An Interview with Professor Jennifer Person
by Destiny Rivera
Destiny Rivera is completing a double major in English and Psychology at SUNY College at Old Westbury. She spends most of her free time thinking about the implications of her continuous survival and seeks to make every moment something worth looking back on.
Professor Jennifer Person is an adjunct professor in the English Department at SUNY College at Old Westbury. Her first book of poetry, Look at Something Beautiful Every Day, was recently independently published by Xlibris Press and is available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Destiny Rivera: When did you decide that you wanted to write a book?
JP: I always wanted to write a book. This was a big life-long dream of mine. I started this book three years ago and I knew I wanted it to be poetry and art work together. I woke up one morning at 3:00am and I had this idea and it was completely formed from start to finish in my mind. I started working on it right there and then.
[The book] went through a lot of transformations. At first, I was going to not only make it a poetry collection but I wanted it to have artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well since I used to work there and had favorite pieces from the collections that I wanted to use. The idea transformed and [then] I thought that what I wanted is for it to be a textbook for art and literature students. This meant that the book would have to have a lot more pictures and a lot more topics. It turned out that the book was way too big by that point and would have had to be scaled back in a major way. Who knows, maybe it will become Look at Something Beautiful Every Day – Part Two!
So I went to thinking about a smaller book of poetry and that’s when the ideas really took off. I had a smaller idea and smaller images to accompany them. I started going through my neighborhood walking through the different places in my community and when I found something, an image, an object, even a person I stopped and asked permission to take a picture. There is a picture of a Buddha in the book that was in the window of an art studio. I spoke to the owner and she said “if you want to take a picture then that’s great –go ahead and use it in the book.” In the book there are also pictures from St. Ignatius Retreat House in Manhasset, there is a picture of a woman in our neighborhood, there are pictures of objects that we have in our home that are particularly beautiful and we had a chance to include some nature, like flowers and trees. I am very pleased with the final format.
DR: What about the title of the book? How did you come across figuring out a name for the book which had been such a large dream for you?
JP: It was something that I heard somebody say to somebody else in a random conversation. This person had mentioned “look at something beautiful everyday” as kind of a way of saying goodbye to somebody, with a reminder. That’s how I came up with the title.
DR: What was your creative process like considering that you had to maintain a balance between your work and home life?
JP: Well, that’s why it took three years. I had a lot of challenges as I went on and sometimes I couldn’t work on the book because of having a crazy semester and sometimes I could. There were times when I had to let it sit, working on it here and there, and it finally got to the point where I wanted to make a big push and say, “ I want to be done with this project. I love this project, but I want to be done with it.” So I worked the completion of it around school time and home time but it was something I was very committed to by the end of last year. My husband has also been a great support through this entire process. He took many of the pictures in the book. I have a very supportive group of good friends. I needed other writers to talk to as I went along. When the book was at the halfway point we also hosted a reading at our house and all of our friends came, so I just read and they gave me their input which really helped me see what needed to be worked on further or just be left alone.
DR: So what made you decide to get your book independently published?
JP: The reason for that was basically because I knew that if I went to a traditional publisher that, because of the type of book it is, because it’s poetry, it would not get picked up by a commercial publisher. There was also the possibility that if I sent it to a commercial publisher it would sit and maybe not even get looked at for a long time. I knew that if I went with an independent publisher I would have the flexibility I craved and I would be working with a design team that I could have complete control of. That’s the really good part about going with an independent company.
DR: What the process of getting the book published like?
JP: I had a design team [at Xlibris Publishers] that worked on the pictures and everything so it was a collaborative effort by the time I got to the publishing aspect of it. We did many revisions, not only of the text which I was constantly changing and had lots of internal angst about, but of the images as well and how they would be presented. Just the feeling of wanting certain things and not wanting to give up the creative freedom of other things added even more work and time spent on completing the whole process. I think that with the way that it turned out it was the process of revising it over and over that was the most time consuming – but worth it in the end!
DR: Was there ever a moment where you felt like just giving up on the project?
JP: Yes, absolutely, yes! You know I think every writer gets to that point. There were times when I felt like it was never going end, it was always going to be on the table and I would be left constantly working on it. There were points where it seemed like I had to keep working on it and I didn’t want to, especially toward the end when I was editing only a few lines a day or had a million decisions to make about color formats. I am glad I stayed with the original vision that I had. That original vision, among other things, kept me going. Another large aspect of my constant pushing to finish this project was the people in my life who had become very instrumental in getting this book together. There were friends who helped me, people who were encouraging, other writers and other artists who were extremely positive. Professor Jessica Williams is one of the editors on the book and she was a huge help. She edited everything and we worked together to get it finished. I had another editor as well, Brad Rothbart, and he was also a part of helping get the book through the final push. With that type of people behind you, people who are consistently supportive, there was no way I could abandon my dream. It was just people saying to me “just don’t give up! Write the book, make sure you write the book!” So that’s where that motivation came from. That’s how I continued to work on it, even though there were times when it was really, really hard and I couldn’t visualize the final book at all.
DR: What did it feel like when your book was finally published?
JP: It felt exciting! I had gotten an email from my publisher that said “your book has gone live!” So my husband and I went to the Xlibris website and looked it up and suddenly there it was on the website! At first I couldn’t believe it and then I said to myself “how did this happen?” We were so excited – we kept going back and forth to the website to look at it. It became this moment where we kept looking to make sure we were really seeing it – getting the understanding that it was really real – that was fun. I found out that it was on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble and available as an e-book, so I kept on going on websites to see my book and there it was. There was a lot of jumping around and calling up friends to tell them to go to the website!
DR: What advice would you give to people who are currently aspiring authors?
JP: Writing a book is a dream for a lot of people. I guess the one thing I would say is don’t give up and to stay with it. Be very true to the vision that you want to create and don’t let other people talk you out of it. However, understand that it may take longer than you expected but once you have worked on it and it has become your book it is very exciting and gratifying to have. For me, this was a very big dream come true. If you want it bad enough you can achieve it. You just have to want it bad enough.
DR: Would you mind giving a close reading of one of your poems?
JP: Sure [poem appears at the end of the interview]
DR: As I listened to Jennifer Person read her poem, I began to think about the fragility of words and how carefully each one was placed inside this poem that now filled the room. No, it wasn’t the words that were fragile, perhaps it was the writer and it is the words which add strength to the voice being projected out of the page. Yes, that sounds right. It is the careful—I say “careful” not meaning timid, but rather thoughtful—voice that many English Majors of Old Westbury, each whom possess a dream similar to the person sitting next to them, carries. Yes, it is true that becoming an author is not a task for the easily discouraged. It is a battle, there will be moments when you feel like your time was wasted, and many more where your words were never good enough no matter how many revisions you force onto the page. Yet still, it is not impossible. Even if there are other things which take precedence during moments of your life, pauses that place your dream in the passenger seat, it is still possible. Sometimes, it takes taking a step back to see how far you’ve come to give you the boost you need to carry on. Professor Jennifer Person, author of the poetry book Look at Something Beautiful Every Day, is a testament to what perseverance and a strong support system can help to create.
Old Soul Imprint
On the night before you were born
God stamped an invisible number
On the sole of your foot
Determining the number of times
That you will see the moon in your lifetime.
No one gets the same number.
They are infinite
To serve as a cosmic reminder
To always look up at the stars and sky
Knowing that God is always watching you from the moon.
Remember to appreciate its beauty
As it changes shapes and forms
Do not underestimate its strength
It is the one changing constant in this life