Word-for-Word: An Interview with Lori Roper
Whether you’ve called Newark home your entire life or recently relocated from parts near and far, you’re probably familiar with the city’s legacy as a beacon for the arts. From musicians to actors to painters to poets, the arts community has always been the heart of Brick City. That’s why it was my pleasure to sit down (from a social distance) with one of the brightest minds to share her talent with our amazing community, Lori Roper.
A former Gallery Aferro studio resident, Roper was the first writer to join Aferro’s residency program in 2017-18. And it’s not difficult to understand why. Her prolific pen has earned her the title of poet, playwright, essayist, lyricist, director, producer and teacher. As someone dedicated to using “the written word to instigate the reformation of social justice,” it’s also not hard to imagine how the recent shift in our new “normal” under the Covid-19 restrictions and the ripple effects it has created throughout our lives may affect her future projects.
I can’t wait to find out, but until then, this conversation with Lori offers us more insight into her work, her motivation, and more. Enjoy!
1. Where are you?
I am at home with my husband and two teenage children. We live in the suburbs of Newark. I’m praising the heavens that I renewed our local community garden membership, which is a blessing for which I am deeply grateful.
2. What attracted you to pursuing an art in a form that involves the written word?
As a child, I was an avid reader of novels that transported me to places very different than the one in which I grew up. For example, the chance to check out of the often mundane nature of life in the Northeast and journey to the frigid Midwest in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novel, The Long Winter, was fascinating. Now, I enjoy creating worlds in the form of playwriting and screenwriting. While composing, I can create and essentially inhabit the story I am telling. There is pleasure and satisfaction in the opportunity to create an escape from life as usual. The potential to invite others to join that journey in the theatre and through film is what compels me to continue crafting.
3. What do you consider the relationship to be between literary art (playwriting, poetry, novel writing, etc.) and traditional visual art?
Instinct and imagination, memory, vision and dedication are qualities that all art forms share. Lucille Clifton’s poem “Cutting Greens,” for example, is deeply sonorous, hauntingly visual, and sensual. So I guess what I’m saying is the synergy of connection among each art form lies in conveying the exploration of experience. There is actually a term, ekphrastic, which defines writing inspired by works of visual art. One of the blessings of being in a community that includes visual artists is that they share a conveyance of perspective that does not direct to a place — they allow you to find meaning for yourself.
4. What do you think the Newark arts community can do better to improve that relationship?
Cross pollination and the creation for more collaboration among art forms would be wonderful. From my experience in Newark, many artists seem open to the opportunity for generating new work together. I had the wonderful experience of staging a curated production of one of my plays entitled Hawks Tavern at the Newark Museum. There were musical performances happening in other spaces in the museum. It was a wonderful experience. Before our collective, current situation, people were seeking connection and expression in real time. The more opportunities arise that link us, the better.
5. How do you overcome or handle writer’s block?
I was going through a writer’s block earlier this year. It was a private thing as I imagine all creative obstacles may be for many of us. What helped me was finally talking about it to an old friend. Having accountability partners works for me as well.
6. What artists (writers and non-writers) make you feel inspired?
Kerry James Marshall is a tremendous source of inspiration, as is James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison and August Wilson. The list is longer because I am also deeply influenced by film and music as well. “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis is on my record player right now.
7. Do you practice any other forms of art? (Either as a hobby or a professional)
Photography has been a hobby of mine for a while now. I’ve also recently begun dabbling with painting.
8. What gives you hope in this moment? (And/or what are you thankful for?)
Wow, well I definitely derive courage from my children, who are faring this crisis remarkably well. I know my response as a teenager, although I was a “good kid” would have been remarkably different than theirs has been. My mother, who is a retired Fermentation Microbiologist, is a comforting person to address with my concerns, whether they be cognitive or emotional. She is cautiously optimistic, which helps give me hope. Also, I spend a good deal of time randomly thinking about the things and events I enjoyed before this brave new world we are navigating.
9. Any advice that you’d like to share with our community?
Well, I imagine it is an amazing time to explore from indoors. I am currently obsessed with everything foreign. I’m currently watching a show set in Scotland called Shetland. Even hearing the voices of an unfamiliar accent feels like a reprieve from the rancor of the news. I think now is a wonderful time to indulge in reverie — mental sentimental journeys. It also would serve all of us well to get fresh air where and how we can. In a time that can be an incubator of anxiety and fear, rely on science and art. And if you find yourself experiencing emotions that make you feel unlike yourself, you deserve to speak to someone who can help you be well.
To learn more about Lori Roper and her work, check out her official website at LoriRoper.com.