“What was it like to be in this house with this strange woman with things all over the walls?” by Charlotte Emeljanow
Hi! My name is Charlotte, third year English Lit. major at Western University. I love working with Penn because she drives my curiosity and my hunger for language. I’m looking forward to learning about the working life of a writer.
Penn Kemp, activist poet, performer and playwright, was the most fascinating woman I had ever met. A self-proclaimed gypsy, Kemp invited three university students to her home one late Monday afternoon for a cup of tea and some serious mentorship.
A simultaneously frightening and inspiring reality check: that is how I would describe my first experiences with Pendas Productions. I arrived at Kemp’s house with no expectations – I was there to discuss, with my fellow group members, the tasks and duties of the coming months. I left Kemp’s house feeling refreshed, inspired and, frankly, ready to write: “One afternoon with me and she ran off to Africa to become a writer.”
While CEL and our work together is what brought me to Kemp’s house that afternoon, it was not the overarching theme of the meeting. Our tasks were delegated and defined by our interests in the field: I, myself, am interested in publishing and hope to pursue this as a career and, therefore, was delegated the task of preparing grant applications. A lot of time, however, was spent discussing who we are, who Kemp is and what we can gain from an experience such as this.
I was given the opportunity to sit with Pendas Productions publisher, Gavin Stairs. This was supposed to be a one-on-one discussion about the micropublishing industry. An hour later, Stairs had infused me with a curiosity for life that can only come from someone who has lived long and well. A conversation that almost brought me to tears, it put my dreams into perspective. It is easy to romanticize the life of a writer. It is equally easy to think you are separate from that life. As a wanna-be publisher, I have only heard the glory stories, the success stories – Stairs brought me back down to earth. I now embark on the rest of my journey with my feet planted firmly on the ground.
Overall, it was not CEL or the project that stuck out about my meeting with Pendas Productions, it was the art and the people and the inspiration they both gave me. I left that house feeling shaken, but in a good way. They forced me to change my perspective, to open my eyes and to ask the right questions. They rattled me.
I feel like I can carry on with the life I was headed towards with a more concrete understanding of it. Kemp told me this business was equally creative and analytical and it was this concept that really stuck with me. I have always been a balance: artsy and logical. Throughout high school, I juggled with pursuing engineering or English, with taking writer’s craft or chemistry. Kemp showed me that the path that I’m on is the perfect balance of both, it is business and it is art. I am on the right path.