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Meet Stacy Russo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stacy Russo.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’m a writer, poet, collage artist, and zine creator. You can find me most days serving the best students in the universe as a librarian and professor at Santa Ana College.

I grew up in central Pennsylvania in the 1970s in a humble and love-filled home with my parents and older brother, David. My dad was a gentle and kind man, and my mom had a joyful and bright spirit. My parents were hard-working people who taught us to always take pride in our work and not be ashamed of our status or the type of work we did. My mom had a great love for books. She would read while cooking, ironing clothes, and even walking! This love of reading and books she cultivated has remained a constant in my life.

In 1981, we moved to Southern California for my dad to have a better job in Los Angeles. Moving here completely changed the destiny of my family. It was as if the whole world and new possibilities opened. My brother loved riding his motorcycle all around and going to see live music in Hollywood. My parents were already in their 50s when they made this major change in their lives. This came to symbolize a spirit of reinvention for me. You can always make changes and start a new life, no matter how old you are.

My early work and inspirations with art and writing were tied to the punk rock scene. I grew up in the scene of the 1980s as a teenager in Fullerton. While creating fanzines with my friends, we used collage and cut and paste techniques. We wrote show reviews and political articles, giving me early experiences of writing and sharing my thoughts with others. I loved the DIY spirit of punk rock and the idea that we can all create and start where we are.

Punk rock also politicized me and made me more aware of injustices in our world. I became an activist in my youth and was involved in protests related to war and animal rights. I stopped eating meat and ultimately became a vegan. Being vegan is central to who I am and radiates out into all areas of my life where I try my best to do no harm and practice non-violence and compassion.

Over the years I continued to make collages and write poetry, articles, book reviews, and a few chapters in others’ edited books. I published my first book at age 38. My fifth book will be coming out this year. Most of my non-fiction writing has been related to activism and feminism. My poetry and collages tend to be of a more personal nature related often to my life as a woman or what I call Everyday Magic – a realization of the beauty and power of simple, everyday things.

Has it been a smooth road?
I have experienced my share of bumps and difficult detours along the way. Receiving rejection notices is just part of being a writer and artist. I lost count long ago. It is important to know that it happens to everyone. The chances of getting a rejection notice are much higher than an acceptance. It can be taxing on the spirit. One needs to pull on an inner strength to carry on.

I also struggled with something called the Imposter Phenomenon for many years as a young woman. Even though I managed to transfer to UC Berkeley from the community college and go on to receive two master’s degrees after graduating from Berkeley, I always felt I was not smart enough, and someone was going to figure this out. It was incredibly stressful at times to feel like I could not reveal the real “me.” I’ve read that this is a common experience for first-generation college students, especially women and people of color.

There were years where I worked three jobs to make ends meet and pay my rent and student debt. My writing and art have been something I’ve had to find pockets of time for – usually in the evenings and weekends. I’ve been a “Kitchen Table Writer” and “Kitchen Artist” – working late after work in small spaces to create. My life changed considerably in my early 40s when I secured a full-time tenure-track position as a librarian at Santa Ana College.

A few years ago, I bought my first home – a miracle and something I never thought would happen. I continue to find it difficult to find time to work on my writing and art, although my position allows me considerable privilege with weeks off during the holidays and in the summer. I use most of my free time writing or making art.

Another part of my story is that in my 30s I, unfortunately, found myself in a very difficult marriage. I hid what was happening out of shame and fear. There is no way to describe all the terrible things I experienced in a short interview, but since we are talking about my work as a writer and artist, I will share that around age 35 all of the collages I made throughout my life were destroyed.

This was a way of deeply hurting and controlling me, but it was also a form of abuse to make me feel that my art and creativity were insignificant. Once I escaped from my situation, I started creating my large collages again. Earlier this year at age 48, I experienced my first solo show “Everyday Magic” at MADE by Millworks in Long Beach!

My life after domestic abuse is a blessing every day. I can focus much more on my creative life. I can sleep and experience peace. Sometimes I regret the years I lost and all the time and energy I’ve had to put in overcoming post-traumatic stress, but I don’t give too much energy to that. I have no bitterness or anger. I am thankful to be alive. I wish to focus on joy, love, and building community through my writing and art.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
Several years ago, I started to develop an idea called Love Activism. It is a daily, radical, and holistic activism of kindness. At first, I created small cards that listed ideas for practices. I would give these out at zine festivals. Then I made a brochure and some corresponding artwork about Love Activism. I also started to make small wood mixed media pieces that I continue to make and sell online and at stores in Santa Ana (LibroMobile) and Long Beach (MADE by Millworks).

This all culminated into my fourth book Love Activism (Litwin Press) that came out last year. Love Activism is definitely a large umbrella that I imagine my future work will continue to fall under because it captures so much of my desires for living a peaceful life and working against cruelty and injustices.

My other books include We Were Going to Change the World: Interviews with Women from the 1970s and 1980s Southern California Punk Rock Scene (Santa Monica Press) and Life as Activism: June Jordan’s Writings from The Progressive (Litwin Books).

My latest project is anticipated this spring by Sanctuary Publishers. The title is A Better World Starts Here: Activists and Their Work. It will feature around twenty-five interviews I did with some truly amazing and beautiful people who are performing diverse types of activism work.

This year I am also incredibly thankful that my first two poetry chapbooks will be coming out: Everyday Magic (Finishing Line Press) and The Moon and Other Poems (Dancing Girl Press).

My next major project is an edited book titled Feminist Pilgrimage: Journeys of Discovery that will feature personal essays by contemporary feminist writers, artists, and scholars. I’m also working on a fictional piece of interconnected stories titled the Wild Librarian Bakery.

I want my work to be accessible to as many people as possible. With everything I do, my art and writing, I want people to feel that they can do it also. I believe we each have important stories to tell and we can all create.

What is your favorite childhood memory?
I lost my parents to cancer and my amazing brother earlier this year to the horrible and devastating condition called ALS. It has been tough, but I’m learning how to live without all of them. I think of them as my wonderful “Spirit Family” watching over me. I’m thankful for so many beautiful memories.

One of my favorite memories was when my dad taught me how to ride a bike. He took me out to an industrial area in Pennsylvania that had a long stretch of concrete without any cars around. We made several attempts with him running alongside me, but as soon as he let go I would get nervous and almost topple over. Then he must have known that I could make it on my own. He was running alongside me and I kept pedaling as fast as I could until I looked back and saw him standing way in the distance. He raised his arm and waved at me yelling, “Keep going!”

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