Poet, Feminist, Activist: Virginia Kane

Hi everyone!

Welcome to this new segment! I’m excited to interview some awesome people for you who are amazing, down to earth, and radiate a whole lot of positivity out into this world. For today’s post, I sat down with my fellow friend Virginia Kane, a current student at Kenyon College and a recently published author, among so many other things!

Our conversation was incredible; between catching up on life, discussing social justice topics, and being able to hear all about her work here in DC and at Kenyon, I was beyond inspired and couldn’t wait to start writing this piece. To see her official biography, see the bottom of this post.

On a humid Friday morning down in Dupont Circle, DC, I grabbed coffee with Virginia at Bluestone Lane, a trendy coffee place that uses reusable silverware and proudly displays a pride flag— clearly, the perfect location for this social justice forward interviewee. Between sipping on lattes and munching on peanut butter banana toast, I got to reconnect with this incredible girl, listening to her creative writing and poetry pursuits, and hearing about some of her ideas and work relating to things such as feminism, gender equality, and empowering youth through the pursuit of creative writing. Our Q&A is below!

Poet, Feminist, Activist: Virginia Kane

Q: Why did you decide to double major in Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) and English?

I went into Kenyon knowing that I loved reading and writing – I’ve been that way since preschool. I love stories and storytelling. I have three sisters, so we would always play make-believe games growing up. My favorite part was characterization: imagining all these different lives you could have and the complexity of different narratives merging together. So, I really wanted to study literature and poetry to find inspiration that I could draw from for my own writing. But I think in some ways I felt like that wasn’t going to be enough for my four years. I wanted something that more actively explored how gender shapes societies through history, theory, terminology, and research.

I wanted something that more actively explored how gender shapes societies through history, theory, terminology, and research.

Obviously, literature can illuminate historically marginalized voices and teach us about the myriad of ways an individual’s journey can unfold. It can talk about societal forces that both oppress and empower people, but I wanted another discipline to elaborate on those things. I wanted to learn about feminist theory and how gender and gender expression and every form of identity shapes an individual. I really like Women’s and Gender Studies because it talks about broader institutions, systems and structures throughout the world, while literature gives me the lens to see countless examples of how those forces can affect the trajectory of a single person’s life.

Q: You recently published a book, “If Organic Deodorant was made for dancing.” Congratulations! That [book] touches on the subjects of female empowerment, particularly in teenage girls navigating their body image, faith, confusions about life, among other things. Tell us a little bit about your inspiration for the book.

I think when I sat down to write the book, I wasn’t thinking ‘okay, I need to write a book that will empower women and that will talk about girlhood and having a negative body image.’ I kind of wrote about my life and my experiences of struggling and finding joy and challenging my beliefs and feeling confused and feeling alone and feeling alive, and all of those things then inadvertently spoke to greater issues. It’s like when I talk about the differences between studying English and Women’s and Gender Studies. You can have both implicit and explicit ways that your work touches on those issues. What I loved about writing this book is that it gave a more overarching look at my life. It wasn’t just a single poem. It was twelve poems, and so, I think when you read it in one sitting, you kind of get a wholistic look at my experiences as a teenager and my nineteen years of my life.

I kind of wrote about my life and my experiences of struggling and finding joy and challenging my beliefs and feeling confused and feeling alone and feeling alive, and all of those things then inadvertently spoke to greater issues. 

I hope that through telling the story of myself as one person, people can find things that they relate to – even if they come from vastly different backgrounds. There are still some emotions in there – shame, or fear, or guilt, or anxiety, or self-hatred, or love, or excitement – that regardless of where you are coming from, are at least little fragments that I hope people can connect to and carry with them.

Q: Keith Wilson, author of FieldNotes on Ordinary Love, says about your book that “the young woman at the center of Virginia Kane’s poems is in the act of reestablishing the space her body and her voice might inhabit in a world in which she already had these words.” As with your activism and studies, tell us a little about what you hoped to convey to readers throughout your book.

That was so kind of him. I think what I really appreciate about that sentiment is that I didn’t fully realize that had been my purpose until I heard somebody else on the outside say that. I think that because I wrote this book after all these things that happened – which is what you do as a writer, you sit down, and you reflect – you realize all these threads in your life. You realize all these words that you wish you had earlier. I kind of realized, like… what am I so afraid of? What was I so afraid of?

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Picture of Virginia Kane. Photo courtesy of Virginia Kane.

I looked back on all these different situations where I didn’t know myself and didn’t know how to confront a situation. And I think now I would just hope that it encourages other people to also say the things that they want to say – whether that applies to the risks they take within the social and political causes they advocate for or how to communicate more honestly with the person they’re in love with.

Q: Did you ever encounter any setbacks, obstacles, or the commonly known writer’s block? If so, how did you persevere?

I think it was less of a struggle of writer’s block because I’ve had a journal almost my entire life. I write down ordinary things that happen to me but also ideas for poems, ideas for essays, thoughts, random wanderings, what the sun looks like over the course of a day, what I’m wearing, all these little details, so I had so much to drawn from. I think the biggest struggle was worrying about the book’s reception. I consider myself to be pretty outgoing and friendly because I love meeting new people, but also, until recently, very private with the details of my personal life. In knowing that I would be writing this book – and not only writing these poems but publishing them – doing readings at my college and giving them to family and friends and people in my past and people that I meet at open mics – there was a lot of emotional preparation.

