Rachel Gellman

racWould you give us a bit of background about yourself? Briefly tell us who you are.

I am a writer, a teacher, a poet, and, oddly enough, a real estate and mortgage professional. I went to undergraduate and graduate school for writing. I taught college English as an adjunct professor for one year afterwards. I very quickly realized that the longer I worked as an adjunct, the more cynical and bitter I would become, so I decided I needed to find a day job that would cover me financially, so I can devote my free time to writing. I hope to eventually be able to go back to writing full-time, but while I’m young and hungry, I decided to get a job in a field that rewards me financially.

When did you decide to be a writer, and how did you know?

Writing or English were always my favorite subjects in school, and I often kept journals or wrote poems here and there while growing up. I was, however, an extremely competitive and devoted athlete up through high school, and sports took up most of my free time. Not until college, as a journalism major, did I start to put writing in the forefront of my life. I decided I wanted “to be a writer” and not a “journalist,” however, while sitting in the audience at my university’s monthly slam poetry performance. The performer on stage, who was a career poet, inspired me to get on a stage one day, sharing something I wrote. I thought the man on the stage was the most vulnerable and most powerful person I’d ever seen, and I wanted to be able to do something like that someday.

What was your family unit? Did you have brothers or sisters? Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Bay Area of California with my parents and my older brother. My mother moved to the Bay Area from Canada, and my father moved to the Bay Area from New York. I was always told to be thankful that I was born in California, and I am.

What kinds of stories were you told growing up?

My father and my grandmother, his mother, often told me stories of their childhood. My father has told some of the same stories so many times that I know them by heart. He told us about silly things he did as a child, and especially about times he got into trouble.

Do you have any daily rituals?

I try to walk in the morning or when I get home from work every day. My fiancé always gets up before me, and makes coffee right when he gets up. When I roll out of bed, I always pour myself a cup, sit down, and just drink the cup quietly and slowly while I adjust to the morning light and gather my thoughts.

Do you have mentors or other working artists who influence you today?

Sarah Kay, a twenty-something touring spoken word artist is a true inspiration to me because she’s taken her life’s passion and art and makes a living out of it. She tours the country and other countries spreading her poetry, and she started a non-profit that shares the art of spoken word with students of all ages and backgrounds.

What do you think is the most important contemporary issue?

In America: The Prison Industrial Complex and the fact that only a few, very rich people control the majority of political and social decisions made here that affect everyone else, and the “Walmar-tization” of many of our major industries.

In the world: Women’s rights, hunger, and climate change.

Were there any gatekeepers in the professional world for you, people who either let you in or barred the way as you were coming through?

The adjunct professor system has been the biggest gatekeeper to my professional pursuits. When I entered my M.F.A. program, I wholeheartedly believed I’d be able to land a full-time teaching position after I graduated. However, it became clear to me very quickly that full-time professorships are becoming a thing of the past.

Has money or critical success influenced your creative decision making?

Sadly, yes. When I graduated from my M.F.A. program, I had to decide if I wanted to spend my free time looking for work, or my free time submitting poems to journals, or applying to fellowships, etc. It was sad that I was thinking about how much a journal would pay me if they accepted a poem. When I started thinking that way, I decided that I should put my poetry submissions aside, until I found a better way to make money, so my creative endeavors would not be financially driven.

Do you feel it is important to have more than one pursuit in life? Or is it important to have a singular pursuit?

I do think it’s important to have more than one pursuit. Often, my passions for separate things can mingle with each other, and build off each other.

What do you want to be known for?

Being a kind person.

When you look forward in your life what do you hope to find there?

A home with a writing room, and a room with a view. Large bookshelves filled with books I’ve read, and hopefully some I’ve written.

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