Conversations with Speculative Poets: Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

The Conversations with Speculative Poets Series features interviews with writers of science fiction and fantasy poetry. For the tenth post in this series, I spoke with Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam about the Art & Words Show, which she curates.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam‘s fiction and poetry has appeared in over 50 publications such as LeVar Burton ReadsFairy Tale Review, and Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror as well as in six languages. She has been a finalist for the Nebula Award and won the Grand Prize in the SyFy Channel’s Battle the Beast contest; SyFy made and released an animated short of her short story “Party Tricks,” set in the world of The Magicians. She is the curator of the Art & Words Show in Fort Worth, Texas where she lives with four cats: Gamora, Junebug, Don Quixote, and Gimli.

T.D. Walker:  What prompted your development of the Art & Words show? And what is your process for curating the works and responses? Has that evolved over the years?

Photo of author Bonnie Jo StufflebeamBonnie Jo Stufflebeam: I was prompted by a need to find a project to complete as a requirement of my MFA at the time, and I wanted to do something that allowed for engagement with the artistic community. My mom owns an art gallery in Fort Worth–the cooperative, Art on the Boulevard–and I thought it would be fun to do something that encompassed both art and literature. I’m glad I did, because it’s been wonderful working with my mom and also with all the artists and writers I’ve gotten to know as a result of the show.

To curate, I take open submissions in March. This year, I’ll be opening submissions from March 1 to the 15. I then go through and read all the work. Sometimes I hire an outside editor to make the final decisions, and sometimes I make them myself, depending on the year. But when I’m reading, I’m looking for work that moves me and work that invokes a sense of the strange and otherworldly, and I look for turns of phrase or images that I can’t get out of my head. When I’m winnowing it down to the final twenty or so participants, I have to put aside my love of the works, because I’ve usually fallen for more than I can take, and curate with an eye for balance of people who have participated before versus people who haven’t, locals versus people from outside Texas, diversity of perspectives, etc. I always want to make a space for LGBTQ writers, writers of color, women. I always want a good mix of genres, too.

It’s evolved a little over the years, absolutely. For one thing, I no longer accept visual art from outside Texas, as the process of shipping got to be too much. I also keep good track of how many times a writer has participated, because there are some people whose fiction or poetry I just adore, and they’ve done the show three or four times. I want to give other people a shot to participate.

TDW: At the 2019 Art & Words show, you expressed an interest in including written pieces with speculative elements. What is it about the science fictional, the fantastic, or the horrific that works particularly well for ekphrasis?

BJS: It’s more about my love for the genre than about it working particularly well for ekphrasis. I love thinking outside present reality, and I love looking at art that explores worlds and concepts that don’t exist. I do hear from a lot of the visual artists who haven’t read a lot of speculative fiction; they often say that trying to make art from speculative fiction is challenging to their imaginations and also freeing in a way that they tend to appreciate.

TDW: Which response works have surprised you most over the years? How so?

Alex Sharp's Drowning in Nostalgia
Alex Sharp’s Drowning in Nostalgia

BJS: I’m most in awe when a visual artist or a writer finds a new depth in their response. Last year, Logen Cure submitted a beautiful poem called “Flash Floods” about a woman in the first stages of new love, and how, in the first stages of love, you don’t yet understand what a person holds inside herself. The artist, Alex Sharp, did a breathtaking collage, drawing on themes of mental illness and drowning. In the poem, we got one woman’s perspective, and in the collage, we got the other woman’s perspective. I love that the show can do that, give two sides of the same poem.

Stacy Tompkins--Mourning Cup
Stacy Tompkins’ Mourning Cup

There have been several elaborate sculptures or found art works that have appeared in the show that have delighted me to no end. I love when the artist goes all in, as happens every year with Stacy Tompkins’ sculptures.

TDW: Are there speculative poetry collections that engage in the same kinds of response to visual art that writers do in the show that you’d like to recommend to readers of Luna Station Quarterly?

BJS: Bruce Bond and Aron Wiesenfeld’s The Other Sky is a beautiful book of subtle horror that combines poetry and art.

Del Samatar and Sofia Samatar put together Monster Portraits, a book that tackles themes of otherness through fiction, autobiography, and monster art. It’s a brilliant genre hybrid.

Laura Madeline Wiseman and Lauren Rinaldi, both previous Art & Words participants, put out a book of short stories and art, The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters, about coming-of-age, filled with a dream-like logic.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Michael Cunningham and Yuko Shimizu’s A Wild Swan, an illustrated fairy tale collection that is one of my favorite books of all time.

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