★ On the hunt for new voices with Artemis’ Jeri Rogers and Maurice Ferguson

artemis-logoArtemis Journal has its roots in personal transformation and community building. The journal had gone quiet for a number of years, but following a 2014 resurgence, the energy of the longstanding creative team seems boundless. The Blue Ridge poetry and art journal has expanded its focus and reach and this year announces some new collaborations.  With a call for submissions currently open, it’s a good time to catch up with Editor and Founder Jeri Rogers and Literary Editor Maurice Ferguson.

BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke: How did Artemis begin?

Rogers2Jeri Rogers: From the beginning Artemis combined art and literature. It started in 1977 when I was a director of a newly opened Women’s Counseling Center in Roanoke. I was given a grant to do a photographic study of mountain women to tie-in with the opening of the counseling center. The year long effort resulted in a fine art show at the Art Museum of Western Virginia titled Season of Women.

During that time I saw the real hardships experienced by our clients, and I sensed that writing workshops could help the women to process and work through their dilemmas.  Writers volunteered to lead workshops, and we saw amazing results. The growth and transformation of these women was a wonderful thing to behold. I then decided to start a feminist journal highlighting the results of the writing by our clients. For the first three years the journal thrived and was supported by our community. The third year, a poet changed his name from Robert to Roberta and we published his poem thinking he was a she! To the consternation of my fellow co-workers, we decided men should have an equal voice, and we opened up the journal to men. Times were changing back then! And they changed for the better.

BCR: You were well ahead of the 2015 Best American Poetry scandal around a misleading pen name! That must have been an interesting time for you. How else has Artemis changed over the years?

JR: Artemis has had a long journey through many alterations, but I believe the original intention of using art to help shift and revise one’s reality has been the bedrock of our mission. By fostering excellence in the arts and literature, Artemis enriches life in our communities. We have continued our tradition of presenting a number of first-time published poets and artists. They debut their work alongside professional writers and artists. These professionals inspire and draw an audience.

Past journals have highlighted the work of Nikki Giovanni, acclaimed poet, Beth Macy, best-selling author, and Ron Smith, Virginia Poet Laureate. This coming journal for 2018 will feature the best selling author Sharyn McCrumb. We believe in the healing power of art to build community and Sharyn McCrumb’s work is an admirable example of this while it entertains us with wonderful stories. As an author, Ms. McCrumb holds up a beacon for all of us and we are honored to have her as our featured guest writer for 2018.

fergusonMaurice Ferguson: Due to the Internet and the digital age, our reach has expanded. In the last four years, some of our best poetry has come from California, Minnesota and Ohio. The journal might appeal to Appalachia and the Blue Ridge but its poetry and art extend far beyond geographical limitations.

We are also willing to consider previously published work as long as the artist or poet acknowledges the previous publisher. This policy has allowed us to receive excellent poetry from Natasha Trethewey, Katherine Soniat, Susan Hankla, Rita Quillen, Jessica Jacobs and Caroyln Kreiter-Foronda as well as others.

BCR: What else is the team currently involved in? 

MF: This year we will organize the Artemis Journal fall reading at Hollins University. Artemis has a history of having public events. It started the Winter Lights Festival. It created the Blue Ridge Writer’s Conference, which ran for several years before we turned it over to other providers. For years, we held annual readings at Festival-in-the-Park. It has gone into the schools in the past. It sponsored a collaboration between Nikki Giovanni and Mayor Noel Taylor and the First Street Baptist Church. It has been recognized with a Perry Kendig Award for its contributions to the community. And this year, it will publish the winning entry for the Charles Steger Foundation prize through a collaboration with Nikki Giovanni as well as a winning science fiction prose piece in collaboration with California NOW (Network of Women).

BCR: This year, the annual publication’s theme is “Women hold up half the sky.” How did the theme emerge?          

JR: Given the current political and cultural climate, my editors and I decided that we need to go back to our roots of highlighting the contributions that women make in our society. The origin of Artemis is rooted in social activism when we encouraged our abused women clients to express themselves through poetry and art as a therapeutic tool.  “Women hold up half the sky” will be full circle showcasing the writing and art of women and men who celebrate women in our community.

It was a bit of serendipity to see last week’s Roanoke Times interview with Sharyn McCrumb. Her new book about a women’s spirit trying to avenge her murder seemed to fit right in with our theme and origin as a feminist journal.

MF: With Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood in jeopardy, with all the abusive rhetoric of the alternative right, we thought a feminist theme might spark some feistiness from poets and artists in America. I love this theme and I hope it leads to our best journal yet.

BCR: It’s definitely a fitting role for Artemis. We’ll look for it in the spring of 2018, and there’s still time for folks to contribute. What’s next for Artemis?

JR: Artemis is collaborating with several organizations to enlarge our audience and voice in the arts. These include Valley Voices, a vibrant poetry organization in the New River Valley and the Light Bringer Project based in Los Angeles.

Our theme has been embraced by Valley Voices and we hope that their audience and writers will submit work. And we should give a little more detail on the science fiction collaboration. The Light Bringer Project is a world-wide contest for the Science Fiction Fantasy. They have created an Artemis category using a feminist bent with female lead characters to the story. The awards include a financial prize titled “Women hold up half the sky,” and the winner will be published in our 2018 Artemis Journal.

The enthusiasm for the Science Fiction genre has opened up a new category for writing for Artemis and there are plans to publish an anthology of the winners by Wilder Publishing, who helps publish our journal Artemis.

We are a 501(c) charitable organization, and we depend on the sales of our journals, donations and fund raisers. Our major sponsors include the Taubman Museum of Art and the Roanoke Arts Commission. The Roanoke Arts Commission has awarded grants to Artemis, which have enabled us to bring in notable speakers for public programs. We are very grateful to the Taubman Museum of Art, who graciously donates space each year for our journal launch.

MF: I have emphysema and I’m taking it all one day at a time. The progress Jeri has made with the Roanoke Arts Commission and the Taubman Museum speaks volumes. It would be great to present a group of poets reading poetry about art in conjunction with the Taubman Museum. An anthology: Artemis Journal (1977-2018) might be an idea. We did this in 2000 as an online journal and I was astonished at the variety of the poetry and art. It might be great to see a Dorothy Gillespie gracing the Artemis pages alongside some of the great writers of the past.

BCR: Speaking of the past, Artemis went on a hiatus for a number of years, and then you kicked it back into gear. When you restarted, what did you find had changed in the local literary scene?

writesMF: The local literary scene has been enlivened by Beth Macy’s accomplishments. Most of the poetry has come from either Hollins University writers or from writers mostly in the New River Valley. We continue to look for young writers with talent and we have been impressed in recent years with Ashley Rhame and Linde Furman. We had the good fortune of publishing Darcey Steinke while she was a student at Cave Spring High School, and we will continue to work to find young writers. We have recently accepted a rap poem from a young woman from Ohio. We really try to take a broader view that extends beyond college campuses.

However, we’re not seeing as much of what I like to call coffeehouse poems these days. I would urge libraries, coffeehouses and even restaurants and bookstores to provide venues for young struggling writers to express themselves. As Walt Whitman said, “To have great poets, there must be great audiences.”

Thanks for encouraging both. It’s a great note to end on.


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