Today in our Meet the Philosophers series, we hear from NWA writer Zena Babette while she discusses trying to cultivate a daily writing habit, the support and inspiration the NWA community has given her, as well as a few other wonderful community organizations she works with.
What is your name?
If you had to give yourself a title, what would it be?
Writer, Warrior Princess, or Over-Comer. Take your pick.
How long have you lived in Chicago? Where in the city do you live? Why do you live here?
I’ve lived in Chicago all of my life. Currently I live in the Kenwood/Hyde Park community. I live here because my family, friends, and some career opportunities are here.
Tell us something about your neighborhood. Why do you live there?
My neighborhood is very diverse economically and culturally. I like the diversity. For the most part, people in this area have a “live and let live” mindset and I like that. I love being close to the lake for jogging, biking, and meditating.
How are you affiliated with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA)? How long have you been involved with NWA?
I am a writer that meets with NWA at the King Branch location and have been attending workshops since July 2011.
Why are you involved with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance?
I have written in a journal since childhood. It has always been a source of healing and entertainment for me. Sometimes it has brought about needed change in me or others and I derive real joy from that. The time and discipline to do it got lost through the busyness of life but I managed to pick it up sporadically for years. I just began writing more consistently in July 2011 due to joining NWA. I’m either writing an NWA homework assignment or in my journal and I love it. Something that got lost is being restored and NWA is helping me to restore it. It’s also helping me to grow by pushing me out of my comfort zone through writing exercises that challenge me to consider different perspectives or formats, and through speaking publicly.
What does NWA’s motto, “Every Person Is a Philosopher,” mean to you?
It means that everyone has a voice and what they have to say matters to someone.
What is your arts background?
I have roughly 10 years of experience creating programs for youth. Many of the programs give children and teens a chance to receive inspiration by witnessing someone else’s creativity, and to express themselves through art and literature.
How has the Neighborhood Writing Alliance changed the way that you think about the writing process?
The themes, prompts, and exercises give me direction and ideas for writing. The leader and peer critiques help me to fine-tune those ideas once I get them down on paper. The support of the workshop leader and my fellow writers helps me realize that getting started and finishing does not have to be a daunting task.
Tell us about a piece published in the Journal of Ordinary Thought that has spoken to you. Why did it stand out to you?
“Relentlessly Pursue It” by Baba Tony Brown spoke volumes to me. He is also an “over-comer.” His explanation of how he rose above the adverse situations in his life and his desire to see others succeed was touching and encouraging. Two pieces of wisdom that he shares in the poem motivate me to put action behind my desires so that I can see them become realities. He says, “I found out that when my WHY is big enough, my HOW will follow.” He also says, “If you purposely think it, relentlessly pursue it, you can do it.”
“Relentlessly Pursue It” was published in the Fall 2011 issue of JOT, I Am Here. You can read the full poem on the blog tomorrow, when we’ll feature it as our front porch piece, thanks to Zena’s suggestion.
Why do you think the Journal of Ordinary Thought is important?
Because it lets ordinary people know that they matter by giving them a voice or format to be heard and read.
What’s a social justice issue on your mind right now? What is the most pressing issue in your community?
The crime in the Englewood community is the most pressing social justice issue on my mind right now because I have family that lives there and they have been directly impacted by it.
What else do you do? Are you involved in other organizations?
I am a volunteer for Cradle to the Classroom, which is an organization that shares information and resources with expectant couples/mothers surrounding the research that supports reading to babies for brain development and intellectual stimulation. I conduct brief presentations for expectant couples and mothers on the research findings, and afterwards I distribute supportive literature and free baby books.
I’m also a volunteer for Sit-Stay-Read. They make reading and writing fun for primary grade children by focusing their lessons and activities around dogs and safety. Well trained dogs visit the classroom to be fed, petted, and read to by the children. The children’s writings are collected and turned into bound books and then presented back to them at the end of the program. I read a picture book to classrooms about a dog named George who has trouble barking. I also work one-on-one with children as a book buddy. The kids really get into this program and it’s fun to watch and participate.
What are your hobbies and interests?
Reading everything from toddler to adult literature, exercise and athletic events that involve biking, running, and stair climbing, and attending cultural events such as plays, musical concerts, and movies.
What book has impacted you recently? Why?
PULL by B. A. Binns. I couldn’t put it down. It kept my attention from start to finish and the characters were on my mind even when I wasn’t reading the book. It’s about a young man and his siblings striving to cope with the changes and fears that arise after their father murders their mother.
What is your favorite Chicago literary venue and why?
My favorite literary venues are my neighborhood library, which is the Blackstone Branch Library, and the Oak Park Public Library. The communities and collections of both libraries appeal to me. I like the historic value and staff of my neighborhood library, and the structure, space, and design of the Oak Park Library.
In keeping with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance’s motto, “Every Person Is a Philosopher,” Meet the Philosophers is a column featuring profiles of members of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance community. Here, we survey their role in our organization and pick their brains about writing, social justice, art, and Chicago.