Author Mauldin finds inspiration in parks

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Baby boomers young enough in 1966 to remember scrambling into the back seat of their parents’ station wagon for a trip to a national park like Mesa Verde may also be able to conjure the jingle, “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet.”

WRITER AND INDEPENDENT RADIO PRODUCER BRONWYN MAULDIN

Mesa Verde 2016 artist-in-residence writer and independent radio producer Bronwyn Mauldin reads at “The End of Water,” a writing project she presented at Vista Hermosa Park, Los Angeles, as part of the Vision LA 2015 Climate Action Festival. Photo by Sonja Horoshko.

According to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Mission 66, the marketing campaign launched by the Department of the Interior that year celebrating the National Parks 50th anniversary, was “…rooted in the simple idea that investing in our national parks was an investment in the heart of our nation – not only our economy, but our very identity.”

An entire generation was inspired by those summer vacations. Those children “became today’s champions for the national parks,” Jewell said during recent remarks at the National Geographic Society 100th birthday celebration of the NPS, which now includes 400 natural, historical and cultural sites.

“America’s public lands were an important part of my childhood,” explains Mesa Verde 2016 artist-in-residence Bronwyn Mauldin, a writer and producer living in Los Angeles. “They have informed who I am as a writer today.”

When she was young, her family vacations usually involved long drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway and ranger-led hikes along the sun-dappled trails beneath oaks, slippery elm and loblolly pines. “We burned marshmallows on the end of unfolded wire hangers over the fire beside our popup camper.”

Twenty years ago, when Mauldin moved from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Los Angeles she threw everything she owned and a sleeping bag into her 1974 Superbeetle and set off on a cross-country camping adventure. En route she stopped at national parks and monuments. She credits Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Chippewa National Forest, Glacier National Park, Little Pend Orielle National Wildlife Refuge and many other public lands for the rich knowledge she gained while exploring. “In this way I learned the geography and topography of my country.”

At Mesa Verde, she says, she will have an opportunity to strengthen the connection between her writing and the region’s land and cultures. “As both a writer and a citizen of an overcrowded city, I treasure the quiet time I spend in nature [seeking] opportunities to learn about new cultures, to learn how other people see the world. My writing is deeply rooted in the physical world and in a desire to understand how people experience it.”

Mauldin is the author of Love Songs of the Revolution, a literary thriller set against a backdrop of geopolitical turmoil in the last days of Soviet Lithuania; a short story collection, The Streetwise Cycle; and a Kindle single, Body of Work. She won The Coffin Factory magazine’s 2012 Very Short Story Award for Meiguó, the sample writing included in her application to the Mesa Verde Museum Association jury. Her forthcoming novel, Off the Grid, focuses on power, both electrical and political.

Her encounters with students and artists during her tenure as director of research and evaluation for the Los Angeles Arts Commission and as adjunct faculty member in the Center for County Management in the Creative Industries master’s program at Claremont Graduate University expose her to trends in arts narrative and the contributions literature and the visual arts make to political and social justice platforms.

Last year she organized a public art/ author project as part of the Vision LA ‘15 Climate Action Festival, where arts projects supported stronger demands of the representatives negotiating in Paris for a new global climate-change treaty. “All sorts of artist-driven events raised the consciousness of Angelos about our relationship to water. Sadly, this effort only seems to happen when there’s a drought. It should be an ongoing education,” she explains.

Four L.A. authors joined her project, “The End of Water,” submitting short stories on the theme of water and their personal relationship to it. The final selections were read by professional actors in a public commons.

“I searched L.A. for an equivalent location, the right place for the back-to-back readings. Finally, in a densely populated part of the city I found a small park with a man-made water capture feature, a lonely little amphitheater on a small watershed almost hidden on the edge of downtown L.A. It was the perfect place.”

Mauldin knows people unite around the arts. It was important to bring the writing to the people. It worked. “People tend to think of artists in terms of the final product: a book, painting, dance or play. But what we really have to offer is in the way we think. We have the ability to imagine a world that doesn’t exist.”

“Writers need to find new outlets for work and new ways to connect with readers,” she explains on her web site Guerilla reads.com. “More and more, people are online, so writers have to be there too. At the same time the number of people who read for pleasure in their spare time is falling. If people are too busy to come to one of our readings, then we have to take our readings to them—in the streets, at the mall, on public transit, in small towns or large urban centers, the places where literature is not expected.”

In a 10-year effort to update approaches to publishing, she expanded her career into independent radio production, hosting a public affairs broadcast on Indymedia on Air on KPFK, the Los Angeles affiliate of the Pacifica radio network. The program looks for work people are writing around the world. Podcasts of small-town stories and short documentaries she introduces to the L.A. audience.

Her site, Guerillareads.com, an on-line video literary magazine or “zine” founded in 2008, takes literature to the streets in video format. The site includes tips for video production and writing, as well as submission guidelines. Writers use personal technology to make short videos reading their own work, usually poetry, in casual public settings such as a train station, places where literature is not expected, sometimes not even welcome. The video is submitted for preview and once accepted, it’s up-loaded to the site that now presents nearly 100 authors.

“It’s a labor of love,” she adds, “a reflection of the written word and the physical world I live in, another way for readers to find writers.”

Expanding audience using technology corresponds to the Park Service’s centennial outreach campaign. As Secretary Jewell explained, “The Centennial is about inspiring people – from all ages and all backgrounds and all walks of life – to love the great outdoors and our rich history and culture.”

Find Your Park, a collaborative campaign with the National Park Foundation and the Park Service, has already garnered nearly 6 billion impressions by making a special effort to target millennials and a diverse, young audience.

Mauldin will be introducing techniques that expand audience through technology in two Mesa Verde workshops during her residency. She will share approaches to writing in the landscape, note-taking and editing tips as she does on Guerillareads.com where writers can review techniques and hone their skills in the weeks prior to the workshops.

Recording and listening to her own work is a significant part of Mauldin’s personal editing process and one she will offer for workshop writers.

But her primary focus will be writing in-situ in the park with the participants. “We’ll do a five-minute fevered writing exercise, using a prompt specific to the park that I’ll provide. It’s an exercise where one tries to write faster than you can think for short periods.” Designed to break the ice, to get the hand, pen and mind moving, it helps break through inhibitions, or fears about self-expression.

Information on the September workshops will be finalized during the summer and available on the Mesa Verde website.

To work at Mesa Verde in the solitude of the Hogan on Chapin Mesa is an opportunity to deepen her writing, connecting it to lands and peoples that hold a special place in the American Imagination, says Mauldin. “This is a unique place where the state of the environment, the beauty of the natural world, and culture come alive in the iconic West, and, in addition, it holds a record of the history of the native people before the westward movement of the European people. All of this in one place. It’s a bit of a dream come true.”

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From Arts & Entertainment, May 2016.