“After the chores were done we would gather on the porch at night and tell stories,” said Jeanne Bryner, winner of a 2009 Ohio Arts Council/VSC Fellowship Award, about the influence of her Appalachian upbringing on her development as a writer. Jeanne moved with her family to Ohio at the age of four, yet her West Virginia roots—in addition to her nursing career—continue to drive her poems and short stories. Her forthcoming volume of poetry, No Matter How Many Windows, took seven years of research through oral history, family letters, public records and tells the stories of her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother and herself. “When I’m moved to write about something,” said Jeanne,” I ask myself these two questions: why is this important and who gets to be remembered. If I can find satisfactory answers to both of those questions, I’ll sign up for it totally and deeply.”
One of the challenges Jeanne has set for herself in her own work is to bear witness to life’s struggles while also embodying its moments of grace. For Jeanne, a VSC residency provides a perfect space to do that. In fact, a majority of the poems in her book, coming out later this year, were written during previous VSC residencies. So it feels fitting that Jeanne’s book jacket photo was taken on the bank of the Gihon River during this one.
“When you’re the nurse in the family or in the neighborhood you’re always on call. At VSC, no one can get a hold of you. The mountains here, they remind me of home; this community of so many artistic disciplines, of serious artists who set the bar higher; the good and generous spirit of this place, fresh flowers on the table, beauty everywhere--it’s what you need to create,” she said. “Generosity begets more generosity. Beauty begets more beauty.”
photo courtesy of Howard Romero