An interview with Brenda Usher-Carpino
Brenda Usher-Carpino is a writer. Her work struck me at once. First, I asked myself why the hell she was in an MFA program with an established voice like hers; a voice relevant and important, as it has formed at the intersection of historical and familial hardships and pioneering. Second, I was awed with how deeply I felt and related to her experiences. Brenda’s archive of experiences are essential to record, alongside and even against the dominant stories that become known as our country’s history.
She is a woman who values manners but sits on the crap living room floors of the houses I’ve lived in throughout grad school and afterwards, meeting to discuss writing, relationships, family- never judging my means, or anyone else’s.
She is what I think of as classy. Not classy in the sense of having jewels in porcilen dishes in her bedroom, but that type of classy that comes from treating people like people.
Even her answers to these interview questions are elegant, poised and real.
What is your medium and how did you get started as an artist?
Brenda replies, “I’m a writer. I’ve written poetry, short stories, and dramatic plays. My first memorable recollection of communicating by writing is a letter I wrote to my father who left San Antonio when I was nine years. He landed in Berkeley where he became a cook at the International House at the university and then sent for the rest of his family. I discovered early in life that writing was my best form of communication. I could say what I wanted to say how I wanted to say it without anyone cutting me off or censuring me before I had my say. In addition to having my voice taken away from me by a domineering and narcissistic father who subscribed to children being seen and not heard, I was also a painfully and morbidly shy child, a middle girl and fourth of six children.
”Writing became my primary – and often only – voice.”
What are some of your artistic obsessions or ruminations that run throughout much of your work?
Brenda replies, “In my early writings I often found myself writing about the cruelty of certain individuals towards others. I’m fascinated with the workings of the mind and feel that my work deals mostly in psychological narrative and drama. My writing revolves around people rather than things or plots… I was obsessed with (these) individuals, and found myself writing about them in some way or other…I’ve only just stopped writing about them in the last three years or so. I’ve finally gotten them out of my system. I also write about racism, sexism, and sexuality which are recurring themes in my work.”
Brenda is the epitome of individual and original, having made a life for herself in the image of her art, her love, her compassion and connection to the world around her.
Brenda tells me one year, if I had a son, I’d marry you to him because you’d make a great daughter-in law. I tell her, well I mean you have a daughter, but she intimidates me. Besides, son or not, I’ve already claimed her as my west-coast mother. And though her daughter is smart and beautiful, (and just finished law school), I don’t think she will give up her current relationship so I can be official.
Though Brenda has several impressive degrees from Cal, Stanford and Mills, being an excellent human is not something you can learn or get a degree in. (Though don’t talk shit in French around her. She will know what you are saying.)
When we talk about Oakland and the women in Oakland. Brenda is a woman of Oakland
She is a part of the fabric of what it means to me to be here, at this time, for the reasons of creating, inhabiting, bridging past and present, collaborating and living
Brenda is working on a bunch of creative projects at the moment including two traditional dramatic plays, a one-woman show, and a couple of short pieces. The novel is still on the horizon, where novels often loom, as they are intense, daunting pains in the ass.