with DeMisty Bellinger:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
DeMisty: I started in grade school. I was fortunate to attend an arts-focused school that encouraged creativity, including writing.
Since I started writing and reading young, the writers who first influenced me wrote mostly for young people, including Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein, and Don Freeman. I was also an early reader and read books my big sisters read. Since second grade, I read Richard Wright, and Alice Walker, and a little Stephen King and Langston Hughes.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
DeMisty: I don’t know if I have direct influences, but there are some poets who I read often. Lucille Clifton, Tracy K. Smith, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Camille Dungy, and Mark Doty immediately come to mind, but they’re not the only ones. I appreciate their command of imagery and ability to build situations that invite you in regardless of your comfort level. I want to be able to achieve that for readers.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
DeMisty: Maybe when I realized that not everyone told themselves stories to fall asleep.
Maybe it was when a typewriter fell on my leg. I was trying to get it down to write a story. After I was bandaged up, I wrote my story.
Maybe when I learned that writers were behind books, I knew I wanted to write books.
I’ve wanted to write for so long, I don’t remember any one moment that moved me to writing.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
DeMisty: Roger Rosenblatt was one of my MFA professors. He was very encouraging. Judy Slater was my advisor during my PhD program and has helped me—and helps me—a lot. Also from my PhD program were Timothy Schaffert and Joy Castro, both wonderful and realistic mentors. Some folks I’ve met in passing—mostly online—are Jimin Han, Shaindel Beers, Sandra Simonds, and Chaya Bhuvaneswar. My agent for my prose work is Alice Tasman, who is hands-on and tireless. I am grateful to each of them.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from home influence your work?
DeMisty: I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The lakes, rivers, and the little streams that populate the city and the state, seep into my work. Along with the waters come the love of art—music of all genres, dance, the art museums and galleries, and theater. And with all those lovely things come the continued racism, the gross segregation, the deep division of classes, and unjust inequities.
I moved from Milwaukee in college and have never really returned completely. Since then, I lived in Western Wisconsin, on Long Island in New York, Nebraska, and now Massachusetts. I’ve traveled all over the States, a few countries in Europe, and to Canada.
Bits of pieces of each place I’ve been make their way into my writing.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
DeMisty: “Becoming Joshua” is a love story that was published by a defunct journal. “The Negotiations of Space” is a story in a series of vignettes about black folks’ hair, also out of print. I wish someone else wrote the title poem of my collection Peculiar Heritage, because I would love to teach it.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
DeMisty: Reading, playing music, listening to music, playing video games, and watching horror movies or horror shows.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?
DeMisty: Patricia Smith’s entire poem, “The President Flies Over,” is good for many reasons, and it’s hard to pick a favorite line, but the last line is perfect and sums up the moment well:
“I understand that somewhere it has rained.”
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
DeMisty: My first full-length collection of poems, Peculiar Heritage, treats present-day racism, sexism, classism, and hate as products of the country’s origins. It was released this month (August 2021) by Mason Jar Press! https://amzn.to/3kTxlwe (see Question 6 for book cover art)