“Fieldnotes” with Steven Withrow:
One Impossibly New Idea Before Breakfast

h1 November 30th, 2009 by jules

I’m going to try something new here at 7-Imp, and it involves this guy here, writer and researcher and teacher and editor and producer/film-maker and poet (whew) Steven Withrow, pictured here with his beautiful daughter. Steven is going to contribute one post a month here at 7-Imp, and just below here in a moment, he’ll tell you what that contribution will be. I’ll still be 7-Imp editor (7-Impitor? Where’s Little Willow when you need some creative phrasing?), but once a month, Steven will be here to provide some new and exciting content. At least I think it sounds great, and all I have to do is take what he’s written and the images he’s provided and post it, people! I get to kick back and read and enjoy, just like you will. Dudes! This’ll be a treat.

I’ll let him tell you all about it. I asked him to introduce himself and to let us know, in his own words, who he is, what he’s done, what he’s all about, and—of course—what turns him on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally. (He has a good answer for that one.) He rose to the challenge, conducting an energetic, fast-paced interview with himself. (Kudos to him for managing to fit his professional and personal life into less than 800 words.) And, because he chose to close his introduction with his favorite books (and good ones, at that), I have a feeling he’ll fit in comfortably when he stops by here monthly, as a rabid, insane, bordering-on-pathological passion for good books is required to be a contributor.

I should add that Steven is the co-producer of this fabulous project, which I had posted about here a while back. When he suggested what specifically he could contribute to the blog, I immediately liked the idea, since there’s always a lot I want to do at 7-Imp and lots of folks I want to chat with — but never quite have the time.

Oh, and the poetry at Steven’s blog is really quite good, so I’m going to close the post with one of his original poems. My thanks to Steven, and here we go:

Steven Withrow Introducing Steven Withrow; Or, Crackling Speech . . .

* * * * * * *

Hello, everyone. Because she is wise and powerful {Ed. Note: AS IF}, Jules has invited me to contribute a monthly post to 7-Imp. I’m calling these posts “Fieldnotes,” and they will go up on or around the 15th of each month for the foreseeable future. Each note centers on a children’s publishing professional, or an expert from a related area, who is not primarily known as an author or illustrator—a publisher, editor, agent, art director, designer, critic, scholar, professor, librarian, bookseller, printer, marketer, museum curator, etc. (Suggestions are always welcome.) The first will be an interview with art director and book designer Susan M. Sherman on December 15.

So…who am I? Read on, and I’ll tell you a little about myself and try to explain why Jules so generously offered me this opportunity to share my love of books and book-making with you all.

Withrow: Your childhood in one hundred words…GO!

Withrow: Born on a military base in Maryland—March 10, 1974. At the time, my dad was ground radio officer for Air Force One. Moved around many times as a kid, mostly in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Have two sisters and a brother. Fell madly in love with books, comics, cartoons, theatre, movies, music, poetry. Lived for story time in the elementary school library. Daydreamed through math class. Adapted, directed, and starred in a stage play of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in fifth grade. Obsessive reader through high school. Started writing seriously (and not so seriously) at fifteen. Haven’t stopped.


Page from “Manuwahi” by Steven and Roberto Corona

Withrow: Not bad. How about your college years in fifty words, smart guy?

Withrow: Studied creative writing, literature, and journalism at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island…. Earned a master’s degree in writing and publishing from Emerson College in Boston in 1999. Thesis project was children’s poetry collection. Also researched/wrote middle-grade/young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Withrow: Work life in twenty-five words?

Withrow: Have edited molecular biology journals, magazines, and books. Dropped out of science publishing. Have worked in hotel marketing, university publications, greeting cards, and nonprofit communications.

Withrow: You write books, too? When do you sleep?

Withrow: I don’t sleep as much as I should. While working on some independent comics projects back in 2002, I was hired by The Ilex Press in the UK to write an instructional trade book about digital cartooning in ten weeks. Toon Art was published around the world in 2003. Webcomics (with John Barber) followed in 2005.


