Carol Durant is a multi-faceted creative. She is a poet, author, playwright and event host. She is also an actor and stage manager in various performances & has also been part of the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York. Carol is also the founder and host of a monthly poetry brunch called Outliers Poetry.
Carol inspires with her courage and her undaunted spirit to keep creating and trying out new mediums while building a supportive community for writers. Read on…
Carol tell me about your author journey, when did you start writing?
I have been writing off and on throughout my life but was not anywhere near focused on it. Whatever thoughts came to me, I would write them on napkins or pieces of paper or if somebody needed a reference letter or needed something to say at a wedding, I would write it for them. Nothing focused.
In 2016, I was studying film editing and when it ended I felt there was too much of a lift required to get into films at that time but I looked around me and saw that I had a pile of poems-on newspapers and napkins and just everywhere. So, I thought, I really should do something with them. That’s how I decided to get them published in January 2017. During that time, I also decided to do two other major things- I decided to audition for a play and begin acting. I started doing all of these things concurrently.
That was a good time because technology-wise, access was becoming available for regular folks. To publish a book, you didn’t have to have a literary agent, you didn’t have to be someone of renown, you could just be a regular person. I began researching and I realised that I wanted to use a local publishing company so that I could walk in and ask questions. I found Detroit Bookmakers and I’ve worked with them a couple of times for my books (I have more than one now). I use them because they are local and it was a great experience because anything that came to mind during the entire process, I could talk, email, text whatever, and they walked me through it. I have referred other people that I know to them. I am so glad I found them because there are a lot of people who did not have a positive from using other companies, some were tragic, crazy stories, so I didn’t want to go down any of those ways…
And after you wrote your book, how did you get around to making your book known?
Well, I would love to say Nishka, ‘oh I had a plan!’ But I did not have a plan. I didn’t tell a lot of people that I was publishing my book. I would say five people knew but none of them were family, they were close friends. In September of 2017, I finally published, and I was only focused on the paperback. Detroit Bookmakers have tied up with a couple of bookstores, so once you use their publishing arm they put your book in their bookstores. A friend went to the bookstore, bought my book (which I knew was coming out, but I didn’t know the date), took a picture of himself with the book, posted it on my Facebook page, and tagged me. That’s how my marketing started!
Thankfully a few days ago I had told family members that my book was getting published, so they were not surprised. They were surprised because I told them, they didn’t get the social media surprise that everyone else received. After that Facebook post there was, I would say tsunami of conversation, congratulations, some people were not being malicious but they were like, ‘is this true?’ I mean it was just the shock and awe of it all because as you know regular people don’t publish books if you are not in academia you don’t publish books, so how did this happen?
Especially if you don’t look like an academician or a writer… why do you publish books? 😜
Haha yes. Someone asked do you have an ebook… at the time electronic media for books such as Kindle was fresh and new. People were adopting it as a device to read and I didn’t have an ebook so I had to get another vendor to create it. But because I had done the research I knew who to go to as a plan B if I didn’t find a local publisher. It was a different experience getting the ebook but because Detroit Bookmakers had talked me through the process and told me what to do, the ebook came out at the end of September. I went through two different companies for it, so it was definitely a scramble. Finally, I would say it came down to the research. The research totally helped me get through, otherwise, it could have been ugly regarding the ebook but to answer your question about the marketing, from September on, I just kept moving with the book, I carried it with me everywhere I went.
That year, my alma mater the University of Albany had invited Tyehimba Jess for a reading. He had recently won the Pulitzer Prize that year for his poems. I wanted to attend his reading, to see a person who has reached the mountain top of his journey in the field of literature. I was so curious to know more about his journey and what it looked like to be at the pinnacle of your success. When I went there, it just so happened that some poet students had to read their poems before his reading but they had dropped out.
So they were asking if anyone would like to be the opening act before his presentation and I said yes! I went up on stage and read my work before his work because I was carrying my book with me like I always did. I had earlier called my brother and said that I was going to watch somebody at the peak of his performance and literary growth. Then I called my brother after the reading and said that I did the opening act. My brother was surprised and kept asking, “what did you do?”
So I think that you just have to be available and open to marketing. I was carrying the book around everywhere with me and I made t-shirts and other merchandise and especially with the first book I just kept going for a lot of book signings.
