100 Dallas Creatives: No. 70 Underground Culture Mainstay Karen X. Minzer
Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Know an artistic mind who deserves a little bit of blog love? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the whos and whys.
Curiosity and experience are essential to creation and Karen Minzer has both in spades . Citing everything from psychedelic culture and the Weathermen's antics to John Cale and Laurie Anderson as influences, Karen Minzer either is, or has been, in touch with more aspects of underground culture than most have even heard of.
"And Allen, Allen- always Allen," she says when asked who has inspired her. Allen Ginsberg naturally, who Minzer met after a letter she wrote prompted a personal invite to study with him as a poetics apprentice at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder. Lucky for Dallas, Minzer wound up here.
Minzer has at one point or another worked as a journalist, author, poet, spoken-word performer, television show producer and, most recently, curator of the like-minded at Wordspace, a Dallas-based organization dedicated to the written word and "cross-pollination with the other arts."
Minzer first arrived in Dallas via Austin in 1978. A self-described gypsy, she immediately became a part of all of the great, artistic circles of the time, publishing magazines, doing photo shoots, and hanging out with a veritable who's who of Dallas-based artists, poets and musicians.
Those were days of smoke-ins and happenings and Minzer was there for most of it. "I found an emancipating free-associative vibe among the artists that was exhilarating," she says of her move to Dallas from Austin in '78, "Whatever Austin is - it was Dallas that seemed to be the most influenced by the avant garde."
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Dallas.
Minzer became friends with Sita de Limur who would go on to found the Starck Club, where Minzer curated some literary events in the 1980's, organized spoken word recordings and readings with Michael Minzer, brought Allen Ginsberg himself to read at the Twilite Room and ran a cable TV show called Dial a Poet Television which featured live call-ins from everyone from Bill Burroughs to Allen to Jim Carroll and so many more. The show also featured Dallas poets like Robert Trammell (who would go on to co-found Wordspace in 1994 with his wife Adrienne), Roxy Gordon, Patty Turner and more.
The 90's saw her back and forth between Boulder and Dallas until finally, she 'settled' here. She immediately began helping to create performance festivals such as the Dharma Broads at Undermain Theatre and reading series at Wordspace. After Robert Trammell's death in the early 2000's, Adrienne asked Minzer if she would consider coming on board in a greater capacity, which, of course, she did.
Nowadays she's an integral part of the Wordspace family, but while she may 'officially' runs things at Wordspace, the "literary-love organization" as she calls it, the organization only exists thanks to a dedicated base of lovers of words.
Give us a little background on you--
Writer, conceptual arts programmer for Wordspace, a magpie for class, gender and race equity that will never shut up, yogadelic candle burner for the avant garde and kindly great-auntie for the fraternity of youth.
For our readers that don't know, give us your best description of Wordspace.
WordSpace is primarily a literary-love organization with a bent for cross-pollination with the other arts. We're especially keen on paying honoraria to emerging writers to develop their scenes and prioritizing gender and racial equity representation. And we just love the cutting edge. WordSpace began in response to the 80s renaissance of writing in Dallas. They wanted to pay honoraria to writers that had been doing it for free for a long time, and get the word out in a more organized way about the joy of the Dallas lit scene. What began as a dozen events a year has grown to be well over 50.
We love all genres of writing--poetry, fiction, journalism, history, contemporary thought, and artists from different disciplines--I was at a WordSpace event recently that reminded my of the Bertolt Brecht poem "Telepathic Passion Week," and I referred to it as the "Word Unspoken" because they actually never said anything, but we got it. Yes, we love performance artists, songwriters and rappers, comediennes, text artists, filmmakers, and people who just talk a lot with great stories. We create audiences in very diverse venues to be of service to as many taste preferences as possible.
So where is Wordspace?
We Are WordSpace Everywhere: @ Dallas Poetry Slam, Lucky Dog Books, Wild Detectives, The Kessler, Oak Cliff Cultural Center, Half Price Books, Chocolate Secrets, Mighty Fine Arts, CentralTrak, Dallas Institute of Culture and Humanities, Two Bronze Doors, SMU, Salons in private homes, WordSpace Around the World Skype and WordSpace On the Road in festivals around the state. The "On the Road" series actually began as an open arms to pop-up readers who decide to take their new indie published book through Dallas and call two weeks before. Robert and I loved to do this and would throw together an event for them, give them a little gas money and buy refreshments which they could then take with them on their drive out. This sort of last minute thing upsets the budget apple cart for the rest of a small organization. It's my karma to be on the other side of this these days as Dee Mitchell has become the King of PopUp Culture and Steve Cruz it's prince. They call me a dozen times a year each with a writer or in Steve's case, a whole festival they've gotten us involved in. And now even our intern, Sebastian Paramo has started a series at the last minute. I'm not complaining. I still love to be part of the now. But I don't have any secretarial skills and keep everything in my head so my head stays full.
