Tenea Johnson

Tenea D. Johnson is the author of Starting Friction, a poetry/prose collection, as well as the novels, R/evolution and Smoketown, of which Publisher’s Weekly wrote “the understated, lyrical prose makes even small moments feel triumphant.” Smoketown went on to win the Parallax Award while R/evolution received an honorable mention that year.
Her short stories have been published in anthologies including Sycorax’s Daughters, Shades of Blue and Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War, and Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond. When words alone won’t suffice she performs musical prose at venues like The Public Theater, Knitting Factory and literary salons. She strives to give readers what the world sometimes lacks—a sense of wonder and limitless possibility, kinetic evolution and social justice. Her virtual home is teneadjohnson.com. Stop by anytime.


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On Grace

On Grace

As a counterpoint to kvetching about schedules and priorities, some words for grace:

Beauty may not be easy, or easy to bear, but often it’s a gift, an assemblage of the right elements in the right proportion.

Like most I’m a sucker for beauty, genetically predisposed to it we’re told by evolutionary biology. My definition of beauty may differ from another, but it still has a power.

Even when people say have a dominant feature that allows them to be extraordinarily beautiful, it’s often a single one that stands out on a field of other proportionate charms.

People strive to be beautiful, work to maintain it. It’s the same with manicured spaces. In contrast, wild beauty ebbs and flows as growth and die-off reach and exceed balance.

Grace though more often than not is a choice.

Grace is a steadiness in any wind. A movement, a moment, a word. If you’re particularly adept, it can last a lifetime.

The people I most admire have grace. They may not know their left foot from their right, but they also have the uncanny ability to be beautiful in the ugliest times. (This is not to say that one defers or keeps quiet. That is merely obedience, obeisance, perhaps fear, but never grace.)

The writers I most admire have it as well—when they’re overarching themes come together as effortlessly as their sentences.*

Grace is aspirational. It does not belong to a religion, a gender, or a class. It is a practice, a skill you can hone. That’s my approach to writing.

When it is achieved, for however long it lasts, grace captures you. But it only wants to hold you and nurture you and set you down soft in some place better than you were before—this lovely, lit place it’s made in your mind, in the center of you, if only until something comes to cover it up. But until it does you revel.

That’s something worth pursuing.

–Tenea D. Johnson

*Notice I didn’t say flawlessly. Flaws are subjective. I’ll spare you the philosophical argument and just say that effort is less susceptible to the same reductions.


Update: Hustle Hard

Update: Hustle Hard

A few weeks ago, I was kvetching about my irons in the fire. (yes, ‘kvetching’ –  I’m a strong proponent of proper diction). It only seems right then to provide an update before I go.

  • putting the finishing touches on a new novel years in the making and handling the release. In progress.
  • writing and recording compositions for a multimedia project. In progress
  • applying for a grant. Complete.
  • making peace with social media and marketing (it may just be a ceasefire). Back to the negotiating table. (Devising a strategy I’ll adhere to.)
  • writing. As you can imagine, in progress.
  • learning new programming languages for multimedia pieces. I can write programs now, currently pretty simple, but correct and executable. I now know phrases like “close to the metal” and can pass arguments.
  • creating (a) piece(s) for the Creative Pinellas show in September. Complete.
  • meeting about collaborations (perhaps more on this as it materializes). Complete, but mum is still the word. I’ll update at teneadjohnson.com once the dust settles and the ink is dry.
  • setting up an umbrella business for established and new ventures. 85% complete.
  • scouting for and finishing freelance editing/proofreading work. As ever, in progress.
  • wrestling with the age-old question: to day job or not to day job? I’m creating my own job. Designate as you see fit.

For a month’s worth of work, I’ll take it. Progress supercedes perfection.


In lieu of today’s manifesto

In Lieu of Today’s Manifesto

Recently someone suggested I write a manifesto. Maybe. Part of me is resistant to explaining work, that it should stand alone and if it can’t is it successful? Also why guide interpretation? If you define the meaning isn’t it more artifact than art?

So no manifesto today (not for artistic work anyway). In lieu of that here are a few favorite author observations:

I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.  –James Baldwin

Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.–Octavia Butler

. . . make a virtue of your peculiarities.–Ursula K. LeGuin

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.–Kurt Vonnegut

They’ve said it so well. So for now at least let’s just leave it at that.


*Creative Pinellas welcomes submissions from practicing artists for publication in our artists directory. To submit, please fill out the form here. Such publication does not constitute on endorsement by Creative Pinellas and does not imply a judgement about the quality of the work or the participating artist.