100 Creatives 2013: Jessica Wilbanks, Essayist and Pushcart Prize Winner

Categories: 100 Creatives

Courtesy of Jessica Wilbanks
Essayist Jessica Wilbanks mixed thermo-dynamics with memory when she wrote her Pushcart Prize winning essay Father of Disorder. "I was thinking about thermo-dynamics and the relationships between heat and energy [when I wrote the essay]," Wilbanks tells us. "Heat doesn't disappear, it's just transferred and it always seeks to escape a pressure-filled situation. I compared that idea to a situation in my family where my father had a lot of rage. The spine of the essay is the relationship between my father and I; the things that I use to try to figure that relationship out are science and religion, and a little bit of pop culture."

In her essay, Wilbanks compares the principles regarding the dispersion of heat to the way in which her father's anger was spread through her family -- never disappearing, just changing form as it was transferred from one person to another.

"Memoir can have a bad rap in some circles," Wilbanks says. "When it's done in a sloppy way, it's just one person talking about their life." But when it's done well, as Father of Disorder is, one person's experience can resonate with readers. Wilbanks tells us about reading an essay about the history of telephone poles, which the author used to comment on lynching. "Making that connection is only possible in non-fiction. Fiction is character-driven, non-fiction is driven by ideas. For me, it's best to just stick to the truth. The world is big and messy and just filled with so many wonderful things so I don't find that I need to make anything up."

Courtesy of Jessica Wllbanks
What She Does: Wilbanks, like many artists, has a "day job" (she works with an educational non-profit). She also has an active writing career. "I call myself a writer. That wasn't always the case. It's only recently that I've been able to make that a full and primary part of my life."

Why She Likes It: "The part of writing that I absolutely love is moving from a stray image or idea, to exploring all kinds of strange threads. I thought one essay was going to be about me speaking in tongues as a child. But as I went through it, I thought it wasn't quite right so I brought in some history of [speaking in tongues] and the piece morphed into something I would have never imagined. I also like the editing process. I like combing through a story and polishing off the rough edges. I tend to write very quickly and then spend a long while shaping it and changing it."

What Inspires Her: "I'm not sure exactly how to answer that. For me, it's [something different] that inspires me every time. Sometimes it's a subject that I don't understand and that I want to understand better. Often I feel I'm most inspired to write when I've read something really powerful that another author has written. That prompts me to spend more time working through subject matter."

If Not This, Then What: "I feel really lucky because I'm able to do both writing and non-profit work at the same time. I think if I didn't write, I would probably spend a lot of time sitting around and thinking but I would have a hard time organizing my thoughts. Writing allows me to organize my thoughts. If I didn't write, I'd be a little more preoccupied and unconnected. I wouldn't be able to work through things in the same way. Then again if all I did is work at a desk and then send off my work to get published, that would be hard - and isolating. I'm very social. I also love working for an immediate goal, working for something bigger than just my needs."

If Not Here, Then Where: "I think I'd pick Houston. I can't imagine a better place to be a writer. I feel the writers here are very talented and passionate, but very unpretentious too. That's really rare. I don't think you get that in Brooklyn or San Francisco. I moved here from New Mexico, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world but it just wasn't for me. I love being in a big city, I love being warm in the winter. I love being by the water so I spend as much times as I can getting closer to the Gulf."

What's Next: Wilbanks is working on a book about her religious background. "I grew up Pentecostal which is a type of Christianity that's really focused on direct and personal encounters with God, such as speaking in tongues and receiving a miraculous healing of some sort. That's not my belief system right now, but I'm still really interested in it as an idea; I'm interested in what people think about it, both people who identify as Pentecostal and people from the larger community, be they atheist or some other faith. I want to explore the history from when it started with a single woman who spoke in tongues which she said was a language from God, to now when it's grown to where it's practiced by 300 million people worldwide, including a lot of third world country."

More Creatives for 2013
(In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).

David DeHoyos, astronaut photographer
Sophie Jordan, bestselling book author

Jessi Jordan, comic artist, beekeeper and yeti enthusiast
Patrick Peters, architect and professor
Jamie Kinosian, visual artist
Paris F. Jomadiao, mixed-media artist and stop motion animator

Shanon Adams, dancer
James Glassman, Houstorian historian and artist
Lou Vest, photographer
Sara Gaston, stage and screen star
Rachael Pavlik, a writer mom
Ana Villaronga-Roman, Katy Contemporary Arts Museum director

Erin Wasmund, actor, singer and dancer
Karim Al-Zand, composer
Jan Burandt, paper conservator for The Menil Collection
Deke Anderson, actor

Craig Cohen, hockey fan and host of Houston Matters
Mauro Luna, Poe-Inspired photographer
Trond Saeverud, Galveston Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor
Khrystyna Balushka, paper flower child
Christina Carfora, visual artist and world traveler
Sara Kumar, artistic director for Shunya Theatre
Kiki Maroon, burlesque clown
Gin Martini, fashion designer
Lacey Crawford, painter and sculptor
Homer Starkey, novelist
Jenn Fox, mixed media Shohei Iwahama, dancer
Erica DelGardo, metalsmith
Bob Clark, executive director Houston Family Arts Center
Kerrelyn Sparks, bestselling romance author

Lindsay Halpin, punk rock mad hatter
Drake Simpson, actor
Shelby Carter, Playboy model turned photographer
David Matranga, actor
Crystal Belcher, pole dancer
Daniel Kramer, photographer
Blue 130, pin-up explosion art

Nina Godiwalla, author and TED speaker
David Wilhem, light painter
Tom Abrahams, author and newscaster
Browncoat, pin-up pop artist
Kris Becker, Nu-Classical composer and pianist
Vincent Fink, science fashion
Stephanie Saint Sanchez, Senorita Cinema founder
Ned Gayle, thrift store painting defacer

Sameera Faridi, fashion designer
Greg Ruhe, The Human Puppet

Sophia L. Torres, founder and co-artistic director of Psophonia Dance Company
Maggie Lasher, dance professor and artistic director
Jordan Jaffe, founder of Black Lab Theatre
Outspoken Bean, performance poet
Barry Moore, architect
Josh Montoute, mobile gaming specialist
Ty Doran, young actor
Gwen Zepeda, Houston's first Poet Laureate
Joseph Walsh, principal dancer at Houston Ballet
Justin Garcia, artist
Buck Ross, dilettante and director of Moores Opera Center
Patrick Renner, sculptor of the abstract and the esoteric
Tomas Glass, abstract artist and True Blood musician
Ashley Stoker, painter, photographer and Tumblr muse
Amy Llanes, artistic airector of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company
Bevin Bering Dubrowski, executive director at the Houston Center for Photography

Lydia Hance, founder and director of Frame Dance Productions
Piyali Sen Dasgupta, mixed media artist and nature lover
Dean James, New York Times bestselling mystery novelist
Nicola Parente, abstract painter and photographer

Cheryl Schulke, handmade leather pursemaker
Anthony Rathbun, Alternative Lifestyle Photographer
David Salinas, computer-less analog photographer

Danielle Burns, art curator
Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder

Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator

Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker
Amanda Stevens, scary book author
Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger

Ana María Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach

Billy D. Washington, comedian
Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer

Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer

Kelly Sears, animator and film maker
Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director

jhon r. stronks,dance-maker
Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer

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