Interview: The Transgressions of Barbara Leonhard
Interview conducted by Nolcha Fox
In this exclusive interview for A Thin Slice of Anxiety Nolcha Fox delves into the extraordinary journey of Barbara Leonhard, an enchanting wordsmith whose pen weaves together the fabric of emotion and introspection.
As an editor and poet, Leonhard's path has been one of discovery, reflection, and boundless inspiration, captivating readers with the profound resonance of her verses and the boundless inspiration that breathes life into her poetry.
NF: You mentioned that you’ve been writing since you were eight years old. Tell me about your personal writing journey. What drew you into writing?
BL: My parents read to me. They said I was able to repeat a story after hearing it once. However, that changed when l fell ill with measles encephalitis, which paralyzed me suddenly one day when I was six years old. I was unable to speak, walk, or move my arms away from my body. I went into a month-long coma. When I finally opened my eyes, I was able to speak but not walk. Because I wanted to play with my friends, I taught myself how to walk again. I think that childhood illness stirred something in me, and I had the urge to write. (Also, while I was sick, I had a near-death experience, which contributed to my imaginative and intuitive self.) I would write poems and stories on little memo pads, and my parents would have me recite them to guests. Throughout school, I would write poems or stories for classes. I started publishing in college. However, having to work two jobs to pay for tuition throughout my higher education and career kept me busy. It wasn’t until I retired that I could fully embrace my love for writing.
NF: I know you write book reviews and poetry. Any other kind of writing you enjoy doing?
BL: I write nonfiction. On my blog, extraordinarysunshineweaver, I have essays and memoir pieces, many with background about my poetry book. I have also started writing short reviews of poetry books. My entire career was spent teaching writing, among other skills, to international students, and I wrote a composition book called “Discoveries in Academic Writing” (Heinle, 1999) for high-intermediate English as a Second Language (ESL) writers.
NF: You’ve lived mostly in small towns and small cities. How has that shaped your writing?
BL: Living in small towns and small cities taught me about community. My father was a Presbyterian minister and, later in life, a college English professor. We were able to meet a lot of people and listen to stories about their lives. I was a good listener, which helps me when I write dialogue and even in my poetry, having a sense of intonation, rhythm, and tone. I find I’m a storyteller, even in my poetry.
NF: You taught English as a Second Language. How did you choose that career (or how did it choose you)?
BL: In college, I was an English major, and in graduate school, I added linguistics to my studies. I was fascinated with how authors used language to shape their themes. I enjoyed doing structural analyses of texts. Also, I was a teaching assistant in the University of Missouri-Columbia English Department. I was often asked to teach courses with special focuses, like women’s studies. Because I was among a minority of students studying linguistics, I was given the sections of composition for international students. Doing that, I made connections that led me to be hired part-time at the new Intensive English Program. Eventually, I was hired full-time and stayed with the program until I retired. It was a challenging and rewarding career.
NF: What is the story behind you taking over as editor of MasticadoresUSA?
BL: That was a huge surprise which I almost turned down, feeling unqualified. But I just love this position. Again, connections led me to it. While I was finishing up my book, I met my publisher through Gabriela Marie Milton, whom I often visited with on Twitter and WordPress, as I love her poetry. Gabriela was working on the anthology, “Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women,” and Ingrid Wilson’s company EIF-Experiments in Fiction was going to publish the anthology. Gabriela asked the contributors to the anthology to help promote the book, so I wrote to Ingrid Wilson about helping out with that. I had already heard about Ingrid’s company and had a query letter written to her, but I felt timid. She was so approachable that I sent the letter and she accepted my book. Also, Gabriela and I had another connection through Victoria Onofrei, who has an award-winning poetry show called Victoria in Verse on Bloomsbury Radio in London. Gabriela and I were invited to read poems on Victoria’s memorial show about Queen Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Gabriela was busy at work building her new publishing company. Once it was ready to launch, she wrote to me offering the position of Editor for MasticadoresUSA, and I accepted. I had some things published in MasticadoresUSAand never expected that one day I would be editing for it.
NF: What did you do to boost MasticadoresUSA to 50,000 hits?
