About Dasha Kelly
Dasha Kelly is a writer, performer, social entrepreneur and carrot cake connoisseur. As a poet and novelist, her writings have appeared in anthologies, text books, magazines and online. She is also an HBO Def Poetry Jam alum. As founder and director of an outreach initiative utilizing the transformative power of the written and spoken word, Dasha has performed and delivered workshops to writers, youth, educators, co-eds, executives, inmates and artists throughout the U.S. Next week, she makes her return trip to Botswana as an Arts Envoy for the U.S. Embassy.
Sam: Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to write Almost Crimson (Curbside Splendor, 2015)?
Dasha Kelly: I conceive of the character long before I know what their story might be. Typically, I glimpse them in some exchange and then work out who they’re talking to, what’s going on and how they got there. In my initial vision of CeCe, she was in the center of a girlfriend intervention. I saw her as that naive friend we love dearly but we marvel at how life is continuously happening to them. As CeCe and I started to unfold the whys of her story, the influence of family, mothers and depression came together.
SS:What drove you to write the book?
DK: As much as I know people can’t be reduced to a timeline of events, I think knowing the timeline helps us appreciate the person. I want to say knowing the events helps us understand the person but, again, I know that isn’t always true. Nonetheless, I found my own opinion of CeCe changed the more she revealed her events and circumstances. We do that with one another in real life all the time, assign our opinions to people based on things they do, things they don’t know, the habits they cling to or the opportunities they dismiss. So, unfolding her “why” became the book. I also have an empathetic interest in advancing our conversations around mental health. My novella dealt with schizophrenia and this story opens up about when a loved one is impacted by mental health issues. I didn’t grow up with an exposure to mental illness, but developed a fascination in high school. In fact, my initial plans for college were to become a psychologist. Two careers later, I’m still am interested in our modern approaches to mental illness and the stigmas attached to it. While we don’t stigmatize other generational health histories –eczema, cancer, sickle cell, far-sightedness– having mental illness on a family tree is still considered a bitter and dark fruit.
SS:Where or how much does personal experience play into your work?
DK: By and large, my stories are born from broad imagination and extensive people watching. I’m far more inspired by story possibilities that have nothing to do my own. Like most writers, though, my characters will adopt small traits or trinkets from my own life and from lives of people that I’ve met. CeCe’s boss, for instance, is strongly fashioned after a guy I once interviewed with in my previous life as a public relations manager. Also, parts of CeCe’s awkward summer at camp were pulled from an uncomfortable camp experience I had in sixth or seventh grade. Most closely to my own story, though, was that I was also an odd-ball preteen and found school –the learning, the teachers, the after school activities– to be a sacred refuge. The peers? Not so much….
SS: You’re very well known for being a spoken word artist. How has your novel-writing process changed over the years as a result of being a spoken word performer? Has it changed? Do you prefer one method of artistic expression over the other?
DK: Interestingly, fiction has always been my first love. I started writing short stories when I was ten but didn’t have any interest in poetry until my late twenties. By then, I’d written plenty of short stories, a few children’s book projects and even published a novella. For me, they’re both about whittling words into something artistic, be it someone’s story or my own thoughts. I think having the patience and diligence for long-form writing is what makes my poems rich in a unique way. I appreciate the enormity of small details and don’t try to rush the process of getting from idea to polished performance piece. I don’t know that spoken word has influenced my fiction in the same way. If anything, I know to be mindful of metaphors that may extend a bit further than what’s reasonable or, perhaps, passages that are florid for beauty’s sake rather than moving the story along. The main difference has been how much time I’ve invested in my fiction versus my poetry. Poems and their resulting performances have had a more immediate return over the past decade. Fiction always felt like a sumptuous treat I could only allow myself every once in a while. At a certain point, after taking as many poetic leaps of faith that made sense for me, I knew it was time to focus on my native tongue, as it were. While spoken word may not have altered my fiction writing process, it most definitely has proven to be a powerful influence in my excerpt readings.
SS: Can you give me 5 adjectives you think best describe Almost Crimson?
DK: Sincere, charming, familiar, human, beautiful.
SS: What drink would you say best characterizes the work? You don’t have to name a specific brand (unless you want to). I’m looking for an answer like beer, wine, bourbon, vodka, coffee, tea, et cetera
DK: Whiskey without question! Sip it slow. No ice or chaser or mixers necessary. Trust the ride.
SS: What are you working on now?
DK: I wrote my first screenplay last year and have an industry friend who’s offered to help me edit and format it. Before that, I want to expand the story into a full-length novel. In writing the screenplay version, I missed being able to lose myself in the back story and interior dialogue. The same way I eschewed journalism and reporting because of the straight ahead writing. The story, called Baker’s Dozen, turned into something of a mystery, so I’m glad all of those plot points have been aligned and calibrated already. I’ve already begun adding more flesh to the story and hope to have a draft done by year’s end.
The Simplest and Most Beautiful Drink Known to Humankind
Inspiration: Dasha’s words of whisk-dom ring true and I did not want to muddle them. This isn’t so much a cocktail as it is an exercise in whiskey appreciation.
2 oz Maker’s Mark (or another of your choosing)
Method: Sit in a comfortable place. Find your favorite record/CD/MP3 and put it on. Keep the light low, let the music come over you. Pick up your glass and sniff it. Take in the notes of oak and vanilla. Swirl it and smell again. Has it changed? Maybe, maybe not. Take a sip and swirl it around—Just enough to lightly coat your tongue and the insides of your cheeks. Feel it there. Notice how the flavor may differ a little. Swallow, sniff, and take another sip. Realize how the whiskey interacts with the environment around you. Are you drinking with someone else? Does it play the unheard notes in the music that’s on in the background? Continue sipping, slowly.