On the internet, I created the Outliers Poetry Brunch. It was for my book and other people too. It was a safe space for other poets out here in the community to deliver their work. The Outliers Poetry Brunch started in mid-May 2018 at a local cafe called Eaton Cafe and the owner Joe Bentura was kind enough to have us, poets, in there and we were there for almost four years. It was a beautiful experience but unfortunately, we had had to go online in the pandemic.
Was it a weekly or a monthly meet?
It was monthly and I met some great people whose work is phenomenal. They were talented, fun people. The cafe was a nice intimate space, so it was very conducive for everyone to deliver their work and meet each other and talk and chat. Some people were friends with each other and used me as thankfully the bridge to meet each other, which was great.
Carol, I can see, you are building a community, building networks and that’s beautiful. As you are helping others, you yourself are growing because you are learning from them.
Yes, there are talented people out there. You definitely don’t know them or where they are coming from until you meet them and until they feel safe enough to share their work with you. When they do that, it is an honour.
Do you think being online, led to some positive outcomes?
Online has been positive because I had to learn about social media. I started with Facebook like everybody else, but I pretty much love all social media. I may not be on every platform like I am not really on Snapchat, but that again may be an age situation.
I am not on Instagram either, I just have my name there😁
I have it too as a placeholder but I am definitely not a Snapchatter, whatever the actual term is, but I just got on TikTok. Definitely not adept at TikTok, but it is fun and that’s my newest learning environment. I am using Instagram a lot more than I used to and personally, I love Twitter and that’s definitely been a positive. So many talented people out there, but again you know if you want to go into crazy rabbit holes with people’s and their points of view, you can do that, but I just try to stay in my lane, keep going forward, remain focused in my work.
So what I understand from your journey is that you have used whatever chances you got and then you have tried to create a community and network and have you created a website?
Yes, my friends, thankfully created a website for me, it was a big help. I was trying to do it myself, but I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses.
If I can’t do it 110% and if I can’t remain focused or take a class to learn it then I would happily go to those who are Yoda in it and have the expertise.
Thankfully my friends generously decided that I needed a website. They made one for me and kept it up and I am gradually learning how to maintain it myself. Many assist me in this endeavour too because I am not ready yet and I do so many things concurrently that they say we can’t keep up with you.
I started acting, then I was a stage manager. I did this for a community theatre through which I met, a whole new realm of people in a different industry and that led me to become a playwright. I write and submit plays for different contests. Most of them have been delivered via zoom, a couple have been in person, and the pandemic as you know… so that’s been a great experience because it’s a different way of writing and it’s a different thought process. I think it has enhanced my poetry a lot because you have to use your words and you have to use your words in a certain way in a play in order to keep the characters moving and the action going etc, so it definitely has been positive.
I have met different people. I have got to work with actors and directors who have been so talented and effortless in delivering my work that I was almost like ‘Wow!’ I never thought how it was going to be visually until some people have taken my words and taken them through the solar system! I just do stuff, I might research it but I will jump in and just try to do it.
I think it’s wonderful that you are trying out different ways of writing…many people when I meet them and even if they are very well versed in their niche, they would say I would need to know more to write a book or to write this, but you are ready to take that opportunity, create your thing and move on with it. That is fabulous and it speaks of a lot of courage.
Well, I just figured if it’s wrong, it’s ok…I will try again. Failure is a part of learning and a part of moving forward. I write on Medium.com, so that’s been a positive as well just because it’s different. I can rant, say whatever, and keep it moving or I don’t have to say anything at all because it’s there, so that’s again, you know a separate lane, but it’s still under the umbrella of writing.
This year I decided to increase my submissions to contests and anthologies for poetry, as well as the plays. As you know, in a lot of places you are going to get rejected for whatever reason…you never know why. But rejection is part of the process.
This year I did get a couple of poems into different online zines, and my latest poem got selected in the Poets Choice anthology called Desires. Poets Choice is based in Mumbai.
So you know I am trying to reach out. I don’t really think about, who or where…I just take the shot. If you are not in the game, you can’t take the shot. Yes, I got a pile of rejections but there are some acceptances too and that’s an honour. It’s an absolute privilege to be a part of that particular anthology and other ones as well.
Wonderful, I love the way you said, ‘rejection is part of the process!’ That’s so true. Tell me about your plays about?
