Special Feature: Altars of Writers & Artists: Jennifer Givhan

IR: How did you begin the practice of creating an altar or spiritual space in your home? What does the process of tending to the space entail for you?

JG: As I connected with my indigenous & Mexican Ancestors & became more invested in brujería & curanderisma, I began cultivating spaces of honoring the sacred & divine within my home & creating portable altars that I could move throughout the house in a process organic to my creative rhythms & needs as a mamawriter, meaning, my mind/heart/flow have to be fluid and in-flux to allow for the rhythms of my day as they unfold (sometimes homeschooling the kids, tending sick kids, summer days, days my kids just need or crave more attention from me, as well as days I’m more chronically ill & navigating needs for self-care). So for instance, I might set up an altar on the side of the bath where I’m taking a hot epsom salt soak to help alleviate some of the chronic pain or just unwind after a tough day, mentally, physically, spiritually. Honoring the sacred with a portable altar & altars throughout my home (which is also my work/writing/teaching space) became a reminder that we carry the sacred within us & it’s accessible to us anytime anywhere.  

IR: How do these altars interact with your creativity? How do you see it relating to your writing or art?

JG: Just as the altar’s sacred space reminds me of the goddess/Spirit/Ancestors within myself & all around me, so too do the altars remind me of the Muse available & accessible anytime/anywhere. The altar is an invitation of openness & receptivity. If we build it, the Spirits will come. But really, the Spirits are already all around us ready & waiting for us to quiet ourselves enough to listen. So perhaps it’s more, if we build it, we will come to what the Spirits have already fashioned for us out of stars & earth & Universe & light & truth. In my writing, this willingness to listen to Spirit & not beat myself up that the material/concrete matter of the pub biz (publishing business) may not understand or accept or want or applaud what I’m doing & what the Spirit/Ancestors bring me. Because I deal with trauma-induced responses & depression & anxiety, I need a tangible reminder (lighting candles, holding crystals, pictures of my Ancestors & Goddesses who sustain me, including Mother Mary & Frida & My Bisabuela & Coatlicue) so that I don’t feel so trampled upon that I stay down in the mud. If I’m down in the mud it’s because Spirit is showing me the stardust to scoop up & bring back with me to the page.

IR: What is at least one valuable thing you have learned from your practice of creating a sacred space? This lesson doesn’t necessarily have to be about art or writing or creativity; it can just be something about life.

JG: The sacred that we honor (Goddess/Ancestors/Creator/Spirit) also exists within us. We honor ourselves when we honor the sacred. We claim our value & worth as inherent & undiminishable when we honor the sacred. We are the fire we light, the crystal we hold, the prayer we utter.

Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican-American and indigenous poet, novelist, and transformational coach from the Southwestern desert and the recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices. She holds a Master’s degree from California State University Fullerton and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections, most recently Rosa’s Einstein (University of Arizona Press), and the novels Trinity Sight and Jubilee (Blackstone Publishing), all of which were finalists for the Arizona-New Mexico Book Awards. Her newest poetry collection Belly to the Brutal (Wesleyan University Press) and novel River Woman, River Demon (Blackstone Publishing) are forthcoming this fall. Both new books draw from her practice of brujería.Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, POETRYTriQuarterlyThe Boston ReviewThe Rumpus, Salon, and many others. She’s received the Southwest Book Award, New Ohio Review’s Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize, the Pinch Journal Poetry Prize, and Cutthroat’s Joy Harjo Poetry Prize. Jenn would love to hear from you at jennifergivhan.com and you can follow her on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter for inspiration, writing prompts, and transformational advice.

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