BL: I started the editing position at the end of November 2022. Since MasticadoresUSA was established in 2019, Gabriela had already established a wonderful array of contributors whom I hoped would remain with me, and most of them did. By the end of December, the number of visits was around 27,000. Getting it to 50,000 was an unexpected surprise. What I did that may have helped is advertising on social media often. I sent out frequent submission calls on all my social media and on Facebook, my several poetry/writing pages. (My post about the submission calls is one of the most viewed publications). I also decided to publish daily, rather than 3 times a week, so people see the magazine often. I encourage the authors to share or reblog their publications to grow their audiences. I also share and reblog my publications on MasticadoresUSA, as the editors are expected by the Director of the Masticadores editions to put their own writing up. The more we share, the more people see the publications because everyone has their own friends and readers. Most importantly, I am respectful to the authors and the community of MasticadoresUSA. I thank each author for their submission in the comment section after their publication. All my email exchanges are friendly and fun. Some of the MasticadoresUSA authors have actually started referring authors to me. New authors attract new readers, too. Kindness and generosity create positive outcomes.
NF: Why did you decide to write “Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir?” Why write poetry instead of a regular memoir?
BL: When I first designed my storyboard, I had in mind a regular expository memoir. I even enrolled in an online memoir course called Memoir Writing Ink, taught by the award-winning memoirist Alison Wearing. This course helped me organize my poetic memoir, even though the majority of books Alison recommended were nonfiction. You see, when Mom died, I started writing poetry about her and me. It just came more naturally to use free verse. I felt poetry helped to create a wonderful medium for the memoir. I found several other poetic memoirs, also, which I studied as models. So, I decided to continue with the poetic form, applying the principles I was learning for the elements of memoir in the course I took. My publisher actually told me my book reads like a novel.
NF: You and I fell into collaborating together chasing email gremlins through my first publication in MasticadoresUSA(you can correct my memory on that). What do you think about collaborating?
BL: You’re a godsend to me. I’m learning how to let go and be free of worry about my poetry. I’ve felt blocked since I published my book. What we are doing is light-hearted yet meaningful, taking me out of grief and sorrow. Also, collaborating has an enjoyable process involving reading and understanding a poetic piece and responding in the same tone and style. You and I have similar humor. We play on words, which I love to do. Within each collaboration, there is a story, as well, and I tend to like telling stories in my poems. I really needed a bridge from my memoir, which was an intense healing experience, to a new venture into poetry. Our connection has enabled me to go on with my life, so to speak.
NF: If you don’t mind, I’d like to share one of our collaborations here. My stanzas are on the left, yours are on the right. We published it for the Tenth Annual Contest of Whatever.
NF: Why did you decide to start hosting open mics and readings during the pandemic?
BL: I think it has to do with connections. My fellow writers and I were all sequestered away from each other, and I desired more contact. I got a Zoom account and invited people to share poetry. Around that time I became secretary for our local Writers Guild, a branch of the state Writers Guild. We started to use Zoom for meetings. There was no one I knew of who headed up the poets, so I started doing poetry open mics and even a poetry critique group on Zoom monthly. I also helped another guild member continue her quarterly readings featuring local poets and writers on Zoom. I now feel a stronger sense of community despite the pandemic.
NF: What projects are you working on now?
BL: Mainly the editing position with MasticadoresUSA and some review writing of poetry books. I would like to do another poetry book about the social and political themes of our times. I have some poems accumulating that might work out. In an anthology published by our guild featuring writers from all over the place, one year I won a poetry prize for one of my poems and an honorary mention for another. “Picasso Dreams Broken Glass” won 3rd place. The other poem was about George Floyd’s death.
End of Interview
Nolcha Fox has written all her life, starting with poop and crayons on the walls. Her poems have been published in Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Alien Buddha Zine, Medusa’s Kitchen, and others. Her three chapbooks are available on Amazon.
Barbara Leonhard’s work appears in online and print literary magazines, journals, and anthologies, and her poetry has won many awards and recognitions. On Spillwords, she was voted Author of the Month of October 2021, nominated Author of the Year for 2021, and recognized as a Spillwords Socialite of the Year in 2021. Barbara is now Editor for MasticadoresUSA. Her debut poetry collection, Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir (Experiments in Fiction, 2022), which is about her relationship with her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, and is a best seller on Amazon. Barbara lives in the Midwest of the United States with her husband, Dierik, and their cat, Jasper.