The latest one is called ‘One Cherished Day’. I submitted it to the Manchester Collaborative theatre in New York. They had a contest for an inaugural festival that they were conducting. It’s a ten-minute play about a couple who are breaking up. The boyfriend has OCD and his girlfriend has had enough. It’s about their breakup and the audience will discover whose cherished day it actually is- his or hers?
I am writing about different people that I want to see on stage and it was said if you don’t see then create it.
Correct! So that’s what I am trying to do and whether it’s short plays which, that’s what I have been doing lately.
And what did you do before you wrote, before you started your writing journey?
What was I doing before writing? I was working and attending friend’s events, family events, just basic living, nothing outrageous, outlandish.
How does your family respond to all this writing now?
My mother couldn’t believe it, my brother was like, ‘wait, what?’ and it was only because I didn’t tell them. They know I had been writing but not any pathway to victory, just random, intermittent writing so, they are very proud. My father’s deceased. My mother has seen the plays that I acted in, she has read a couple of them. My brother has acted in one of my plays and has read a couple of them. My brother has acted in one of my plays as well. They aren’t bored, I am sure when there is a red carpet event they will be front sitters.
You are in New York and there are a lot of writing clubs and courses there. Do you intend to take some of these, or have you taken them and have they helped you?
I did attend a couple of workshops in early 2017, 2018 maybe. I did not appreciate the experience at all. A friend of mine did have a workshop, it was late 2019, which definitely removed the negativity of the earlier workshops, so I would indeed consider a workshop but I haven’t taken any writing classes since college. I was in a playwriting group for a little bit, just to see if I was on the right track, which thankfully I am and was at the time, so I will just continue…
You are doing very well, it’s wonderful what you are doing Carol, you are exploring, building your world, creating your things. You have the courage to do it and then to go out and be visible and tell people I have done it, that’s amazing!
Well and thank you, I did not realize how amazing it was until I had conversations with people who said that especially with the first book. The second book came out during 2020, the pandemic was there…that had its own challenges because with the first book, I had book signings and I had the poetry brunch but due to the pandemic I could not have any such meets. I could try out different ideas earlier like I didn’t have book signings at libraries, I had them at restaurants.
But I keep trying to stay creative and find new ways to talk about my books. I have books in my car, bag, suitcase… I have books because somebody said, ‘yes they can get them on the internet, yes they can buy the ebook but when they meet you what if they want to buy a book?’ That made complete sense to me. It reminded me of how JayZ was selling tapes out of his car before he became who we all know him to be. You have to grind and hustle. Some people don’t have to do that but that’s what I do.
I make sure that there is a book in my car, at least one merchandise item.
I even created a journal and put out it on Amazon just so people can write, because a lot of has gone in the past 18-19 months.
I have a Christmas long-form poem called, “How will I know it’s Santa?” and I created that as a conversation I had with a friend. A local community theatre was having a fundraiser during the holidays, and that was the prompt that started the poem. It has picked up very positive conversations and insights from people so you never know when inspiration is going to occur.
Yes, and nothing is stopping you from turning that into something bigger or something different. That’s how things are born, new things are born out of old things…how do you handle the comments that people give…
Yes…I didn’t think about the impact on others and then somebody said this is how I thought with this particular piece. It takes me aback at times…even the praise but I’ve found my way of keeping it focused and light. If someone gave a negative comment then finding the positive or searching for the positive in what was being said, was challenging for a couple of pieces but most people have been positive and unfortunately, some people have had negative experiences but they have rallied and my work has helped them…
You are inspiring me because all you have done is amazing.
I don’t know whether it’s due to the fact…I am a Gemini. We are notorious for doing the work of two people, we are just on the move..so I just keep on going. I am thinking about writing a novel, I am talking to a couple of people about it because I have read the top of the food chain and some of the people are actually great and some of them have been disappointing and who exactly is the arbiter of great or are the arbiters of great. I just know that you stay in the greatness of yourself. As long as you know who you are, it will come, so I am just walking forward, keep going.
That’s the basis of just anything, keep taking a step every day and keep going forward.
Yes, yes, yes! The possibilities, as they say, are endless and we will find out indeed that they are but you have to take that step.
Personally, I just do it and if someone says that it’s not good, ok, there’s criticism that you will have to take sometimes. Some are harsher than others but you should always have good people around you who can give you constructive criticism versus the slice and dice negative and somewhat malicious which is not beneficial.
I am just going to keep trying and keep going and thankfully have people who are there for me so it’s all good!
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