Essayist Jessica Wilbanks mixed thermo-dynamics with memory when she wrote her Pushcart Prize winning essay Father of Disorder. "I was thinking about thermo-dynamics and the relationships between heat and energy [when I wrote the essay]," Wilbanks tells us. "Heat doesn't disappear, it's just transferred and it always seeks to escape a pressure-filled situation. I compared that idea to a situation in my family where my father had a lot of rage. The spine of the essay is the relationship between my father and I; the things that I use to try to figure that relationship out are science and religion, and a little bit of pop culture."
In her essay, Wilbanks compares the principles regarding the dispersion of heat to the way in which her father's anger was spread through her family -- never disappearing, just changing form as it was transferred from one person to another.
"Memoir can have a bad rap in some circles," Wilbanks says. "When it's done in a sloppy way, it's just one person talking about their life." But when it's done well, as Father of Disorder is, one person's experience can resonate with readers. Wilbanks tells us about reading an essay about the history of telephone poles, which the author used to comment on lynching. "Making that connection is only possible in non-fiction. Fiction is character-driven, non-fiction is driven by ideas. For me, it's best to just stick to the truth. The world is big and messy and just filled with so many wonderful things so I don't find that I need to make anything up."
What She Does: Wilbanks, like many artists, has a "day job" (she works with an educational non-profit). She also has an active writing career. "I call myself a writer. That wasn't always the case. It's only recently that I've been able to make that a full and primary part of my life."
Why She Likes It: "The part of writing that I absolutely love is moving from a stray image or idea, to exploring all kinds of strange threads. I thought one essay was going to be about me speaking in tongues as a child. But as I went through it, I thought it wasn't quite right so I brought in some history of [speaking in tongues] and the piece morphed into something I would have never imagined. I also like the editing process. I like combing through a story and polishing off the rough edges. I tend to write very quickly and then spend a long while shaping it and changing it."
What Inspires Her: "I'm not sure exactly how to answer that. For me, it's [something different] that inspires me every time. Sometimes it's a subject that I don't understand and that I want to understand better. Often I feel I'm most inspired to write when I've read something really powerful that another author has written. That prompts me to spend more time working through subject matter."
If Not This, Then What: "I feel really lucky because I'm able to do both writing and non-profit work at the same time. I think if I didn't write, I would probably spend a lot of time sitting around and thinking but I would have a hard time organizing my thoughts. Writing allows me to organize my thoughts. If I didn't write, I'd be a little more preoccupied and unconnected. I wouldn't be able to work through things in the same way. Then again if all I did is work at a desk and then send off my work to get published, that would be hard - and isolating. I'm very social. I also love working for an immediate goal, working for something bigger than just my needs."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
If Not Here, Then Where: "I think I'd pick Houston. I can't imagine a better place to be a writer. I feel the writers here are very talented and passionate, but very unpretentious too. That's really rare. I don't think you get that in Brooklyn or San Francisco. I moved here from New Mexico, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world but it just wasn't for me. I love being in a big city, I love being warm in the winter. I love being by the water so I spend as much times as I can getting closer to the Gulf."
What's Next: Wilbanks is working on a book about her religious background. "I grew up Pentecostal which is a type of Christianity that's really focused on direct and personal encounters with God, such as speaking in tongues and receiving a miraculous healing of some sort. That's not my belief system right now, but I'm still really interested in it as an idea; I'm interested in what people think about it, both people who identify as Pentecostal and people from the larger community, be they atheist or some other faith. I want to explore the history from when it started with a single woman who spoke in tongues which she said was a language from God, to now when it's grown to where it's practiced by 300 million people worldwide, including a lot of third world country."
More Creatives for 2013 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
David DeHoyos, astronaut photographer Sophie Jordan, bestselling book author Jessi Jordan, comic artist, beekeeper and yeti enthusiast Patrick Peters, architect and professor Jamie Kinosian, visual artist Paris F. Jomadiao, mixed-media artist and stop motion animator Shanon Adams, dancer James Glassman, Houstorian historian and artist Lou Vest, photographer Sara Gaston, stage and screen star Rachael Pavlik, a writer mom Ana Villaronga-Roman, Katy Contemporary Arts Museum director Erin Wasmund, actor, singer and dancer Karim Al-Zand, composer Jan Burandt, paper conservator for The Menil Collection Deke Anderson, actor Craig Cohen, hockey fan and host of Houston Matters Mauro Luna, Poe-Inspired photographer Trond Saeverud, Galveston Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Khrystyna Balushka, paper flower child Christina Carfora, visual artist and world traveler Sara Kumar, artistic director for Shunya Theatre Kiki Maroon, burlesque clown Gin Martini, fashion designer Lacey Crawford, painter and sculptor Homer Starkey, novelist Jenn Fox, mixed media Shohei Iwahama, dancer Erica DelGardo, metalsmith Bob Clark, executive director Houston Family Arts Center Kerrelyn Sparks, bestselling romance author Lindsay Halpin, punk rock mad hatter Drake Simpson, actor Shelby Carter, Playboy model turned photographer David Matranga, actor Crystal Belcher, pole dancer Daniel Kramer, photographer Blue 130, pin-up explosion art Nina Godiwalla, author and TED speaker David Wilhem, light painter Tom Abrahams, author and newscaster Browncoat, pin-up pop artist Kris Becker, Nu-Classical composer and pianist Vincent Fink, science fashion Stephanie Saint Sanchez, Senorita Cinema founder Ned Gayle, thrift store painting defacer Sameera Faridi, fashion designer Greg Ruhe, The Human Puppet Sophia L. Torres, founder and co-artistic director of Psophonia Dance Company Maggie Lasher, dance professor and artistic director Jordan Jaffe, founder of Black Lab Theatre Outspoken Bean, performance poet Barry Moore, architect Josh Montoute, mobile gaming specialist Ty Doran, young actor Gwen Zepeda, Houston's first Poet Laureate Joseph Walsh, principal dancer at Houston Ballet Justin Garcia, artist Buck Ross, dilettante and director of Moores Opera Center Patrick Renner, sculptor of the abstract and the esoteric Tomas Glass, abstract artist and True Blood musician Ashley Stoker, painter, photographer and Tumblr muse Amy Llanes, artistic airector of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company Bevin Bering Dubrowski, executive director at the Houston Center for Photography Lydia Hance, founder and director of Frame Dance Productions Piyali Sen Dasgupta, mixed media artist and nature lover Dean James, New York Times bestselling mystery novelist Nicola Parente, abstract painter and photographer Cheryl Schulke, handmade leather pursemaker Anthony Rathbun, Alternative Lifestyle Photographer David Salinas, computer-less analog photographer Danielle Burns, art curator Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker Amanda Stevens, scary book author Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger Ana MarÃa Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach Billy D. Washington, comedian Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer Kelly Sears, animator and film maker Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director jhon r. stronks,dance-maker Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer