One thing people may not know about Murfreesboro's Poet Laureate is that she began her career as a software developer.
A life-long poet, she has turned a hobby into more as the inaugural Poet Laureate and principal founder of Poetry in the Boro. She has turned the stories of her southern Appalachian family and her wonder of the Space Age into compelling poetry that is featured in her new collection, "Sugar Fix."
Published by Terrapin Books, "Sugar Fix" will be the focus of Wells' upcoming appearance at the 31st annual Southern Festival of Books, Oct. 11-13 in downtown Nashville.
Wells took a little time from her preparations for the festival to answer a few questions about herself, Sugar Fix and the intersection of poetry and technology.
What led you to poetry?
My mother had me writing in a spiral-bound Ski-Hi yellow notebook before I even started school, so I identified as a writer from an early age. We also had the habit of me reading aloud to her - some poetry, and lots of novels - and that undoubtedly developed my ear for language.
As an adult, I was drawn back to poetry in part by practicality - maybe I don't have time to read or write an entire book as quickly as I'd like, but I can certainly make time to enjoy reading one poem a day, or to draft a poem and then carry with me that one poem as I think how I want to refine it.
You are the embodiment of STEAM. Why is it important to include arts education alongside science and technology?
As much as I loved books as a kid, I also loved math and computers - which were kind of new when I was young!
I loved working on a problem and knowing there was one right answer. But of course in our real lives, both individually and in community, there's more than one right solution to our complex problems. Our digital world is phenomenal, and enhances our lives in so many ways, but much of technology distills to zeroes and ones, yeses and nos, black and white, wrong or right.
True problem-solving skills, whether those skills apply to an individual's life or a work project or a community challenge, come from being able to embrace a spectrum of possibilities and connections. That spectrum develops organically when a person of any age creates something, whether it's a painting, a clay pot, or a poem. That spectrum also further develops anytime we give our attention to any kind of art.
Tell us about your book of poetry, 'Sugar Fix.'
Almost every poem in Sugar Fix is some kind of story, and reflects how, to quote my friend the late Michael Williams, "It takes more than one story to tell a story." The collection is rooted in my obsessions for understanding my family history, and by extension our collective history here in the South and as a nation, and how we are all connected.
Different voices - often inspired by my ancestors, especially my foremothers - narrate these poems about love, nature, kinship, race, specific moments in history, and much more. Some poems are sassy and sexy; others are serious; and as you might expect, they are rich with references to chocolate, ice cream, red velvet cake, and other sweets. You definitely need a cup of coffee or a glass of milk to go with this book!
Have you appeared at the Southern Festival of Books before? What should your fans expect?
First of all, I want to remind people that attending Southern Fest isn't only about browsing the booths and books for sale on Legislative Plaza. Although that's a wonderful part of the festival, another important part is the free sessions going on for three days, most inside the Nashville Public Library.
Well-known authors often have an hour to themselves in which they read and discuss their latest book; other writers read and discuss their work in small groups. I've had the chance to be on panels several times, to host panels several times, and also to perform my poetry (with music by my daughter, folk musician Kelsey Wells) on the outdoor stages. Some years I'm just a fan-girl, which is still my favorite way to experience the festival.
My session is at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Teen Studio of Nashville Public Library. I'll be with fellow poets Jeff Hardin and Dan Veach. I expect we'll each read about 15 minutes, then take questions from the session host and/or audience. Immediately after the session, we go to the signing colonnade to sign books. Book sales for authors appearing at the festival are handled under a huge tent managed by Parnassus; part of the proceeds benefit the festival.