The Writer’s Desk features the desks and writing practices of Gemini Ink faculty, visiting authors, teaching artists, volunteers, students, interns, staff, partners and more. Receive new posts in your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter at bit.ly/geminiinknewsletter.
Join Kendra Allen on Thursdays, July 6, 13, 20, 27 & Aug 3, 10, 6:30-8:30pm CST for her hybrid workshop: TELLING A STORY OF YOUR LIFE. In this 6-week course, we’ll focus on demystifying the personal narrative process by figuring out what’s a snapshot and what’s a story. Writing is hard, and writing about yourself is sometimes even harder. We’ll put pen to page and explore storylines within ourselves by simply leaning into who you naturally are, how you naturally sound, and what you naturally gravitate to, as a writer.
- Hey Kendra, it’s awesome to have a chance to catch up with you! We were wondering, what’s one piece of writing advice you value most?
To remove the word “that” for cleaner sentences, and don’t attempt to write about everything you know about a subject/topic in one piece. It’s impossible.
- What theme or symbol often emerges in your work? Why are you drawn to this theme/symbol?
Childhood, memory, patriarchy, (In)fidelity, death, mental health, water, hands. They all fascinate me, how they continuously matriculate in our everyday lives in lively ways, but also in very confined frames where if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss the way a body reacts to either. I’ll probably continue to focus on them for as long as I write, with whatever I write.
- Do you like things to be carefully planned out or do you prefer to just go with the flow? Does this also apply to how you lay out a story?
I just go with the flow, and even then, it’s still hard to pin down. I don’t outline and write most of my first drafts in the notes on my phone. In sporadic scenes, usually. It’s thousands of them, and I tend to just piece them together in a document once I figure out the thread—or the genre— in which it needs to go in.
Once I see all the words, it kinda becomes a puzzle; figuring out a sequence, and moving forward, or through.
- What habit do you have now that you wish you had started much earlier?
To stop wasting eight hours of my day stressing about not being able to work and just wait to the sun sets because I know I work best at night. That, and using my brain as soon as I wake up. Read or write something while in bed before anything else. And moving while working. It’s important to move and maneuver to get the thoughts pumping. Get up. Walk around. Dance. Stand. I really want a standing desk now, but I talked too much trash about people with standing desks.
- Who are your favorite writers? And who is your favorite hero/heroine in fiction?
Ntozake Shange for sure. I think she’s the most daring, free, and creative writer I’ve ever read. Kiese Laymon for sure. bell hooks for sure. Eric Jerome Dickey in my formative years. I love different writers for different things, but these names always ring loudest for me. I don’t really think I have a favorite heroine in fiction, but if I had to pick the most memorable, it would probably be Tracy from Omar Tyree’s Flyy Girl.
- Does good writing result from best practices, magic, or a bit of both?
I think a bit of both. I’m still struggling with figuring out what my practice is, but I can say showing up, putting words down, is a big part of it. The more words, the more probability that the magic will find you.
At some point it just all starts aligning. It could take minutes, or it can take twelve hours, days even. It’s about trusting the imperfections and inconsistencies.
- What is your next project?
I just recently finished a draft of a novel (see: my messy writing space), a poetry collection, and I’m working on a short story collection as well. Just trying things out and seeing what sticks.
- If people want to learn more about your work, where should they go?
You can visit my website KendraCanYou.Com!
An award-winning essayist and poet, Kendra Allen was born and raised in Dallas, TX. She loves laughing, leaving, and writing Make Love in My Car, a music column for Southwest Review. Some of her other work can be found in The Paris Review, High Times, The Rumpus, and more. She’s the author of the New York Times lauded poetry collection The Collection Plate (Harper Collins 2022) and essay collection When You Learn the Alphabet, which won the 2018 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction. Fruit Punch (Ecco 2022), her memoir, is out now and receiving praise from all corners. Jaquira Díaz, author of Ordinary Girls, states: “A stunning and original memoir about Black girlhood and coming of age. Allen is both a storyteller and poet, observing the world with curiosity and humor. Fruit Punch is simultaneously brilliant cultural commentary and an intimate portrayal of family and community, and it will stay with me for a long, long time.”