by Janet Brownell
Special to the Sounder
When Michell Marshall, founder of Woman in the Woods Productions, asked me to write a guest column about writer Anastacia-Renee’s visit to Orcas, I didn’t know what to say.
But Michell is very persuasive, and I am a big fan of Woman in the Woods (www.womaninthewoodsproductions.com), the sponsor of Anastacia’s visit. So, I said yes.
If you don’t know who Anastacia-Renee is, Google her. She’s a writer, performance artist, teacher, and “queer ‘super-shero’ of color.” She is Seattle’s civic poet and has been the poet-in-residence at the Hugo House. From my observation, Anastacia is also a force of natural leaving seeds of creativity in her wake.
“How many of you know what judgment means?” That is how Dec. 18 started in an assembly packed with Orcas High School students. Anastacia then began an exercise in which she tasked students to purposely make judgments about her.
Hesitant at first, the students slowly revealed their judgments: Anastacia likes trees, is a feminist and eats kale. She doesn’t have children and was born on the West Coast. Anastacia listened with a well-practiced poker face finally revealing: she was born in the mid-west, was painfully shy and she has two grown “babies.” As far as eating, she eats everything, including kale, and “the soundtrack to (her) life is fabulous.”
Anastacia then read three poems. The last one alluded to our collective sorrow over the mother orca whale who carried her dead calf for weeks. She asked how many people knew of this. Everyone raised a hand. Then she asked, “How many of you have heard of Nia Wilson?” Not a single hand went up. She explained Nia Wilson was an 18-year-old who was killed at a BART station in Oakland, California.
Closing with a Q&A, one student asked, “What’s your judgment of us?” Anastacia answered, “I think you are open and honest and are stronger than I imagined.”
On Dec. 19, Anastacia held a writers’ workshop. She began with the same “judgment” exercise. This group was a lot older, and a lot more judge-y. But out of this developed the theme of the workshop: “Writing from the body and memory.”
Anastacia posed this question: “How has judgment about your body changed who you are or how you act?” The group then undertook writing exercises intended to explore that dark space: their body.
As they worked on “Body Poetry,” some closed their eyes, some wrote furiously, some started off not knowing what to do. Some participants then read their work. It was all deeply personal and quite stunning in its power. The workshop ended with the group gathering in a circle. Anastacia asked them to think of something they wanted to release, then scream (really). They did.
Over two days, Anastacia had hoped people would “leave slightly different than (they) came in.” I can’t speak for the students or the workshop participants, but I know I am different … and perhaps a little better for having witnessed that force of nature Anastacia-Renee.