My name is Jenny Maurer and I will be your writer in residence for January to June 2020.
Since moving to Racine in 1990, I have long come to appreciate the many creative outlets that our community offers, such as the Wustum’s many art classes, The Racine Art Museum’s exhibitions, the Racine Public Library’s diverse events, and the monthly Bonk! performances of music and poetry. These institutions and groups have also introduced me to many people engaged in the arts including innovative writers and artists such as Nick Ramsey, Jessie Lynn McMains, Nick Demske, Dan Nielsen, John Bloner, and Jessica Zalewski. I will be interviewing these people along with many other artists within the coming months with my project about self published “Zines” and general coverage of local artistic events.
In the meantime, I would like to talk about a few of the influences that have motivated my writing and creative pursuits over the years.
My parents encouraged an interest in reading from when I was a toddler. My mother would read me everything from newspaper articles to labels at the grocery store. As I got older and headed into elementary school, I discovered the joys of PBS shows such as Wishbone and Reading Rainbow. These shows opened me to a variety of literature from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. I also spent many hours in my book “cubby hole” reading through Beatrix Potter’s works and Dr. Seuss’ classics. Another big event in my life at this time the purchase of our first home computer, a Dell Packard with Windows 95. The computer gave me a whole new field to express myself creatively and I spent hours playing with the art program, kidzpix and writing various stories. Some of the plots of these stories include children spies going around the world and child detectives tracking down a missing remote controlled car. While I would later learn about how intricate children’s literature could be thanks to such books as The Harry Potter series, my parents were also entertained by these stories and encouraged me to pursue my writing hobby.
I ultimately settled on pursuing a writing career in middle school. My school, Walden III, was highly enthusiastic about creativity and offered me many opportunities for boosting my writing skills. By the time I graduated in 2006, I had won a creative writing contest in my sophomore year and served on the school’s literary magazine board during my final two years. While difficult at times, this experience prepared me for my journey through college. It was also during this time that I discovered artistic influences that stay with me to this day such as The Clash and Bob Dylan. Drawn to their passion and intricate lyrics, I wanted to learn what inspired them and the social context of their importance. I became somewhat of an expert on punk rock and also began to understand I have a pretty good memory.
Once I began attending college, the aspiration to write fiction gave way to thoughts of being an editor for a publication. I began reading books by music critics such as Greil Marcus and publications like the AV Club. I had also began my first real job as an employee of the now long closed Martha Merrill’s bookstore. I loved the workers and happily took care of the messy shelves for a good three years. Being around so many books kept me motivated during my first university years. After the store finally shut up shop in 2009, I continued my journey toward an English degree for another three years. To keep my skills sharp, I started writing small music reviews for my personal blog, Fort Awesome and a defunct music social media site known as Garage Punk. I wasn’t looking to make profit, of course, but it was a practice for getting my foot in the door.
Upon finally graduating in 2012 with a Bachelors in English and writing emphasis, I began looking for a job that could suit my literary skills. The job market being what it was, I took a front desk job at the Mount Pleasant YMCA in 2013. Meanwhile, I continued my passion of reading all kinds of books and writing up small stories or ideas that never fully came to fruition. I also become involved in a local writing group and started becoming a regular attendee of Nick Demske’s Bonk! performance series. I made plenty of friends in these groups and in turn, they encouraged me to keep writing. This support finally inspired me in 2015 to turn a creative idea into action. I knew a lot about the punk rock genre ever since discovering it as a teenager and enjoyed sharing knowledge with people, so why not start an independent publication to introduce other people to the movement? The art of the self published magazine or “‘zine” had played an important part in the punk movement from the very start so it was the perfect project.
The first issue of the zine, Watchout!, was completed in November of 2015 and I printed about twenty copies to be distributed at a Milwaukee record store. Realizing that printing multiple copies was extremely pricey, I decided that further issues of the magazine would be online in pdf form. Unfortunately, life events and a constant search for work forced me to regularly put magazine work on the backburner. The second issue, focusing on women of the L.A. 70s punk scene, took a year and a half to write and issue 3 has been in the work for two years now. For those curious about my magazine work, issues 1 and 2 can be found on the hosting site, issu.com
While issue 3 is still in development, I am happy to say that after many temporary work experiences in a data entry position, I finally found a professional writing opportunity in May of 2019. That month, I started working as an interviewer for The Shepherd Express. The previous month, my job counselor helped me put together a portfolio of college and post college writing pieces including an excerpt from Watchout and coverage of a Martin Luther King Day event from January. My first interview was with the Executive Director of the Racine Literacy Council, Steven Mussenden and it was the first one of my interviews published in The Shepherd Express. Since my first interview was published, I have talked with luminaries such as Bruce Pepich of the Racine Art Museum, poet Nick Ramsey, and LGBT of SE Wisconsin Board member Shelley Hickman.
It is due to the support of the Racine art community and friends that I have come to where I am. They have championed me and encouraged me to further develop my writing. I am extremely grateful to them and I am excited to see what we all can accomplish in the future.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit me at the Branch on most Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 AM to 2 PM for the next 5-6 months!