Who runs Wordspace?
For the record, it's not just me-the WordSpace volunteer collective or board of directors is made up Charles Dee Mitchell, Rock Baby, Jean Lamberty, Richard Bailey, Laney Yarber, Jerry Kelley, Alexandra Marie Thurston, Steve Cruz. And it's not even just them. The list of people who have served WordSpace is amazing and available on our website.
You've managed to recruit a rather impressive roster of writers and artists to make either appearances in Dallas, or at least speak with Wordspace over the past few years. How do you do it?
With a lot of help from a lot friends, past and present. Over thirty years involvement with writers around the country and my association with Allen and Anne are one of the seeds, and I sincerely believe in what we do so resistance is not an option once I set my mind to inviting someone to be with us. Dee Mitchell has been my no. 1 partner in art crimes for the last few years. He has been instrumental in supporting and collaborating with my ideas and also has his own cool ideas--not to mention he's eons more structured than me, so the ideas can actually become reality. The painter Steve Cruz is also another great collaborator and created the return of mixing visual artists and writers, a combination that is so essential to identifying a community as a Movement. All of WordSpace works as a collective in networking as much as possible with past and present friends and associates--people like the artist/South Dallas Cultural Center Executive Director, Vicki Meek and that writer on Facebook at every airport in America, Sanderia Smith--plus right now we have a great intern, Sebastian Paramo, a poet and passionate digger for the best of new writing,
For The Kessler series, we collaborate with Jeff Liles. Jeff has also been a frequently featured reader for WordSpace and a great friend of Bob Trammell (again, a history of friends in the right places at the right time then and now). He invited WordSpace to participate in Kessler programs from its inception. Paul Quigg and owner, Edwin Cabiniss have been fab supporters. Edwin started calling us the "Little Organization That Could" at first, and one day said he was changing it to the "Little Organization That Does." Very nice.
How would you describe the literary world in Dallas? Has it changed a lot in your lifetime? Are people more or less involved?
Love the "in your lifetime". Indeed. Well, It's grown and multiplied and reconnected with its other families of visual artists and musicians that first created it. The period where each of those communities was working in parallel sandboxes appears to have come to a close and we've all joined each other in a bigger movement. I used to gauge the health of the lit scene by the number of open mics. They'd come, they'd go. Right now, we have multiple open mics that have become like institutions--Mad Swirl, Dallas Community Poets, Dallas Poetry Slam are good examples. And more keep popping up. Verse and Rhythm at OCCC is awesome. And newer slam communities have been added--Inkwell, FW Slam, Natty Roots. Another growth indicator is that we have several literary organizations: Arts and Letters Live at the DMA has a huge budget and does great work. Writers Garret seems to have gone more into creating writing workshops right now, but their contribution in the past has been monumental. Thea and Jack brought in major writers.
What inspires you? It can be other people, hobbies, anything.
I love yoga as a vehicle for rigorous self-investigation and keeping me focused. Otherwise, I'd be like every other maniac on the street. And one with even more health problems related to aging. I am also inspired by our WordSpace collective--seriously, they inspire me to work harder. Each of them are active not only in WordSpace but in many other arts and activism organizations as well and bring stronger warp and weft to our construction. Were not in it for the money or glory. We all really believe there's something here and are determined to get the word out. I am inspired by all genuine and open people not afraid of the truth, particularly those who prioritize Equity In Action for eco and humanitarian causes. And hello-I am inspired by literary and other artistic achievements and thinkers. And young people's experiments in making it new in every way and their elders hanging in there. May we all remain teachable.
What's next for you and Wordspace?
More. Much More. We're working on some very cool surprises over here and will be revealing them September in our season kick off party at Wild Detectives on September 8.
100. Theater Mastermind Matt Posey
99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin
98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo
97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet
96. Funny Man Paul Varghese
95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña
94. Magic Man Trigg Watson
93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz
92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King
91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno
90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger
89. Literary Lion Thea Temple
88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele
87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart
86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards
85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler
84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez
83. Movie Nerd James Wallace
82. Artistic Tastemakers Elissa & Erin Stafford
81. Pioneering Arts Advocates Mark Lowry & Michael Warner
80. Imaginative Director Jeremy Bartel
79. Behind-the-Scenes Teacher Rachel Hull
78. Kaleidoscopic Artist Taylor "Effin" Cleveland
77. Filmmaker & Environmentalist Michael Cain
76. Music Activist Salim Nourallah
75. Underground Entrepreneur Daniel Yanez
74. Original Talent Celia Eberle
73. Comic Artist Aaron Aryanpur
72. Classical Thespian Raphael Parry
71. Dance Captain Valerie Shelton Tabor