Switched publishers to RotoVision and have written Character Design for Graphic Novels (2007; with Alexander Danner), Vector Graphics and Illustration (2008; with Jack Harris), Secrets of Digital Animation (2009), and Illustrating Children’s Picture Books (2009; with Lesley Breen Withrow).





This has led to teaching/speaking gigs at Suffolk University, Rhode Island School of Design, and the Center for Cartoon Studies. I also have several fiction, poetry, comics, and picture book manuscripts in the works. Assorted comics stories can be read on Comicspace. My writing and poetry blog is Crackles of Speech.

Withrow: My sources say you’re producing a film now. Is this true? And don’t you ever slow down?

Withrow: The Library of the Early Mind is a feature-length documentary film about children’s literature, directed and co-produced by journalist and author Edward J. Delaney, who was my teacher at Roger Williams University. It’s been a dream-come-true project for me, and I’ve been able to converse with and learn from many of my literary gods and goddesses. My non-stop research about the history, culture, and business of books for young readers over the past twenty years is finally paying off. We are now in the midst of editing the film for festival release in 2010. Stay tuned!

{Ed. Note: Pictured above is Steven interviewing author Jack Gantos for the film, and below is Ted Delaney and Steven interviewing Mo Willems.}

Withrow: Anything else you’d like to share?

Withrow: I’ve known my wife, Lesley Breen Withrow, who is a very talented children’s illustrator, for nearly seventeen years. We met my second day of college and got married just before September 11, 2001. We now have a four-year-old wunderkind of a daughter, Marin Jeanne, and we live outside Providence, Rhode Island, with a small and often droll black cat.


Steven and Lesley at R. Michelson Galleries


Marin at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

My all-time favorite book is Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, followed closely by A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. A few recent favorite books I’ve read include Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, Once Upon a Twice by Denise Doyen and Barry Moser, Stitches by David Small, and Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy by Leonard S. Marcus.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Steven: “Grackle.”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Steven: “Cannot.”

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Steven: Getting lost in a really good book.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Steven: Tedious mathematical equations.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Steven: My daughter’s voice.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Steven: A smoke alarm going off.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Steven: Theatre actor.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Steven: Funeral director.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Steven: “Now let me explain to you what that was all about.”

* * * * * * *

And here, to close, is one of Steven’s original poems, “Rockhoppers,” a fitting poem as we say goodbye to Thanksgiving, at least for this year:

Under the right whale bones
breaching the blue ceiling
of the New England Aquarium,
a waddle of rockhopper penguins,
tufted punks from the South Pole,
skrawks in a raucous chorus
as a feeder wades in wetsuited,
floating a bucket of tiny fish
for their lunch. And Marin,
who is four, watches them
through the low glass partition
with an aquarist’s rigor,
her mirrored mouth mimicking each grab
and gulp of open orange beak. She
presses against me, daughter
of my grateful heart, and asks,
“Why don’t they say thank you?”
I tell her, “I don’t know.
Penguins can’t speak like we do.”
But inside I think of how
they drop from rock to rock,
clumsy on their bird-feet,
until one, and then another, slips
without a splash into the cool pool
that passes here for home,
their cold and southern sea.
I name them Water-glider,
Tidal-feather, Torpedo,
and Swims-as-peregrine-falcons-fly.
We trace their loops and interlaces
and laugh as a pudgy male
pops his bottle-body up
onto the lip of a slick stone slab,
upending an unsuspecting hen,
before barging in line
for a chance at seconds.
After, Marin tugs my hand,
her patience for penguins at its end,
and we wander toward tanks
that hold cuttlefish, anemones,
lampreys, leafy sea dragons
practicing camouflage
among the fluorescent fronds.
Behind us, the hoppers chatter on,
clap their wings against their sides.
I want to turn and applaud,
but Marin has spied some mollusk shells,
and we give thanks to them.

* * * * * * *

All images and “Rockhoppers” ©2009 Steven Withrow and used with permission.

