“As the child of immigrants, born and raised in New York, grind/ hustle culture is in my blood. But since I can’t do many of the social things I enjoy, I’ve been truly focusing on being still. Rest and healing is also part of the “work”. I don’t have to be productive to be of value. I don’t have to produce to earn my space in the world. I am valuable, you are valuable whether we are productive or not. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a coping strategy but this train of thought has been helping me during this time."
There's an amazing person I want you to meet. If you don't know her already, her name is Valérie Déus. For Minnesotans, we are lucky she lives in Minneapolis. Valérie is a poet, film programmer and radio show host. Her work has been featured in Minnesota Women’s Press, The Brooklyn Rail, Midway, the St. Paul Almanac, The BeZine and most recently in A Garden of Black Joy Anthology and Under Purple Skies: A Minneapolis Anthology. When she's not writing, she is the host of Project 35, a local low-fi radio show featuring music from all over the diaspora and poetry on KRSM radio. She curates Film North’s Cinema Lounge and is the Shorts Programmer for The Provincetown International Film Festival.
Jes: I am so excited to ask you some questions. I have always admired your poetry, film programming background, and community work. Can you share more about yourself?
Valérie: Thank you for being interested in interviewing me. So, I’m a Haitian American art maker and I moved here from New York. I’m a poet and I program local shorts for FilmNorth’s Cinema Lounge and shorts for the Provincetown International Film Festival. I am also the host of Project 35, a low-fi radio show on KRSM. I’m involved in several different practices because they influence each other and help keep me inspired. It helps when I get writers’ block and I need to jolt my imagination.
I just ordered a copy of Skull-Filled Sun! Can you talk more about the themes within your writing? Is it a collection of work from a particular time in your life?
Oh, wow thanks! Skull-Filled Sun are experiences from my hyphenated childhood.
What was it like to put your first book together? How did you get connected to Is a Rose Press? Do you have any recommendations for other poets or writers who want to publish their work?
Putting Skull Filled Sun together was stressful because my mom was really sick at the time and I couldn’t focus the way I needed to on the book. My mother passed when I was working on the final drafts and I’m just happy I had a wonderful friend and editor working with me and helping me through the process. Is a Rose Press is run by former Minnesotan and friend, Michael Dekel. He runs the press out of Jerusalem and has always been a fan of my work so when he approached me about publishing a book, I said yes. My recommendation to other poets is to send your work out, connect with people and make friends. Figure out which journals reflect your aesthetic and send your work out. Make your own chapbook. Find a group of readers who get you and send your work to them for feedback. I have a group of readers, poets and non-poets who give me feedback from various perspectives.
Thanks for that advice! I recently learned about We/Here! I love zines so I am definitely interested in learning more about this project and how it’s organized and distributed.
I love zines too but We/Here is unfortunately on hiatus. I had to put it on break because I overextended myself and needed to be realistic about what I can and can’t do well. I only have 2 issues of it out and honestly it was hard to get people to send me work.
That’s an honest answer that I can appreciate and also relate to. I often have to consider projects that way too. I feel sometimes as artists we can add too much on to our plate so it’s important to realize when we have to step back and make sure we are taking care of ourselves as well as honoring the quality of work we want to make. Speaking of taking care of ourselves, has COVID-19 impacted your art practice or career? Has it impacted your programming with FilmNorth or your radio program Project 35?
So, I get inspiration in lots of different ways and one of my favorite ways is to go to a coffee shop or bar or whatever and listen to the way people talk. Those bits of conversation will send me down a rabbit hole of thoughts. My favorite is listening to first dates. People say the most interesting things when they’re nervous or smitten. Well Covid-19 has made that not possible so I’ve turned to giving myself assignments and trying to read my enormous stack of books.
I have to admit my reading hasn’t been great either. It’s hard to lose yourself in a book when there’s so much going on and you’re worried about the world. It’s hard to concentrate and I have to make a real effort to focus and finish things. I try to be kind to myself and give myself time to feel, to grieve, to exist without feeling like I have to DO something. All of this is part of the process. As for programming for FilmNorth’s Cinema Lounge, Covid-19 has actually expanded our viewership because now it’s online and I am able to screen more filmmakers in the 5-state regional area instead of focusing on the hyper local or on folks who can attend the screenings.
That’s really cool to hear that you have been able to expand your audience. I have experienced that while teaching online. I am getting people signing up from all over the country for my classes; when normally I was only teaching people within the state of Minnesota. It’s been neat to see how online programming has increased reach and accessibility that way. Now that it’s been six months or so of living through a pandemic, what have been your COVID-19 coping strategies? What helps you stay positive?
There’s so much more to cope with besides Covid-19. There’s the shit storm political climate, climate change with fires and floods, coupled with state sanctioned violence against Black folks. It’s a lot and I have to remind myself that none of these things are new in the world, right? The only difference between now and the past is now we know about what’s happening in the world. Social media means we can’t be ignorant anymore. So, navigating the various levels of madness in the world definitely takes a toll.
As the child of immigrants, born and raised in New York, grind/ hustle culture is in my blood. But since I can’t do many of the social things I enjoy, I’ve been truly focusing on being still. Rest and healing is also part of the “work”. I don’t have to be productive to be of value. I don’t have to produce to earn my space in the world. I am valuable, you are valuable whether we are productive or not. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a coping strategy but this train of thought has been helping me during this time.
What kind of resources have you used to help your career as an artist?
My resources have always been people. Get involved, ask questions, get a mentor, connect with other writers and other artists, build community. Connect to artists outside of your discipline. I believe in networking and letting people know you are open to try different things and open to new opportunities.
I have personally been thinking a lot about values lately and how I can incorporate them into my practice as an artist. For example, I am deeply into sharing, collaborating, and building community. What values do you lead with in your work or artistic approach?
I have similar values, I love collaborating with folks like I tend to co-curate on special projects. I always like to connect my communities to each other, if you need someone with a specific skill, I probably know some who can help. I want people to reach their full potential and do what they need to do in the world and I just hope to help.
Are there challenges you face as an artist?
Time and money are my biggest challenges. Though I have time now, the pandemic overwhelms everything. It’s hard to focus on getting writing done but I make myself because that’s where the healing is for me. I can’t let this time silence me so I fight shutdown into my turtle shell.
Which artists do you admire?
Oh, wow so many! Edwidge Danticat, Jeannette Ehlers, Danielle Legros Georges, Betye Saar, Cauleen Smith, Harmonia Rosales, Amir George, Natalie Diaz, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Christopher Harris, Leila Fanner, Charles Aznavour, and so many others.
Where can we find you online?
On Instagram, I’m Urbnnerd.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I worked on a project with Dara Beevas of Wise Ink and Mary Bruno of Bruno Press where we printed some posters that speak to our revolutionary times.
Thank you so much for answering all of my questions, Valérie! Thanks for helping me think about resisting the hustle and, importantly, to also remember that there's more to cope with right now besides COVID. I admire you! Now I am going to research all of the artists you just told me about...
All images courtesy of the artist. Interview written and edited by Jes Reyes.
Artists I Admire is a series of interviews with artists I think highly of.