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September 28, 2015

UMS Artists in Residence: Meet Russell Brakefield


Editor’s note: UMS is in the second season of its Artists in “Residence” program. Five residents from across disciplines take residence at our performances throughout our season. We’ll profile each resident here on UMS Lobby.

Russell Brakefield received his MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. He lives in Ann Arbor where he teaches writing at the University of Michigan and works as a bookseller and as the managing editor for Canarium Books. His most recent work appears in The Southern Indiana Review, Hobart, and Language Lessons: An Anthology by Third Man Records.

UMS: Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the arts.

IMG_2108Russell Brakefield: I grew up in Michigan, near Grand Rapids. I studied World Literature and Creative Writing at Central Michigan University. I got my MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 2011. Since then I’ve been writing and teaching here in Ann Arbor. I write poetry, primarily, but I’m also interested in creative nonfiction, music, and a range performance arts. My passion for poetry is highly motivated and influenced by my background and interests in music. I teach writing at the University of Michigan and during the summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts.

UMS: Can you tell us a little about your creative process? Where can we find you working on your art?

RB: I really enjoy writing at home at my desk. There is a dog that sits with me sometimes. I’m usually at my best after doing something physically demanding or after an occasion for inspiration such as a reading or concert, traveling, or outdoor adventures. I write very slowly and often spend hours reading for every hour I’m composing, a balance I’m happy with most of the time. I like being locked into a project, doing research, and writing through questions and conflicts from my own life. Writing serves me best when the process is teaching me something.

UMS: What inspires your art? Can you tell us about something you came across lately (writing, video, article, piece of art) that we should check out too?

RB: I suppose I’m moved most often by images, images from the world around me or images drawn for me by writers and other artists. I’m also often inspired by questions or conflicts related to our daily lives–communication, relationships, etc. I enjoy works of art that confront those questions and conflicts. I’m currently working on a book that draws inspiration from American folk music and uses it as a backdrop to explore issues related to family, geography, and time. A musician named Jayme Stone put together a fabulous recording and tour called The Lomax Project that happened to coincide with some research and writing that I was doing about the American folk archivist Alan Lomax.

Here is a great video from that project:

Other major inspirations this year included a book by Brandon Som called The Tribute Horse and, most recently, the new poems of Michigan’s own Linda Gregerson.

UMS: Are you engaged with the local arts community? Tell us about groups or events that we should know about.

RB: I feel very lucky to be involved with the local arts community here in Ann Arbor and with the local music scene in Michigan. I work part time at Literati Bookstore. Between Literati and the Zell Visiting Writers Series, the amount of readings I have to choose from in a given week is incredible. I’m really excited about the work One Pause Poetry is doing as well, bringing some amazing writers to read in really interesting and dynamic spaces in Ann Arbor. And this doesn’t even begin to mention all the great concerts and performances that happen in Ann Arbor. I love UMS. I love the Ark. And I love some of the great homespun music forces in this state too–Earthwork Music, Double Phelix, so many others.

UMS: Which performances are you most excited about this season and why?

RB: I’m really looking forward to the Tanya Tagaq performance. Nanook of the North haunted me as a child. And, of course, I’m extremely excited for Anne Carson’s Antigone.

UMS: Anything else you’d like to say?

RB: I’m just very honored to be doing a residency with UMS! I’m looking forward to all the performances and am excited for the chance to expand my artistic community.

Interested in more? Watch for more artist profiles on UMS Lobby throughout this week.