Danielle Vermette

 

A visit with: Shalonda Menefee

With her SISTAS network, a Portland artist and entrepreneur crafts a creative world of dolls and design, cloth and community

Shalonda Menefee, creator and talent behind SISTAS Dolled Up, finds herself between events on a recent Saturday afternoon. She’s just come home from hosting a brunch for women in the community and has a couple of weeks (and a whole lot of fabric beckoning to her) before the next extravaganza: a dance, theater, fashion experience and panel discussion on Tuesday, April 10, called “VISIBLY INVISIBLE, Honoring Our Unsung Sheroes.”

Shalonda will produce Tuesday’s event, which aims to explore the complex roles of black women in communities and pay tribute to their journey. “As women of color,” she says, “we carry a lot of weight. We are kind of the backbone of the country and everyone’s kids, but we get the least amount of credit sometimes.” The event, which incorporates many facets of her work and displays her commitment to both art and community, will run 7-9 p.m. at The Old Church Concert Hall downtown. Amid her preparations she has kindly eked out some time to chat with me in her Northeast Portland home while her two tuxedo cats mosey about the house and her teenagers occasionally make an appearance and then disappear again.

Shalonda Menefee, in one of her head wraps: art and community.

A lot of people know Shalonda for her colorful small fabric figures, which she describes as “similar to paper dolls except with cloth and hair,” and which seem comfortably at home with African traditional apparel and the communal tradition of African American quiltmaking. But her interests go far beyond making art for art’s sake. With three bachelor degrees, a certificate in project management, and a host of intense life experiences, she calls herself a “healer in the background,” and she seems to embody the aphorism that a rising tide lifts all boats. She runs creative workshops for women to make their own “healing dolls,” and creates clothing, jewelry, purses, hats, head wraps, and other fashion accessories.

Continues…

A visit with: Phyllis Yes

With her new play "Good Morning, Miss America," the well-known feminist visual artist turns her talents toward the stage

How refreshing to be reminded that sometimes an artist is an artist is an artist, no matter her chosen medium and despite our own reductive need to “frame” her as just ONE thing. This is most definitely the case with the multi-faceted contemporary visual artist Phyllis Yes, who also happens to be a fine and gifted playwright.

Her debut play, Good Morning, Miss America, premieres at CoHo Theatre on Saturday, March 10. The show tackles some tough issues, namely the psychological and logistical challenges of caring for ailing and aging parents who have lost their autonomy and ability to care safely for themselves. It features a crack cast including Lorraine Bahr, Rick Sadle, Jane Fellows (who also directs) and Kelly Marchant. With set design by Tim Stapleton and light design by Jamie Rea, the show promises to be top-notch.

Visual artist and playwright Phyllis Yes. Photo: Heaven MacArthur

Theater rehearsals are generally closed affairs, but I was lucky enough to sit in on one for Good Morning, Miss America at McCoy Millworks during the end of the third week of the process. I arrived in time to watch the industrious Fellows and the production stage manager, Annie Bosworth-Foley, prepare the space for rehearsal. Shortly after, Yes arrived, followed by Bahr (whose character, Jane, is based on the real-life Phyllis) and Sadle, who portrays Phyllis’s real-life stepfather, Lou. Small talk ensued about the show, the particularly gnarly evening traffic, and the outcome of a Portland Trail Blazers game, a team Phyllis follows enthusiastically.

Continues…

Conversations With: Leanne Grabel

The Portland poet and memoirist talks about words, dogs, drawings, her new volume "Gold Shoes," and the attractions of the illustrated book

My introduction to the multimedia maestro Leanne Grabel comes by way of her small pup, Bailey, who sleeps nestled in her bed on the front porch of a turn-of-the-century house in a close-in Northeast Portland neighborhood. After figuring my way through the black wrought iron fence, I see Bailey and realize a moment too late that she’s been startled. Contrary to what I expect, she just looks at me wisely, assesses the threat level (zero), spins in her bed a few times, and retires right back into whatever dream I interrupted. This bodes well, I think, for what is to come. Sure enough, a knock later the door opens and brings me level with the bright and shining face of Grabel, who cordially shuffles me in and introduces me to her husband, Steve Sander, a well-met fellow going through some old books.

The poet/memoirist/illustrator, flexing her literary muscles. Photo courtesy Leanne Grabel

Meeting a literary figure can be a daunting affair, if only by the inherent lopsidedness of biographical knowledge, particularly if the writer’s work delves into the confessional. The experience can be downright exhilarating or painfully awkward, depending on chemistry, basic human laws of attraction, and the fact that some literary figures probably prefer not to be met at all but are forced into the fray of readings and mingling if they hope to sell their books. (Grabel’s own new graphic book of poetry, Gold Shoes, will be released at the end of March.)

Continues…

Wordstock 1: stuffed grandmothers, E.B. White, and collective desires

This year, Portland's literary extravaganza has the fervor of an evangelical revival. In fractious times, maybe that's a good thing.

In a Paris Review interview in 1969, when asked about the role of the writer, E.B. White famously answered: “A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge.” Despite his use of the male-centric pronoun, Mr. White’s sentiment seems to hit on something vital and true, and might also explain the 10,000 or so people lined up at various venues around the Park Blocks last Saturday for Portland’s annual book festival, Wordstock. This turnout, larger than in years past, felt hopeful somehow. Our collective desire to enter into those conversations between reader and writer, particularly on Veterans Day, to examine the role of narrative and history and words— that our curiosity is so intact— went a little way toward fortifying against what recently feels like a never-ending assault of troubling news.

E.B. White, with his dog Minnie: a spirit, hovering over Wordstock. Photo: Tilbury House Publishers

And, really, there’s no denying that times are troubling. This came up repeatedly in discussions throughout the day. What also came up is that times have always been troubling for somebody, depending on the happenstance of your birth. Given the peril of our planet, the unearthing in recent days of the uglier sides of human nature, and the anxiety that still lingers after last year’s election, maybe we can just agree that times are even more troubling for more people. Perhaps this can account for the size of the crowd and the quite-audible fervor that emanated from it as people stood in line for one of the headlining events, Ta-Nehisi Coates in conversation with Jenna Worthman of the New York Times Magazine at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Continues…

Tess Gallagher on Raymond Carver

The celebrated poet, who'll be in Portland for Imago's Carver stage adaptation "Human Noise," talks about life with and after Carver

It’s difficult to imagine a question that has not been asked of the poet, short story writer, essayist, playwright and teacher Tess Gallagher. As one-half of the legendary literary partnership with the revered, Oregon-born poet and short story writer, Raymond Carver, there was a time when Gallagher, well-published on her own, was one of the world’s most interviewed artists. If you’re familiar with her writing, you are not surprised.

Gallagher’s been generating poetry and prose for decades that shocks and moves with its vast range of expression. All of her work, even the most emotionally raw, seems to be guided by a steadfast intelligence and relentlessly penetrating vision.

Tess Gallagher: writing a life.

She’s published and taught extensively while also being the devoted steward of Carver’s work since he died in 1988. After reading Gallagher’s Moon Crossing Bridge and seeing the invaluable Carver collections that Gallagher shepherded to posthumous publication, one gets a sense that the communication between the two never really stopped.

Continues…