We had the good fortune of connecting with Jamie Danielle Portwood and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jamie Danielle, what inspires you?
I find there is little by which I am not inspired. Though there is pain within both, so much pain, still the human experience is endlessly fascinating and the world is place of beauty.
Nina Simone said that artists have a “duty to reflect the times,” and I agree. I am a passionate believer that artists do more than just reflect the times when we tell our stories. Artists actually create the world anew with every piece of art birthed into the world. Art transforms pain. A strange alchemy in which light and life are somehow brought forth from the ugliest trauma and oppression. Who has not been comforted by seeing themselves in a book? Hearing themselves in a song? Seeing themselves in a painting?
You are not alone is the comfort God gave the prophets.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I was new to Houston in 2015, so it was kismet then when I discovered Writespace. I went with my only Houston friend to HBU’s Spring Writers’ Conference and Writespace had a table at the event. I looked down their long list of workshops on offer and decided to take one. I took that workshop. I took another and then another. I went to a social event. I went to a reading. I took more workshops and then started volunteering because I had finally found my home in Houston.
Writespace turned Houston into my hometown because I was suddenly plugged into this vibrant writing community that was itself plugged into the humming, thrumming, thriving arts community here in this great, big, diverse city. My writing began to flow better and I began to call myself a writer. And, what’s more, to believe it! Writespace is a community that comes alongside the lonely, clueless writers who aren’t even sure they are writers yet and assures them, “You are a writer and we believe in you. Here, stand up here next to us and let us help you discover just what you can do.” If anyone knows just how important that to a writer, it’s me.
I began to say that one day Writespace and I would be able to afford each other. Since the day that I joined the Writespace community, I have been passionate about the mission of Writespace, to support writers in such a meaningful way “that great books that would not have been written will now be written.” I don’t know how many times I said that Writespace and I would be able to afford each other but I said it enough over the next five years to jump at the opportunity to become the programming director for Writespace.
As programming director, it gives me great joy to help shape Writespace in ways to provide even greater support for the writers of Houston. Literature changes the world and I love that I get to be a part of great books being written . One of the things I’m most proud of as programming director is a new series of workshops and events designed to support the mental health and emotional well-being of writers while they do the work of writing. Writing is so hard. It can be such gut-wrenching work. By providing workshops that support wholeness and good self-care and healthy mental hygiene, we are supporting writers in a way we haven’t done before. Based on registration and feedback, it’s been the support a lot of writers have needed, especially during an ongoing pandemic.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This is Houston! Food, glorious food! I would make sure that whoever came for a week would be leaving with a few extra pounds of really good food. Dim sum, pho, clay pot, noodles and more noodles, mountains of shaved ice, squid ink buns and sea salt lattes, bun bo hue, bulgogi, pad thai . . . the endless list of delights in Asiatown on Bellaire. Mysore masala dosa, biryani, palak paneer, naan, and chaat on Hillcroft. I’m not one for American food, so Houston is sheer heaven for me. There’s an Afghani restaurant in the Energy Corridor I’d make the drive for. I suppose that would be a good start.
As for places to visit and hang out. I adore Graffiti Park. I could spend hours walking Leeland Street and surrounds absorbing the art on those walls and sidewalks and lampposts. I love MFAH as much as most Houstonians, but after spending all our money on food, Graffiti Park is art on the cheap and art that hits you just as hard in the heart as any of the paintings in the museum district. For more art on the cheap, I would take friends to the Menil and then we would sit on the grass under the oaks and be quiet for a moment as we contemplated what we had seen.
Another morning I would take them to Eastern Glades in Memorial Park. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to go to that wonderful place, but the way that the trails and boardwalks and plantings are put together is man and nature creating a garden that is a ceaseless delight. No matter when you go, the plants and wildlife are doing something new. I was just there yesterday morning and the bullfrogs were all singing to each other. That song in the middle of this city was magic.
I suppose if we still had time in the daylight I would drive them to my favorite neighborhoods and point out my favorite trees and houses. I love driving or, better yet, walking the streets of Rice Village, West U, the Museum District, and Braeswood. I never tire of those homes, the ones that have so much history, or the way the trees make shadows on the rutted and pothole-filled streets. I adore how the sidewalks are lifted up by roots older than they are.
At night, in the greatest literary city on the Gulf Coast, on Tuesday, we would see if Brazos was having an author event. On Wednesday we would go to Avant Garden in Montrose to catch WAN Poetry’s open mic and back again on Friday for jazz on the terrace and burlesque upstairs. Thursday night would be Writers Block’s open mic and Saturday night would be Writespace’s at Canary Café. No, one can not attend too many open mics and readings.
But that doesn’t even leave us time for the great theater if it’s theater season . . . Houston, how I love this city!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Writespace. Always Writespace for giving support to writers like me who didn’t even have the confidence to call myself a writer before finding the Writespace community here in Houston.
Michael Glazner Elizabeth White-Olsen