Mentor to Lisa Rowan
Gianna Russo: I’m the author of the poetry collections, One House Down (Madville Publishing, 2019); Moonflower, winner of a Florida Book Award; and two chapbooks, Blue Slumber and The Companion of Joy.
I’m founding editor of YellowJacket Press (and) was named Creative Loafing’s Best of the Bay Local Poet in 2017. I hold an MFA in poetry from the University of Tampa and am Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Saint Leo University, where I teach in both the undergraduate and graduate programs and serve as editor-in-chief of Sandhill Review and director of the Sandhill Writers Retreat.
CP: Have you ever mentored another artist before?
GR: Yes, other local poets and lots of budding writers that I’ve mentored throughout my teaching career.
CP: What has your relationship with your mentee been like?
GR: Wonderful! Lisa and I hit it off immediately. We both have tons of enthusiasm, a passion for craft, and a desire to be the best writers we can be. Plus, (we’re) both smart as hell.
CP: When you meet, what types of things do you work on?
GR: We’ve talked about her work quite a bit, but also the writing process and the writing life. For instance, how valuable is it just to stare at the rain? When you’re writing an apocalyptic novel about flooding, for Lisa it is invaluable!
CP: What do you hope is the most important thing she took away from her time working with you?
GR: This is a hard one, because Lisa already has a lot in the bag. But the most important quality we writers can have is perseverance. So, I hope I impart that to her.
CP: Have you seen any changes to her work or approach to art since you started working with her?
GR: Yes. One thing I’ve encouraged Lisa to do is make whatever she is already doing work for what she needs. In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel unnecessarily.
She’s told me she’s taken pieces of her writing that aren’t quite there yet and tucked them away for possible later use. That’s one way to conquer work load and to work smart.
CP: How has this mentorship influenced your own work as an artist?
GR: Meeting with Lisa has made me call out myself and say, “Hey, you need to be writing.”
When we first met, I was in a slump and I couldn’t bear the thought of seeming to be a fraud or hypocrite. Now, as we head into the home stretch, I’m not only writing, but I’m about to undertake a poetry challenge. That will get the juices flowing. Thanks, Lisa!