Maya Angelou — ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’
I really got serious with my writing in 2000, whereas, before, I’d write stuff and put it away in my file cabinets. Submitting my poems and short-stories in competition, in hopes that one of my babies just might get published, was a bit intimidating. I felt awful whenever my work came back solidified in a cold detached form letter. One day, I opened another rejection to another submission, only this one differed from the usual cold form letters, in that small side-notes of encouragement were written along the edges of the paper.
The editor had taken time to encourage me to keep writing, telling me that I was an “excellent” writer! Since, then, I’ve written numerous articles, stories and poems and even managed to write and publish a book or two. My writing definitely improved. And I never forgot that rejection letter.
How fitting that on the last week of National Poetry Month, Clara54 gets to interview the person whose kind words kept me from throwing myself a ‘pity-party’ and motivated me to keep writing… Please join me in welcoming CEO and Publisher of DreamQuestOne, Mr. Andre West to the blog:
Welcome, Andre! We haven’t met personally, but I feel like I know you through your creative ‘rejection’ of my short story and now, our LinkedIn connection.
Can you share a bit of background with my readers?
Clara, first and foremost, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a gracious host and for interviewing me to be featured in your prestigious Clara54 Writer’s Blog. I truly admire and respect your undaunted encouragement, warm-hearted inspiration and endearing support for the fine arts and writing community.
I appreciate that, Andre. Thank you.
About me, hmmmm? Well, uhhhh, mmmm, okay! In my early childhood, besides playing with Lincoln Logs and Army Men toys, I remember reading books and learning Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Particularly, I really loved the times when my mother would read bedtime stories to me. So about the age of five or six years old, I began reading books on my own. This is when my mother would let me read bedtime stories to her. She enjoyed my reading so much that I would read her to sleep. Of course, it was supposed to be the other way around. Heh heh! Enthusiastically, and with childlike confidence, I wanted to read stories and nursery rhymes to my dear mother, in order to show her that “I can read.” In doing so, it made me feel great to start and finish reading a complete book. As a child, my favorite book to read was “The Bike Lesson” by Stan and Jan Berenstain. I guess you could say that I was hooked on phonics at an early age. I still have my old favorite book to this today!
I’ve learned that a picture is worth a thousand words. Noticing that many children’s books contained illustrations, I saw that those pictures only reinforced what I had already read. My imagination teleported me to far off places in the universe, where I may visit kingdoms by reading just words alone. Therefore, in my youthful mind, pictures had become redundant. Not that there was anything wrong with a colorful illustration, but pictures seem to replace words I could be reading. I then asked my mother to get me books without pictures. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a word is worth a thousand and one pictures, I imagine. Mother brought me all sorts of new and exciting tales to read.
My imagination began to grow and develop as my mind opened to new concepts. I lived with my family at a government housing project in the row houses called the “The Village” at the A.B.L.A. Homes, in Chicago, Illinois. Located on the near West Side, I lived right across the street from Fosco Park. Donnie, my big brother and I use to play in the dirty field, ride bikes, skateboard, roller-skate, fly kites, and even ice-skate during the winter months at Fosco Park. We always had what we needed, so being poor didn’t bother us that much. We hardly even thought about it sometimes, but we knew the deal. Occasionally, we use to eat maple syrup and bread sandwiches back then. Hey, it kept us alive. I’d still eat one today, but I prefer wheat bread.
As the years went by, I was considered a “gifted” child at Medill Elementary School. I really didn’t know what “gifted” meant, since I didn’t receive too many gifts back then. All I remember, is that a few other students and I had to take more advanced classes than homeroom peers. I went to different instructors for reading, music and art classes. At this time, my reading comprehension, vocabulary, and verbal skills were considered above average. I didn’t understand what that really meant. All I wanted to do was have fun and play with my friends. Although it was nice taking a break from the monotony of being in the same classroom setting all day.
So from first grade through junior high school, I remember attending Junior Great Books reading classes. We read stories such as “The Velveteen Rabbit,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Then we discussed what happened in those stories, as a group. It helped develop the essential skills of reading carefully, thinking critically, listening intently, and speaking and writing persuasively. I enjoyed participating in those group discussions and did very well in English grammar. We wrote essay compositions and poems for classroom exercises and homework. I never stopped reading books. My teachers would always praise my ability to produce interesting creative writing. I felt great while writing, whether it was a short story or a poem, transforming thoughts and feelings into words, conveying messages to readers, or producing a desired outcome or effect. I love writing. It’s that simple.
