Featured Writer: Chantel Massey

Interview questions by Indianapolis Review Staff

When brainstorming about who to feature in our Spring 2023 Issue of The Indianapolis Review, I wondered how we hadn’t already featured Chantel. I would say she could be defined as that mysterious term, ’emerging’ writer, but she has been working hard at poetry for years. However, she’s recently published her first poetry collection, she has begun her MFA at Randolph College, and her poetry is beginning to get more attention nationally (winning a Best of The Net award!) Chantel is also a friend of ours. Therefore, when coming up with questions for her interview, I crowd sourced them from the staff and shared them with Chantel over email. –Natalie Solmer, EIC

IR-Thank you so much for agreeing to be our featured writer for the Spring 2023 Issue! You do so much for the Indianapolis writing community: serving on the board of Word As Bond, a youth poetry organization, being a part of the Arc Writing Collective, a teaching artist for Asante Art Institute, a Caliban Art Board Member, and running Unlearn Arts, a literary organization you founded for the support and development of Black writers, especially Black women, femme and nonbinary writers. Can you speak a little on what the importance of these organizations is to a community? What is the importance of writers and writing to a society?

CM: For me personally, community is very important and informative to my writing process. I come from a big family of storytellers. I remember growing up, one of my uncles would always tell us stories about his youth in the south. From this, I found that storytelling was also a way for me to not only find purpose, but empathy and connection to other family members who are here and who are no longer with us physically. It’s a way of honoring and remembering. I think these organizations honor and value the power of storytelling as a way to support and remind people that we have a purpose: to tell our stories. I also think they (and writers) are important because they facilitate conversations for those who don’t always get to tell their stories but are just as important because those stories are also a part of the fabric and many vibrant communities here in Indianapolis. Writers are the storytellers, the stakeholders, the archivists, and the mirrors for us to see ourselves. They are the investigators of truth, and the ones who help us to question the past and present in order to dream of a better future, making us ask ourselves: how can we be better to and for one another? and for and to ourselves? As humans we all have a desire to belong or a sense of connection writers bridge the gaps in our use of language and communication for that to happen.

IR-It’s been a while since you made the successful leap to becoming a full time independent literary artist. I admire this so much! Do you have any thoughts you want to share about your journey so far or advice that you can give to other writers who are pursuing this as a career?

CM: Thank you! I think I still have quite a ways to go but thank you so much for saying that! One thing being an independent literary artist will do (or any form of entrepreneurship, really) is make you question your own beliefs. It will make you question what beliefs your practices (and this is any kind of practice – writing, selfcare, and etc.)  are rooted in and why, in particular, your beliefs about yourself and why you are doing what you are doing. It makes you really assess what is important to you and why. If validation from outside of yourself plays any role in that, you’re in for a ride, especially when thinking about rejections or the editing process. You must persist despite this, and in order to do so, you have to care for yourself and believe in yourself. The journey itself will make those things that hold you back rise to the surface, so you can learn to create better habits for yourself and ultimately better advocate for yourself. The “thing” won’t get done if you don’t do it or find a way to ask for help. Questions that I like to consider: What are your values and why? What are you making time for? How can you make time for living and for writing/reading? I hope this is helpful.

IR-Congratulations on being accepted into Randolph’s MFA program! That’s so exciting; I know that program is one of the best. Sidenote-one of the program’s founders is former Hoosier, Kaveh Akbar!  I know sometimes academic spaces can be unwelcoming and that Randolph was created to be a different kind of MFA, one that is more inclusive. Do you have any thoughts on differences between your experience of writing in community spaces vs. writing in academic spaces?

CM: Thank you so much! I am very grateful to be there! And for me literary citizenship is very important. This means asking myself what kind of person am I showing up as in the literary spaces? And how? I think this is an interesting and ongoing conversation for sure. I am grateful for Randolph because they strive to create a more communal environment though we are in an academic space and truly allow us as students to dream, critique, and be involved in our learning process and community engagement opportunities in the program while considering our own literary citizenship.

IR-Can you speak on what resources you feel would be most helpful to folks in the Indianapolis area who are looking to engage with the writing community? Are there certain organizations, open mics, etc. that you can recommend?

CM: The literary arts community is thriving here! There are so many things to do and ways to get involved! That Peace Open Mic, VOCAB, GreenHouse Effect, Kafe Kuumba (one of the longest running open mics in Indianapolis), VOLTA (a new open mic at Ujamaa Bookstore). I’m sure there are so many more, but I am drawing a blank so please forgive me. Also if you know any youth poets, my friend, Mitchell and I host a special 3 week summer program called Freewrite: The Bookmark Indy Summer Youth Poetry Workshop, providing an opportunity for students in grades 9-12 to grow together as writers and create original poetry as a community. 

We created Freewrite in hopes to help guide young students in finding their voice – it’s a program I honestly wish existed when I was that age. Last year’s session was truly magical. We went on field trips, we published their poems, and we had fun doing it! We were able to see these students grow into their voices. If you would like to attend please sign up here: https://bookmarkindy.com/freewrite/ Please note that the deadline for applications is May 12th.

IR-Also, BIG congrats on your Best of the Net award for your poem, “Hard Times Require Furious Laughter.”  This is also a milestone accomplishment! We’ve been cheering you on at Indianapolis Review, and have been lucky to have published several of your other works. We’d love to hear about what you’re currently working on. What projects or pieces have you been putting your creative force into lately?

CM: Thank you so much! And thank you so much for your support! It is deeply appreciated. I appreciate the work that you all do. Honestly, I am working on a lot of different things, haha. One project I am most excited about is Freewrite. I hope to continue to create, foster, and facilitate more programming and events in the city around poetry or just literary arts in general that celebrate the different voices and stories here. If folks would like to collaborate more they can reach me at conact@chantelmassey.com

Chantel Massey (she/her) is a storyteller, poet, author, teaching artist, editor, organizer, educator, practicing Afrofuturist, and avid anime lover from Indiana. Massey is a fellow of The Watering Hole, VONA poetry  resident, and has received support from Brooklyn Poets, Hurston/Wright Foundation, and Tin House. She is a 2023 Best of Net Award winner and 2020 Indiana Eugene and Marilyn Glick Author Awards Emerging Author finalist for her first collection of poetry, Bursting At The Seams  (VK Press, 2018), a Midwest Black girl coming of age story.  Massey founded the literary arts organization, UnLearn Arts, radically dedicated to amplifying and cultivating the craft and wellness of BIPOC writers in the Midwest and elsewhere. 

Massey’s work advocates for wellness, human rights, and social justice.  She explores their depth with confessional poetry through themes of Blackness, identity, Afrofuturism, memory/archive, familial relationships, the process and act of giving up self- betrayal, and the riot of Black joy. Massey is on a life-long mission, through poetry and the transformative power of storytelling, to make the pursuit and vision of what has not yet been, irresistible, to inspire curiosity, and challenge how we engage with the world. Her work can be found featured in IndianapolisReviewTurnpike Magazine, and other online and print publications coming elsewhere. To learn more about her and her work visit www.chantelmassey.com .

(Photo credit: Cliff Canon)

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