mode. This is our normal state where we’ll need to raise funds through donations and grants (thanks to KY Arts Council, KY Humanities, and South Arts for previous grant funding) to cover about 50% of our costs, with the other 50% provided through our subsidized membership fees. Thank you for supporting our mission and we hope you’ll consider helping our organization in the future.
Holiday supply drive: The Lexington Writer's Room supports its 84 member writers by providing a well-supplied coworking and gathering space that fuels their creativity and enables writing and revision processes.
We go through A LOT of office supplies, drinks, and snacks. And a ream of printer paper—yes, printer paper—is a beautiful thing to us.
You can help us restock our supply room and get set up for a successful 2023 by purchasing one of our Amazon wish list items or making a donation. Please also select us as your Amazon Smile recipient (there’s no cost to you; we get Amazon donations).
Thank you! See our Amazon Wish List here and learn more ways to support the Lexington Writer's Room on our website here.
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