Member Spotlight: Jeanne Powell | Mechanics' Institute

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Member Spotlight: Jeanne Powell

Librarian Taryn Edwards has managed the activities for writers at the Mechanics’ Institute for twelve years. One of the writers she works with is Jeanne Powell who manages our drop-in writers group Write If You Dare. She has also spoken to our literary community several times and will be a panelist at the next Writers Lunch on August 20. 

Jeanne, how did you first become acquainted with MI?

Not long after I left New York and Michigan and moved to San Francisco, I discovered the Library. I was a legal secretary working in the Financial District, and may have noticed the building during lunchtime walks. Or perhaps I read about the Library in the SF Bay Guardian, which I devoured every week. 

What are its strengths in your opinion? Why are you still a member?

Everything about the Library drew me to it -- convenient location and long hours, physical beauty of the building itself, the absence of noise, existence of full services equivalent to those of the SFPL. It never occurred to me to let my membership lapse. And the Christmas parties are fabulous! 

Tell me what you love about the Write If You Dare group? It is one of our most popular writers activities.

Write If You Dare differs from the other writing groups at MIL in that all writers and all literary genres are welcome. The variety of writers and authors who attend the weekly event has been fascinating. 

You are a prolific writer and I consider you to be a mentor - what is the one piece of advice you have for new writers?

Read, read, read AND write, write, write would be my advice to new writers. 

I remember years ago talking to you on the phone - you had called the Reference Desk about one of your latest books. Tell me about them and why your latest one is special?

When I began writing, I did not think about getting into print. Eventually I found an audience as I developed my writing ability over the years. 

The manuscript for My Own Silence was a finalist in national competition, but it took years to get into print. The title comes from haiku I composed: What to discard / manufactured dreams / my own silence. 

Word Dancing is a collection of poems from out-of-print chapbooks, paired with newly written poems and my flash fiction. To make the collection more enticing, I added 21 of my collages. People noticed. 

Two Seasons started as a partnership with another writer. Creative differences short-circuited the project. I gathered my latest poems, including many composed in Write if You Dare meetings, and created a new book with a different publisher. Response has been positive. A Barnard professor surprised me with a glowing review. 

Deeply Notched Leaves is my most recent and my favorite because I was able to mark the journey I have experienced as a creative and a person of color. My poems range from justifiable anger to a 20-verse piece on forgiveness. The title is inspired by a verse from Thich Nhat Hanh: I have lost my smile / but don’t worry / the dandelion has it. Dandelions were my favorite flower as a child, we ate dandelion leaves, and those leaves are deeply notched.

Why are you drawn to poetry?

I have no idea really. Perhaps my impatience is a factor? Verse rather than a 600 page novel? Poetry and other forms of nonfiction seem to call to me. I sometimes say to people: think of my poems as very short stories. The lines between genres seem more fluid than ever these days.

Thank you so much for sharing your work with us and donating copies of your work to the Mechanics’ Institute. We are proud to have you as a member and thrilled that you are able to contribute your time and experience to our literary community.


Posted on Aug. 9, 2021 by Taryn Edwards