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An Interview with Poet, Dionne Custer Edwards

by Mackenzie Boyer

Dionne Custer Edwards, photo credit - Tim Johnson
On Saturday, April 11, Dionne Custer Edwards will conduct a workshop on the Otterbein University campus in Westerville, Ohio, and hosted by Ohio Poetry Association (OPA). Here’s a description of the upcoming event from Dionne herself:

"We will work with words on and off the page by working through the writing process with our five senses—focusing very much on sound as it pertains to writing, reading, or performing a poem. My hope is that we all leave with something we write, revise through workshop, and share using strategies and techniques that evoke the five senses on and off the page. We will engage with the entire writing process. The goal is to focus on how to get those words out of our journals, off our laptops, and out into the public space (if we want them there)."

Continue reading to learn more about Dionne and her life as a writer and an educator. Then on Saturday, come to the workshop to support Ohio Poetry Association and hear Dionne speak about ‘Writing in Open Space: On (and Off) the Page.’

Question: Since you studied music composition alongside English, I was curious as to why you chose to continue studying this and how exactly it affected your writing in positive ways?

Dionne: Music composition was only one portion of my music studies. I actually studied music theory and piano from the age of four years old, flute from the age of eight, and had a brief stint with oboe and upright bass in middle school. I studied music throughout my life and quite seriously. I studied for over ten years at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and at a point in high school, I thought I might find myself applying to a conservatory of music in college. I toyed with a career in instrumental music, performance maybe, but ultimately writing was my path. 

Q: What inspired you to go into teaching writing? What exactly do you teach to the students at the Wexner Center? How do those students inspire you as a writer?

Dionne: I’ve always been interested in education, teaching. Due to my interest in writing, arts education [and] teaching writing felt like a natural progression in my career.

In my work I engage with students on opening up pathways to their writing through dynamic arts experiences in the galleries, on the screen (films and video), and on the stage. I work with students on how to find inspiration for writing in new and different ways, and on how to move through the writing process by engaging with the creative process. What can writers learn from other artists? I also work closely with teachers on how to integrate the arts in the teaching of the writing process. I find this work fulfilling, interesting, navigating our ideas and the writing process alongside sophisticated creative concepts and the creative experimentation, research, and process of contemporary art. I am learning alongside students and teachers I work with at the Wexner Center. We are all in this teaching and learning together.

Q: What advice would you give to people of all ages when it comes to stepping into the literary world? Is there a good stepping stone that you've found or ways someone can get involved in this world?

Dionne: I have no magical advice. I think as writers we continue to just put one foot in front of the other and engage opportunities as they come. I think writing every day, or at least consistently, is key. I think it helps to find a community of creatives or other writers, people who inspire you, hear you, support your process, and you can support their work. Ultimately once you’re writing, attending classes or workshops, revising, I say get out there and go to readings and other cool literary events to not only hear others’ work but to get your work out there as well.

Q: What is your favorite style of writing/what style do you lean to more?

Dionne: I suppose I like many different types and styles of writing, but I am particularly fond of poetry and creative nonfiction. I like writers that lean on life experiences and give an authentic and creative voice to the complexities of life. I'm trying to do that with my blog I want to make the everyday accessible. I tend to write poetry, lyrical prose, prose poetry. I like to experiment, blur genre a bit, but I dare not deny the poet in me.

Q: Where would you like to see the literary world go from here? Are there any dreams you have for our society as a whole in regards to writing and reading?

Dionne: That’s a huge question. I need to think about that for a while... I do hope that even as we evolve, develop, and experiment with all kinds of new technologies and interesting new ways to communicate, we remember to read (often), write (with intention), and wonder.

Q: You've done so much in your life, so what are your plans from here?

Dionne: You think? Maybe. Wow. Thank you. I feel like I’m just beginning, but no matter what is next in my life, I want to be sure I am fully present and engaged. I am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had in my career. I really love this work, what I'm doing in the arts. I also enjoy my family, raising my three sons, they teach me so much: how to slow down, appreciate every breath, laugh, cry, reflect, and wonder. I write daily, in and around all the interestingness of life. Who knows what is next but I suppose I’m busy paying attention and in appreciation of now—oh and writing it all down of course.

The event will be held from 1-4 PM on Saturday, April 11 at Otterbein University Chapel, 88 Cochran Alley, Westerville, Ohio 43081. It is free and open to the public. 


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