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27 comments to ““Fieldnotes” with Steven Withrow:
One Impossibly New Idea Before Breakfast”

  1. Hi Steven, welcome to the fun house. (Well, mine was fun too, neh?)

    Marin is gorgeous. Your poem is stunning.(There’s a picture book lurking in it.) And your pace even makes me gasp.

    Jane


  2. Hello, Steven — nice to meet you!

    Interesting odyssey there. It sounds as though you’ve done, roughly, a circuit, and ended up back at the place where you started: kidlit (by way of graphics, science, graphics again). And I’ve gotta say, Library of the Early Mind is a GREAT title for a documentary on the subject. (Actually an even better title for a PBS series about it. Not that you need to plug that into the 5 minutes a day currently unfilled by other projects!)

    The film’s site is great, and thanks for the reference link. I’m not in the field but even I recognize a bunch of those names, and I love what the interviewees have to say. (Note: I’ve listened to only a couple so far, but take for granted that the rest don’t stammer and bluster their way through the allotted time slots. :) ) It’s easy to imagine that beyond the film, the interviews/site would make for a powerful ongoing resource. Nice work!


  3. Dreamed through math class?! Say it ain’t so!

    Glad to see you here. I’ll look forward to reading more.


  4. Great interview! Great poem! I look forward to more!


  5. *waves to Steven*

    Glad to see you here. Enjoyed learning about you and your work. Will you bring us chocolate each month? :)


  6. You are doing interesting and creative work. How can I buy your secrets of digital animation book?


  7. Steven!
    Loved your lowering of the word-count bar for each section of your bio. Just like playing verbal limbo. Fun. And the poem too. The penguin names — so visual and perfect.

    I’ve told you this before, but the clips for “this fabulous project” look wonderful and I can’t wait for the finished doc to show up at a film festival near me.

    Looking forward to your fieldnotes now too. (Yeah… when DO you sleep?)


  8. Hi Steven! Thanks for the link! Photos look great ! Looking forward to reading more soon! All the best!


  9. Thanks, everyone, for the warm welcome. I love this blog, and I’m thrilled to participate.

    jama — I’ll see what I can do about chocolates. Maybe pinwheel gobstoppers, too.

    Nile — You can order the book through Amazon.com or ask your favorite independent bookseller to order it.

    Sleeplessly yours,

    Steven


  10. Steven kind of makes me feel like I sit around just doing nothing all day, but in the good way. I’ve really been looking forward to that documentary, and I’ll be looking forward to the new posts, too!


  11. [...] a fun profile of him — with plenty of pictures and a poem — up today. Check it [...]


  12. Hi, Jule and Steven!

    I do love this blog…and what a wonderful post–I learned soooo much!

    Cloudy with a chance of Steven.

    I don’t know that that means, but it felt important to write it down. Lovely poem with so many great sounds.

    Grackly yours,
    April


  13. oops…had too many “Ls” in my last name, above!

    xxx
    a


  14. Welcome, Steven (and Lesley and Marin!)

    You had me at “born on a military base” but “adapted, directed, and starred in a stage play of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in fifth grade” sealed the deal. Also, your love of The White Darkness, and your phrase “tufted punks from the South Pole.” And the documentary (!!) Which festival? Where? Can we all come?


  15. Incredible poem! And congratulations! But it is especially brave (or foolhardy) to make your words compete with that oh so cute picture of Marin. I also like that photo of you and Lesley at the gallery, with me and Brian Karas on your mind. I look forward to your columns. This is a great blog to join.


  16. Hi Steven! I’m waving from the peanut gallery to welcome you to 7Imp. Thanks for giving us a little window into what you like and think.


  17. Merci beaucoup and muchas gracias, Adrienne, April, Sara, Rich, and Farida.

    Sara: We’re submitting to major festivals around the world over the next few months, and with luck the film will run in 2010 and early 2011 in a venue near you.

    Rich: Competing with Marin in anything is a futile endeavor. She is a true poet in everything she says and does. She is my mentor.


  18. oooo. Isn’t THIS going to be fun!!!


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  20. I am really looking forward to The Library of the Early Mind and Steven’s blog posts!


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