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Meet Meri Tumanyan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Meri Tumanyan.

Hi Meri, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I wrote my first poem when I was eight years old, after the devastating earthquake of Armenia in 1988. I didn’t think much of it. I had drafted a couple of stanzas with rhythm and a rhyme scheme celebrating my country and mourning the state of things after this big shakedown, and then I shared it with my mom. My mother, an avid reader who had instilled in me a love for literature, particularly poetry, got emotional and hugged me as I felt the tears trickling down her face. She then paraded my poem around the house, showing it to all our family members, neighbors, friends, and relatives who all collectively agreed that I had wisdom and talent beyond my years. Later, I realized it was this experience that helped me recognize my passion for words and that I could express myself best through poetry. Since then, writing has been for me a sacred place I retreat to—both to celebrate life and to make sense of the challenges it presents.

In high school, my favorite course was British Literature. At Occidental College, I majored in English and Comparative Literary Studies, which somewhat satiated my hunger for literature. I then pursued an MA degree in literature at California State University, Northridge, but halfway through the program, I decided to pursue a degree in Creative Writing. I was always a poet, but upon taking a course in playwriting, my professor saw potential and suggested that I write a full-length play for my MA thesis.

I had to submit paperwork to my department to get approval to switch genres, ultimately writing a play entitled In the Name of Love, which was based on a very abusive relationship I had just gotten out of in my early twenties. It was both a heart-wrenching process but also a very cathartic one as I dramatized the experiences I had undergone. The memories were fresh, the feelings were raw, and I always hoped to see this play on stage to increase awareness about domestic violence. Unfortunately, this is a project I have never been able to revisit objectively. I think part of me is hoping to go back, polish it up, and have a theater put this on stage because people need to see, feel, and understand what really goes on behind closed doors. Domestic violence/abuse is not an individual issue but a societal problem, and I feel very passionately about the way it tangles itself into our lives.

Even after this powerful experience, I still think of myself predominantly as a poet. I always write poetry. I write more poetry when I’m unhappy or grappling with something. It’s always helped me deal with life’s hardships and lingering darkness from the past: family problems, relationship issues, and the responsibilities that come with being a woman, a mother, and an educator. It has been a struggle to be everything I’m supposed to be, attend to all who depend on me while working three jobs and still trying very hard not to lose myself in the process. I think that’s a daily challenge I face: to be the best mom, the best teacher, friend, daughter, partner, etc. and still leave some time and energy for myself to explore my creative side.

However, sometimes, it is the mundane obligations we bear that draw new stories out of us. In 2017, I decided to finish a children’s book I had started writing when my older daughter was just a toddler. It was a story about a working mom leaving a crying child at home to go to work. My first book, Mommy, the Dreamweaver was published in 2017. The following year, I published Daddy’s Waltz, a book about the relationship between my children and their father, specifically, the waltz he made up to help them go to sleep while dancing around and rocking them in his arms.

My third children’s book is called Never Be Anyone Other Than You (2022) and it was inspired by my younger daughter, who after seeing the first two books about her sister asked, “Mom, when are you gonna write a book about me?” I don’t think I had ever written anything so fast. I think the first draft was done within 10-15 minutes and that was that! To my surprise, this book, when later reviewed by Pacific Book Review, earned a Notable Book seal. I have my daughter to thank for the pressure and the inspiration.

I like to self-publish my children’s books because I ask my illustrators to emulate photos of my children. This is my way of making these books special and memorable for them. It is also a way for me to capture the fond memories that are unique to our family. But ultimately, my children’s books attempt to celebrate the spirit of childhood that resides in us all.

I’m currently working on my fourth children’s book, The Girl with the Purple Umbrella, which was a story that came alive while my younger daughter and I were out for a walk on a rainy day. Stay tuned!

My first poetry collection, Love in the Time of Corona was published in 2020. It was originally a chapbook which I submitted for the Four Feathers Press Poetry Chapbook contest. I ended up being one of the winners of the contest and though I was thrilled, I wanted to do something bigger with this book. After all, the collection was inspired by COVID, quarantine, and the mental and emotional anguish we experienced during our isolation. I asked for permission from Four Feathers Press to create a full-length manuscript and self-publish the book so that more people would have access to it. I’m grateful that I was able to do that.

I think of Love in the Time of Corona as my “quarantine baby.” It has a very special place in my heart because it was the product of all kinds of turmoil we experienced a few years ago as we were all struggling with the pandemic and the fears/anxieties it evoked. However, the themes of hope, love, resiliency and the power of reflection helped me not only cope with some unpleasant situations in my personal life but also write for a bigger audience than just myself.

My second poetry book, Shadows, released in 2022, is a narrative in poems about domestic violence and intimate partner abuse. It’s a story I’ve carried with me for over 20 years until some powerful force within me compelled me to share it with the world. It contains poems I had been writing since my twenties, but there are also new ones based on more recent experiences. I was moved and inspired, but I also felt such a sense of obligation to complete this project that I literally put the book together within a weekend.

This was the most difficult, most candid book I’ve written. The process was painful, as I had to re-read old poems, re-live much-suppressed memories, revisit dark places in my heart and my psyche to articulate the pain. Needless to say, writing Shadows tested my mental and emotional endurance, and it took a lot of discipline to keep going. The lengthy introduction came out of nowhere, as I initially had no intention of writing an Intro for a poetry collection, but I felt I had to go with it. The revision process was endless, but thanks to good poetic friends, we got through it.

For me, writing has always been a process of exploration: an exploration of myself, an exploration of others, an exploration of the “truth.” It is also a place where I find reconciliation, hope, a new perspective. Ultimately, we are all fragments of ourselves. I think it’s hard to be whole when there are so many forces, external and internal, pulling at us. Poetry helps me seek wholeness and integrity through language. It gives form to chaos—especially the chaos that resides within—and it unveils the hidden beauty in ourselves, in others, and in life. I honestly don’t know where I would be if it weren’t for “the word.”

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Life has thrown a couple of curveballs at me. It hasn’t been easy. I’m not going to lie. However, regardless of what happens to us, I find it important to maintain hope that things will get better and that tomorrow has to be better than yesterday ever was. But more importantly, I find it challenging yet crucial not to lose myself. I fight on a daily basis to remain true to myself, allow myself to feel what I’m feeling, speak my mind as honestly and as tactfully as possible, spread love, kindness, and empathy while encouraging my children and my students to do the same. If I can steal some time away from daily responsibilities to write, (without interruptions), that’s a good day. With my IG account @mt_musings, writing on a daily basis has almost become an obligation as I feel people are waiting to read something new, honest, raw, and inspiring. So technically, I do write every day and I’m grateful to followers and readers whose feedback inspires me to write consistently—even if it’s an aphorism, a quote, or a micro poem. So, thank you!

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I’m a full-time high school English and Mythology teacher, an adjunct English professor, and a mentor teacher for the district. I have worked at several private schools throughout the years, and I’ve taught 1st grade through college. I love teaching at the secondary and the collegiate levels. I’ve also worked as a Judicial Assistant for the LA Superior Court over a decade ago, but my heart was always in the classroom. I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had and for all the friends I’ve met along the way.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Perseverance, patience, compassion, and optimism—I’m always trying to see the best in people and in situations. Sometimes it backfires, but we live and sometimes, we learn.

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Kevin Kegham

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