At school, I remember having my essays, stories and poems posted in classrooms and hallways. I continued writing but there was something else about me. I always wanted to fit in with the popular students. And being smart was not very popular in these circles. Also, there were some negative influences from family members, and so-called friends that steered me to mischief at times. So I became shy and timid about showing my gifts and talents in writing to those around me. I tried to please everyone as I grew up. In doing so, I was never fully able to express myself or “be myself,” so to speak. I usually wrote a story or a poem or two, as required from my teachers. Once in 5th grade, I kept a composition book filled with essays that I wrote throughout the school year. There was a time when I went home with a note from my teacher to my mother. She told my mother that she didn’t believe I had written a certain composition and ‘please don’t do your child’s homework for him.’ Well, my mother didn’t help me. I wrote the story while sitting alone in my room. The night before turning in my homework, my mother couldn’t believe I had created such a great story. Nonetheless, I wrote it. Unfortunately, at the end of the school year, my composition book thrown into the trash. I really regret throwing those stories away. My mother said she wanted to keep that book, too. Usually, I write a story or poem when inspired or motivated by a profound person, a memorable place, a wonderful thing, or an outstanding event in my life.
Mrs. Smiley, a strict and disciplined school librarian, at Gallistel Language Academy, once pulled me aside. She said, “Andre, you really have a talent for creative writing. Keep it up. I want you to remember that.” She even wrote her wonderful praise to me in my elementary school graduation autograph book. At the time, writing a book became somewhat of a dream that might be possible. But I never went deeper into the thought of it.
Why do you write?
There was always the fear of rejection that haunted me for many years. I always sought approval from others for fear of being criticized. I was also afraid of failing and succeeding. Thinking disaster would come to bring me down and out, of my introverted comfort zone. I was scared too, of taking risks, making mistakes, letting go, and living life as I believed in my heart. Sometimes family members mean well, but they may also discourage one from pursuing her or his ‘calling’ in life. They may sound like Glum from Gulliver’s Travels saying, “You’ll never make it”. They are called, “dream-killers.” All the wasted time I spent trying to be whatever someone else wanted me to be, has passed. I got tired of being afraid to venture off into the unknown. In spite of any opposition from others or within, I choose to write because I feel more alive while writing. I’m able to express myself freely and creatively through the art and craft. In my heart, I’ve always been and always will be a writer, a poet and a dreamer, but not in that exact order. I’ve always loved poetry and writing even through high school and college. I wrote more stories while taking English courses. Upon receiving an A.A. degree in Liberal Arts Education and Business Administration, I continued pursuing a degree in Finance. To support myself I have been a landscaper, a front-end maintenance worker for a major supermarket chain, a postal mail-carrier, and a computer information systems expert. “In whatever job I choose to do, I like to do it right or I won’t do it all.”
What does Poetry mean to you?
During high school, I occasionally wrote poems and stories about my life and the things that I have done. In the year 1986, there was a local writer’s newsletter, which sponsored a poetry contest. Inspired by a girl, whom I liked very much during my sophomore year of high school, I entered the following poem.
Sweetness is for her, body’s motion on a staircase
About seven feet down the lane, staring upon that lovely face
Looking upward as a matter of fact
Walking forward to be exact
Gracious is her style, thus owning one principle
Glorious is she, who audaciously attracted me
A host to her mind, the waiter for her heart
Frequency of the wave, the commencement of a start
Knowledge of love, it has no definite flaws
Throughout friendship we understand
there’s certain common laws
Thresholds of peace, insinuations I may
Intimations I may. Instilled visions of rhymes
Instituting our day
is a powerful tool. Don’t interpret me wrong
I’m nobody’s fool
There is just so much that you must see
Imagine this, you and me
Though this is the beginning and not the end
my marvelous friend.
By © 1986 Andre La Mar West
To my surprise, I won an honorable mention and received a big red dictionary. Clara, that contest really gave me a healthy dose of inspiration and confidence to continue writing poetry. I began reading and sharing poems with students at school. When a poem makes your feel as if your head is spinning and you are falling off planet Earth: that is poetry to me. When I can read or write a poem that makes me think and feel like I’ve been turned right side up, to me: to me that is poetry. If it moves me to feel pure emotions such as; joy, anger, empathy, sadness, love, hate, pain, ecstasy, fear, or enlightened, because its composition is a true self-expression: that is what poetry means to me.
Are you all enjoying this interview as much as I am?! Want more ? Great, because we’re not finished… Part two of my interview with Andre West continues next week! I wanted to give you all of Andre’s powerful writings, publishing and living life as an artist insights!
You don’t want to miss part two of this interview. Andre shares his vision for Dreamquestone and gives us his take on winning poetry and writing contests. In the meantime, you can access Andre’s site to get the 411 on upcoming submissions – http://www.dreamquestone.com/rules.html