MEET THE AUTHOR! Getting to Know Jo-Ann Vega, Author of Wolf Woman & Other Poems

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Wolf Woman & Other Poems

Jo-Ann Vega
Outskirts Press (2022)
ISBN: 978-1977248619

Jo-Ann Vega is a published author and dynamic speaker with 30 years of experience designing, presenting, and evaluating learning programs for academic, business, and community groups. She has twenty years of experience as an adjunct, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses on management and leadership. She wrote a column on career management for EEO Bimonthly, a national magazine, for five years. She is the author of Navigating the New Job Market; and co-author of Workforce 2000: A Challenge for Business & Education.

She has 10 years of experience delivering ancestry and history programs as part of a University Lifelong Learning Institute and to community members. She incorporated what she learned about history and the Italian character into her memoir. She inaugurated a Celebrating Italian Americans Series program at a local library two years ago.

Recent publications include Wolf Woman & Other Poems [2022]; Moments in Flight: A Memoir [2021]. Lifewriting essays, Serendipity, and Empathy in the Time of Covid [Volume 21 and Volume 22 of Story Circle Network’s Annual Real Women Write Anthology, 2021-2022]. Several poems published: Musings, Then & Now, Awaken, and In Remembrance. Awaken, a poem, is scheduled to appear in Wild Librarian Press’ Anthology [2023].

Jo-Ann Vega lives with her life partner and canine companion.

Hi Jo-Ann, welcome to Reader Views! Tell us about your writing journey.

I started writing before I knew what writing was lol! The attic of our home housed two Underwood typewriters, sans ribbon. (How I would love to own one today.) As a small child, before I could read, I would trudge up the stairs to the attic, climb up on a chair, and start banging away on the typewriters. Somehow I knew, likely from watching my father, who was very mechanical, and could fix and repair anything, the basic functions of the machine.

Fast forward to my senior year in high school when I experienced, what I describe in the introduction to the poetry anthology (Wolf Woman), as the loss of my future. I saw no options open to me that fit my aptitude, interests, gender, and culture. More importantly, I believed I was powerless to do anything about it. This was during the civil rights explosions of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I slid into a depression and turned to writing poetry to make sense of what was happening, and to find a way out of the abyss.

I had no idea I would stick with it or the prominence expressive writing would play in my life journey. The first in my family to graduate from college, I entered the job market woefully unprepared and joined the glut of underemployed college graduates when classified ads were divided into male and female jobs! I continued writing poetry and started journaling.

My memoir (Moments in Flight) is the result of a decade long quest to better understand my family, culture, country, and myself, prompted by the deaths of both my parents within 15 months of each other and the unraveling of family ties. I included more than a dozen poems in the memoir. An additional goal was to lower the temperature around the sensitive topic of immigration.

What is Wolf Woman & Other Poems about?

Wolf Woman is a poetic memoir; a curated collection of 50 poems I’ve written over 50 years of my life journey, organized by life stage. An educator and lifelong learner, I included a preview of each section to place the poems in context.

Part 1: becoming/discovery; rites of passage 

Part 2: unfurling my wings; taking risks 

Part 3: awakenings; cronehood 

What inspired you to write this book?

I released my memoir as I recovered from a life-threatening illness during the height of COVID hospitalizations and deaths; a story for another day. The positive feedback I received, in tandem with my recovery, moved me to take more chances, eat the fear, and release my most personal musings to the world. I started to submit poems and personal essays and several were or will be published in anthologies. It was then that I decided to publish Wolf Woman where I illuminate and confront human emotions with intensity and honesty.

I love the title! What is the significance behind it?

Wolf Woman marks my initiation into cronehood and anchors the collection. Women Who Run With The Wolves by Dr. Pinkola Estes made a deep impression on me.

I understand this is your debut poetry collection and Wolf Woman & Other Poems was a work in progress over a number of years. How did your collection develop?

Writing has been a lifeline for me. I write poems to understand, start conversations, and for special occasions. Over the years, my collection grew. As I prepared my memoir, I began to organize and select poems. This sparked creative embers and resulted in a number of new poems.

Is Wolf Woman & Other Poems a companion book to your memoir, Moments in Flight? How so?

Wolf Woman completes and fills in the narrative arc presented in Moments in Flight, and can stand alone or be a companion piece.

How different were the two writing experiences and which one did you enjoy more?

The memoir was a completely different experience from writing the poetry anthology. The overarching theme of the memoir is gratitude for the life my immigrant forebears made possible. I am one of a diminishing number of people who knew my grandparents, first generation impoverished immigrants. When I’m gone, so are their memories; memories worth sharing and preserving. The first half of the memoir is an extended eulogy to the immigrants and their journey to the US.