I think the biggest struggle was worrying about the book’s reception. I consider myself to be pretty outgoing and friendly because I love meeting new people, but also, until recently, very private with the details of my personal life. 

I had to prepare to be very vulnerable and very honest about parts of myself that I had never opened up about with most of my friends and family, whether that was being queer or having struggled with body image and disordered eating and all of these parts of my life that I kept quiet about during high school. I think that was the hardest part. I had so much to write about that I had bottled up for so long. But when it came down to it, I was most worried about having to hand someone this book and say, ‘here’s who I am in spite of who you think I am, or who you thought I was.’ There was a lot of anxiety involved in that process and the moments leading up to it. Fortunately, I had the support of my editors at Sunset Press and I gradually gained the support of certain family members and friends who I could talk to about my fears regarding the reception of my poems.

But when it came down to it, I was most worried about having to hand someone this book and say, ‘here’s who I am in spite of who you think I am, or who you thought I was.’

But I think what powered me through it was wondering, like, okay what book do I wish I had had in times when I felt voiceless? And what person do I wish I could have heard from and seen myself in? And so, at the end of the day, months down the road from my first Sunset Press workshop back in February, and now having given this book to my mother, and having given this book to my grandmother, I’m so grateful that I took this leap of faith. Because since then I have heard people say that they have seen themselves in my narrative, and they have seen different ways to view and address certain issues in their lives. The random people who have told me that their mom read my book and connected to it because of her struggles with body image or their friends connected to it because of their experiences of feeling ostracized in their religious community – I think that is what has made it worthwhile.

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Virginia Kane writing in the treehouse of her childhood swing-set, where she writes a lot of poems. Photo courtesy of Virginia Kane.

Q: You have addressed [topics like] feminism and body image. What’s your best advice for people hoping to get more educated on this topic?

I think for so long I was so terrified by mainstream media just as this broad term, because I had only ever felt limited by it – because of the largely one-dimensional representations of women and these airbrushed photos of girls who represented what I was supposed to aspire to that I just totally shut myself off from television and movies and a lot of music and a lot of magazines. I was so scared of consuming anything except books and poetry because I was worried about how that would affect my mental state and self-confidence at the moment. And in many ways that was, at least temporarily, vital to my healing and developing a better relationship with my body. But I think that as I become more comfortable in my skin after a long battle, I’ve gradually found so much freedom and empowerment in certain media forms.

I love the Button PoetryYouTube channel. They’re an independent publishing press based in Minneapolis and they have open mic nights and book release parties and a lot of the people they feature in their videos touch on feminism in their poems and performances. I also love the Say More podcast! Two of my favorite poets, Olivia Gatwood and Melissa Lozada-Oliva, basically invite a guest on each week and talk for an hour about cultural issues alongside anecdotes from their personal lives. One second they’re discussing how the stigma surrounding pregnancy, birth, and abortion in the U.S. is perpetuated by a lack of body literacy in earlier reproductive years and the next they’re talking about the first time they wore a bikini, their experiences of moving to a new city alone, or what birth control methods they’ve used. I think that seeing how all of that comprises a woman’s life and how ordinary details are vital to telling women’s narratives, or telling people’s narratives, reiterates that intimate issues also inform the broader political moment. I also love reading content from Rookie, Make Muse, Speciwomen, Adolescent, Crybaby Zine –a bunch of online zines and magazines that publish articles, essays, and interviews –mostly highlighting the experiences of women and femme people who are making art that pushes boundaries or makes me think. Also listening to music by Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple, Solange, Lizzo, Courtney Barnett. It all makes me feel a lot stronger.


Follow & Buy her Book!

You can find Virginia on Twitter @virginiakane_ and Instagram @virginia_kane. Buy Virginia’s book here or visit Sunsetpress.org. You can also contact her through Twitter or Instagram to purchase a book, as well.

Thank you for so much for reading! I hope this talk with Virginia completely motivated all those writers to get their pen to paper ASAP. Virginia is this amazing person with a huge heart; it was such a pleasure being able to talk with her! 

Alright, chicos, that’s a wrap for this week! Until next time!

Quote of the post:

“Let them see what a woman looks like. They may not have ever seen one before.” – Sarah Kay

Virginia Kane’s bioVirginia Kane is a 19-year-old poet, essayist, and singer-songwriter from Alexandria, Virginia. A graduate of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, she is currently a sophomore at Kenyon College where she double majors in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing and Women’s and Gender Studies. Virginia is the author of the poetry chapbook If Organic Deodorant Was Made for Dancing (Sunset Press 2019) and has received a National Gold Medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Virginia has worked with the New Directions Domestic Abuse Shelter and Rape Crisis Center of Mt. Vernon, Ohio and the social justice poetry non-profit Split This Rock, based in Washington, D.C. A student associate and intern at the Kenyon Review, and a member of the Kenyon Magnetic Voices spoken word poetry group, Virginia is passionate about intersectional feminism, environmental advocacy, literacy education, and mangoes.  

 

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