Behind the Words: Janna Vought

Posted by on Feb 14, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Janna VoughtJanna Vought is a poet, nonfiction, and fiction writer with more than 50 pieces published in various magazines and literary journals. She is an Association of Writing Professionals Intro Journals Project in Poetry nominee for 2013. Her Flash Fiction White T-Shirt was published in Spry Lit #1. Janna plans on attending Prescott College’s PhD program in Sustainable Education this fall.


Rosanna: “Everything in the world began with a yes,” writes Clarice Lispector in The Hour of the Star. What did you say ‘yes’ to when you started this story?

Janna: Initially, this story began as a poem, though the material never seemed comfortable in verse form. After I wrote it, it sat for several months before I unearthed it as I searched for material for a fiction workshop during my MFA studies. As writing is a never-ending process of revision and reconfiguration of ideas, concepts, and language, I embraced the notion of change, for although the material did not work as a poem, I refused to let the piece go. Instead, I took the tenets of the original piece, reshaping the text into a flash fiction piece. The revision worked. The material was far better suited in fiction form and the story wrote itself. I said yes to refusing to let a work die. I resurrected it and was met with success. This stands as an example for all writers: never give up on your ideas, your words, or your creations. They find their way in the end. One of my favorite quotes from Audre Lorde: “What is important must be spoken, made verbal, and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” Have faith; believe in yourself and your voice.


When did the title come to you? Did you have it from the beginning? I love how a white T-shirt, a deceptively innocent image, haunts the narrative in many different ways.

The title came to me when I first wrote the piece as a poem. I wanted the t-shirt to serve as a focal point, a symbolic representation of the dichotic elements of the fractured self where outward appearances of innocuousness and “normalcy” hides the evils lurking within.


This is a mysterious story, made accessible by your use of language, which is both allusive and incisive. The strong visual elements in this piece remind me of hyper-realist photography. What artists inspire you?

I am not a visual art expert. While I appreciate varying forms of the craft, I do not use it as a source of inspiration. I find inspiration through the words of others. From my youth when I first started reading Stephen King, I find that the images I create in my mind based upon text I read are far more powerful and potent than anything in physical form. I love to lose myself in the depths of a poem, story, or essay, winding my way along hidden paths created by the writer. One of the best collections I read was Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, an account of the days and events leading up to Hurricane Katrina. The poems in the book unfold in a cataclysmic explosion of visual images that allow the reader to relive the horrors of the monster storm. The pictures created in my mind from her verse haunt my memory, evoke powerful emotions, and inspire me to create. Reading is my inspiration, my personal gallery of sculpted words.


Is this story different from what you usually write? Is flash fiction what you are mainly drawn to?

Much to the chagrin of many of my family and friends, my fiction is quite dark and disturbing in nature. I love exploring the underbelly of humanity, revealing what lurks among the shadowed corridors of the soul “White T-shirt” is no different. It follows the same path as the majority of my fictional pieces. However, fiction is not the focus of my writing. I am a poet by nature, dabbling in fiction and nonfiction from time to time whenever inspiration strikes. What I appreciate about flash fiction is how much it resembles poetry. Both use condensed language and strong imagery to drive the theme. Flash pieces have a lot of work to do in little space, just as verse must use the confines of line to express the great truths of humanity and the surrounding world. For a poet, flash fiction provides the perfect bridge between verse and prose.


I like what John Hollander says in The Paris Review: “A long project is like a secret houseguest, hidden in your study, waiting to be fed and visited.” How long did you live with this one? What was your revision process?

As I stated earlier, this story originated as a poem. It dwelled within the confines of my zip drive for months before I released it from its virtual cage. When I transformed it into prose, I first strung the lines of verse together across the page. Then, I added more text in order to turn it into a fictional work, implementing aspects of storytelling lacking in the original piece. Keeping in mind the brevity required with regard to flash fiction. I whittled away unnecessary and extraneous language until only a story of a young man’s fractured mind remained, a stark, disturbing, visceral, and honest depiction of a soul descending into the chasms of madness, pushed into the abyss by his own hand.


How do you write? Do you have a schedule?

I break every rule of writing; I adhere to no set schedule. Rather, I write whenever I find time, which is usually in the dead of night. As a mother of two daughters, one who suffers from chronic and debilitating mental illness and Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum disorder, I have little time in my day to devote to quiet and solace necessary for writing. I wait until night comes, when the house settles, everyone tucked away in their room before I unleash my imagination. My mind awakens in darkness.


What are you reading right now?

I have a basket of books next to my bed where I keep several books for reading. Right now, I have my February edition of Poetry, a monthly national poetry journal, A Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie, The Best American Poetry 2013, two recent editions of Creative Nonfiction, The Portable Poetry Workshop by Jack Myers, 100 Essential Modern Poems by Women, and a copy of Shambhala Sun, a Buddhist magazine. I believe in constant studying of craft, so I constantly immerse myself in literature of all kinds, including anthologies and journals, in order to continue my evolution as a writer. As I prepare to enter my doctorate studies this fall in sustainable education, I am also reading several books on poetry writing as a means to heal the soul . To feed my addiction to dark literature, I recently read Jack the Ripper: The Hand of a Woman by John Morris, which explores the theory that Jack the Ripper was actually Mary Elizabeth Ann Williams, the wife of a prominent royal gynecologist and Ripper suspect Sir John Williams. Whatever I read, I always take into consideration how these works and writers can aid in my evolution as writer, woman, wife, mother, scholar, educator, and citizen of the world.


Rosanna Staffa is an Italian writer currently living in Minneapolis. She received her MFA in Fiction by Spalding University in May. Her short story The Ghost of Chendu is published in the current issue of The Baltimore Review. Her plays have been seen on stage in Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Minneapolis. She is a recipient of a McKnight Advanced Grant, a Jerome Fellowship, and an AT/T On Stage Grant. Her play, The Interview opened the Tokyo International Art Festival, The Innocence of Ghosts was seen in New York Off-Broadway at St Clement’s Theatre, and was filmed for inclusion in the Lincoln Center Theatre on Film Library. Mirage and Lucky are published by Smith & Krauss. Waltz and My Brother Sandro by Heinemann. Her adaptation of Djemma Bider’s The Biggest Little House in the Forest is included in the Plays for Early Learning Anthology Igniting Wonder published by the University of Minnesota Press. She is an Affiliated Member of The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis.

1 Comment

  1. good interview! i like vought’s weaving of poetry & prose together.

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