I feel a sense of pride I was able to tell their story as well as mine. I have a much greater understanding and appreciation of my family, heritage, self, and the country. It hasn’t been an easy journey. It was and is worth it.

I’ve kept a journal for 40+ years. It made sense I might write a memoir someday. I wouldn’t have written the memoir I did if I didn’t feel acute anguish at the deep fraying of family ties after the deaths of my parents.

Do you have a favorite story from your collection? Which one is it and why?

The four poems (I figured out the source of my tension headaches, It seemed as though the weather was conspiring, You were a private man, and You’ve been gone a year) I wrote for my cousin who succumbed from AIDS in 1983, before the age of thirty, during a time of sanctioned homophobia. His loss pushed me out of my comfort zone, ushered in a re-examination of my life, and prompted me to dream, reach for more, and take chances.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?

The early poems held up and validated my identification of myself as an artist with words in various mediums. I began with prose poetry when I wasn’t able to express myself verbally. After a long foray into making a living and encountering life, I returned to prose poetry with renewed interest and creativity.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you started out?

That it was possible to arrive at today with fewer detours and perhaps more satisfaction. Without mentors and support, internal and external, the path has been steeper than it might have been.

In the poem Then & Now I recognize my inner knowing:

Scared and unprepared I hesitantly ventured

An inner knowing & force

guiding my way

Yes, no, maybe so…

Still scared & better prepared I continue to venture

taking comfort in an inner knowing & force

guiding my way

What do you like to read and which authors have inspired your own work as a writer?

I’m primarily a non-fiction reader. I used to like reading detective forensic mystery books but as a general rule I prefer biographies and psychological tracts. The first book I took out of the public library when I was around 6 or 7 was a biography of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve read many biographies of historical leaders and people from all walks of life. I’m interested in how they know are they distinctive, the times they lived in, what they brought to the table of life, and what obstacles, both internal and external, they acknowledged, used, or overcame.

Several authors who’ve had a profound influence on me: F Scott Fitzgerald, Hermann Hess, Jung (Psychological Types), Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, and Sylvia Plath.

What do you enjoy most about the creative process? And the least?

The least: Endless proof-reading. The most: The idea storm and vision that lead to new ways of seeing and then crafting a word portrait around them.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from Wolf Woman & Other Poems?

The last sentence in the introduction announces my intention. “Awake to the life-affirming possibilities within waiting to be discovered.” My poems— word portraits—are written about universal topics of love, loss, disconnection and reflect depth and resilience. My evocative and provocative poems draw readers into the experience as participants, not as passive observers.

What kind of feedback on Wolf Woman & Other Poems have you received from your readers?

I’ve been thrilled and humbled by the wonderful reviews I’ve received for Wolf Woman. This includes the 5-star review I received from Reader Views. I invite you to www.outskirtspress.com/wolfwoman  for detailed information on Wolf Woman and reviews. Includes 5-star reviews from Readers Favorite Book Reviews.

I write poetry in the confessional mode Sylvia Plath helped to create. I’m not as literate as Plath was and need a thesaurus to read Ariel, but having read many biographies on Plath, including the latest 1000+ page behemoth published in 2020, I emulate her approach, along with her contemporary Ann Sexton, to write ‘womanly, non-literary poems’, poems people can read and understand.

This is the most frequent response I’ve received: “I don’t usually like or understand poetry, but I like and understand yours.”

How can readers connect with you?

I invite readers to visit my author web sites www.outskirtspress.com/wolfwoman and www.outskirtspress.com/momentsinflight

and send queries to mezzo148st@gmail.com

So, what’s next for you? Are you working on something new?

As an indie author responsible for all aspects of book marketing and follow-up, I budget time and monetary resources to connect with readers. Now that I’ve published the memoir and the poetry anthology, I’m concentrating on submitting both books to appropriate contests and awards.

I’m also working on personal essays and a crone chapbook of new poems that I hope to submit for publication. I’ve submitted several poems/essays and plan to submit more this year.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, as a writer, or regarding life in general?

Keep at it; hang in, no matter your age or where you are now. Learn and hone your craft. Set goals and periodically re-evaluate them based on actual experience. Familiarize yourself with the business end of writing: Where to find targeted markets, mentors and professionals, and how to submit your work. Revisit your drafts with fresh eyes and perspective after you let them sit. Writing is serious, and in the main, solitary. Do you, as the late author Joan Didion described it, find that your most enjoyable hours are spent absorbed in moving words around a page?

Do you have any advice for aspiring or emerging poets?

See the above. Purchase a subscription to Poets & Authors.

Thank you for joining us today Jo-Ann and sharing more about yourself and your work!

Thank you for having me.


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