#90: Hillary Leftwich
A working single mother, published writer and candidate in Regis University’s low-residency Mile High Creative Writing MFA program, Hillary Leftwich gives back to her literary community as much as she is a part of it. A frequent participant in local reading events, Leftwich also organizes and hosts At the Inkwell Denver programs at BookBar, as well as other author showcases in Denver. Learn more about Leftwich’s dedication to her son and her disciplinary family via the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
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Hillary Leftwich: My son. My life didn’t even really start until he was born. He has a severe form of epilepsy. He’s taught me to keep fighting. I’ve watched him almost die in a hospital bed. I’ve watched him almost die on my bedroom floor. I’ve watched him not be able to walk or talk. I’ve watched him have a million different types of seizures. At this point, that kid can survive anything. He’s my hero. But like any thirteen-year-old, he wants my time and focus. And that’s hard. It’s just the two of us right now. I work full-time. I’m trying to finish my MFA. Sometimes, if I allow myself to think about the responsibility, it becomes too overwhelming. So I think of myself as one of those scary failed panoramic shots where my hands are quadrupled and I have two heads and yet I’m still one person.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Zach Schomburg, because I would love to drink whiskey with him during some kind of apocalyptic suburban hootenanny.
The poet Ai Ogawa, because she was a layered soul and beautiful, and loved to wear elegant clothes.
The Grizzly Man, because, shit, that dude had some balls.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The best thing would be the support we offer each other. I have friends/associates/people I admire in the community who are trying hard every day to create and contribute and support the writing community and make it diverse while struggling to keep themselves afloat in their own personal lives. That’s heart. There are good things happening. Organizations like Minor Disturbance, Youth on Record, Art From Ashes, Cafe Cultura — they all need our help to continue to be successful. Volunteer. Donate.
The worst is when some writers are in it to win it for them. It’s fairly simple: You can’t be in it for yourself. That’s just how a community works.
How about globally?
With funding being stripped from a lot of creative programs and nonprofits, I’ve seen an overwhelming response within our own community here in Denver as well as with much larger organizations such as PEN America. Members of Pussy Riot. They’re all doing great things that can take a lot of strength and spirit.
The bomb hit us all in the creative community when it was announced that the NEA’s and NEH’s funding is going to be cut, which is devastating for education, public programs, art museums, colleges, libraries and more. But we’re still here, and we’re not going anywhere.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I love Denver. I love pre-weed-legalization Denver, and I love post-legalization Denver. I’m from the Springs, and I moved up here in 2006 with my son. Rent back then was on average, for a two-bedroom, about $750. Now it’s about $1,500. I get it. I struggle as a single mom. But I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I drag my heart down Colfax every day. There’s a collective heart happening here.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
I don’t have time to keep up with trends, I really don’t. But my thirteen-year-old son tells me that fidget spinners can be used as ninja stars. So there’s that.
Also, can we please try to not take ourselves too seriously? Can that be a trend? Just sayin’.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
There’s a lot more to be done — not just in Denver, but everywhere. I want to be able to bring more writers of color and writers from the LGBTQ community to Denver and showcase their writing and work. I want to be able to pay writers for reading. I want to be able to house them and pay for their traveling expenses. I want to be able to support them with editing and submitting and workshopping. So many writers don’t have the luxury of an academic background or literary agents or any of the things that give a lot of writers a step up in the literary world.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
Being able to organize and host reading events and fundraisers and bring the community together for a few hours. It’s not forever — it never is — but it feels good. My son once told me I’m doing good work. He told me he didn’t have a voice and I advocated for him. There was a time I didn’t have a voice, either, after years of being in a domestic-abuse situation. Voice is the most important thing to me as far as the literary community is concerned; there are voices that need to be heard but aren’t. So I’m doing my best to make sure they are heard. But it always feels like I can do a lot more. There’s definitely more work to be done.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
There’s a lot to list here, and I hate leaving people out. I don’t have a favorite. But I think there are plenty of people out there who deserve to be recognized, more people than can be listed here. But for brevity I’ll just say that Steven Dunn is one hell of a writer and a human being. Mathias Svalina. Natalie Sharp. Tameca Coleman. Akusua Akoto. Nahshon Cook. Erika Wurth. Nawal Nader-French. Crisosto Apache. Shoshana Surek. Thuyanh Astbury. Also: the names you don’t know at open mic, with the small voices and heavy words.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
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I want to start hosting more fundraisers within the writing community, as well as hosting reading events for writers from the surrounding areas who don’t have a huge writing community, or any community at all. It’s not just Denver’s voice that’s important, but the mixture of voices within it.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local literary community in the coming year?
I never know about these things, and it’s hard for me to say...or anyone, really, who will get noticed. I can list a thousand names of people I think should get noticed and probably should have been noticed a long time ago. I want their names to be known, because a lot of people aren’t linked to any kind of academic world. But for me, the one person who stands out the most is Carol Covington. That woman can write a storm around anyone. And she gives the best hugs. Watch out for her. She’s a badass, Denver.
Hillary Leftwich will host At the Inkwell: Women of Verse, with Khadijah Queen, Sommer Browning, Ahja Fox, Angela Nicole, Stina French and Kylee Chariese, at 6 p.m. Saturday, August 20, at BookBar, 4280 Tennyson Street. Admission is free; learn more at the At the Inkwell website. Follow Hillary Leftwich online.