10 Questions for Jennifer Gibbs
- By Abby MacGregor
“My father calls in tears to tell me that two burly paramedics have just wrestled my mother to the ground, strapped her into a straitjacket, and forced her inside an ambulance. I am, in this moment, on a meditation retreat. Never in my life have I gone on a meditation retreat. And never since.” —from Marigold, Spring 2018 (Vol. 60, Issue 1)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The first piece I ever wrote was an unfinished novel, when I was nine. I taught myself to touch type on my mother’s electric typewriter, then decided I would compose a novel on that magical mystical machine. I remember the tingle of excitement as I tapped the words. The manuscript proceeded dramatically, though at a snail’s pace, for one page, single-spaced. The next week, I became embroiled in a spy network run by the kids in my neighborhood, so I never did pick up the thread of that novel. I have forgotten what it was about, except for one detail: the weather was stormy. The first piece of fiction I completed as a legal adult was a play I wrote from fragments of my dreams, for Adrienne Kennedy’s playwriting class at Harvard: Lillian, a one-woman show. Adrienne Kennedy was the professor who changed my life.
What other professions have you worked in?
Playwrights are often also actors. I was an actor during my twenties and thirties, and I directed and produced live events and shows. One of my more reputable day jobs was assistant to a public relations & media consultant. She was the best boss, kind and classy. And I worked freelance doing online interviews of lifestyle celebrities for women’s magazines, in the early days of all that. I got to ask Heloise about household hints, and Sarah, Duchess of York, about Weight Watchers, and Cindy Crawford about baby strollers. I was put on the phone, given a list of questions, told to engage that day’s celebrity in conversation, and type their words live online as they spoke. I was valued for my phone manner plus my speed-typing skills. Thanks, mom and your electric typewriter. Given my aversion to social media, it’s hard to believe that I once worked in PR.
What did you want to be when you were young?
A witch, a music teacher, or a novelist.
What inspired you to write this piece?
I wanted to build an honest space out of my experience of serial grief, a space where people could come visit and maybe realize that they are not alone. It was that simple. The process of writing then became its own ritual, which has turned the manuscript into something I didn’t expect.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
My childhood home in Iowa, where I played in the woods, or in my father’s metalworking studios (he was a sculptor). My parents were “back-to-the-land” artists.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Each project has its own vastly different music. I often make a playlist “mixtape,” which I listen to on a loop while working. Actually, that was more true before I became a mother. Now I wedge a lot of my work time into the quiet hours of early morning and late night—during the day, I escape to a work space where my headphones never quite fit into my computer. Then I default to WQXR, New York’s classical public radio, played as inconspicuously as possible, from my computer speaker.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I often work on one to three projects at a time, in different disciplines. So, for example, if I’m writing a prose piece and a script simultaneously, I try to keep to the same daily shifts for each project. My body and my brain just “know” how to work, when I sit down at those times—say, nine in the morning until noon for the prose; noon till two for the script. Then it’s time to pick up my son from school, or to meet with a collaborator.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Visual art. I was raised as a visual artist and there is nothing else like the way my brain feels while drawing or painting.
What are you working on currently?
Creating/developing two new television shows, writing my next play, marinating on beginning a novel.
What are you reading right now?
Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red; Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, Book 5; and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Titan’s Curse (my son and I read books together).
JENNIFER GIBBS is an award-winning playwright, performer, and screenwriter. Her plays have been presented nationally and internationally. She wrote her first book, Marigold, about her experience of serial grief. Raised by back-to-the-land artists in Iowa, Gibbs can operate a backhoe. She now lives in New York City with her husband and eight-year-old son. Her play Immortality (Edna St. Vincent Millay) is forthcoming from the Massachusetts Review’s Working Titles.