Thursday, April 21, 2011

Writers Talk with James Weeks

Writers Talk returns this Thursday, & we are welcoming a most special guest to Robert Frost’s Banjo.  I first met James Weeks in the early 1990s when he & I worked with a “major consumer goods manufacturer” headquartered in the Bay Area.  In some ways, I think both James & I were “strangers in a strange land”—in the same year that he & his family moved to the Bay Area from St. Croix, I moved there from Charlottesville, VA.  While the culture shock was certainly more intense for him, we both felt it.  & I believe we were both indeed “strangers” in the world of the corporate U.S. where we found ourselves, in facing cubicles.

I’m happy to say that a warm friendship grew, based not only on shared ideas (& humor), but also on a willingness to welcome difference: James’ upbringing & experiences in the Virgin Island certainly were different than my upbringing & experiences in a rural Vermont community, & while I’d spent most of my young adult life in academia, he’d served in the army & started a family.  But we shared a lot as well—an interest in diverse things, in good food (often searching Oakland's Chinatown for the perfect dumplings), in good humor, & in music generally & the guitar in particular.  I’m very happy that James has agreed to participate in Writers Talk!  Here’s a brief biography:

James Weeks is an award-winning photographer and writer with more than 19 years of experience. His writings have appeared in Parenting, the Virgin Islands Daily News, the S.F. Weekly and other publications. He is currently working on Across The King's River a documentary film that explores African spiritual and healing traditions.  A native of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Weeks is also a private pilot and a certified scuba diver. He currently lives in Oakland, California with his wife, Stephanie, and his three children, Malcolm, Diallo and Tulani.

Please check out James’ piece “House of Exile” both in the post immediately preceeding this & also on the Writers Talk blog!  & now—here’s James!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I loved to read as a child and I always had a facility for words. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I didn’t really consider myself to be a writer until I was hired as a reporter for a newspaper in St. Croix Virgin Islands. That was back in 1985.  Working as a writer was the first job that I truly enjoyed.  Though I eventually went on to work for other newspapers and magazines, my passion for writing left me for many years. I’m happy to say that my passion for writing has returned now that I’m working on my first documentary film, Across The King’s River.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc. 

I don’t have a process - I write from the heart. I do meditate every morning, however.  As I meditate I pray that my writing might be useful for others. I don’t really write for myself. I write for the benefit of others - to move their lives forward in some way. At times, I visualize people that I long to have a conversation with. Much of my inspiration comes from the culture and spirituality of Africa - I also draw inspiration from nature and women.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)?

The filmmaking process is daunting.  I love it and hate it. One has to be somewhat crazy to consider trying to make it as a filmmaker.  Yet, I feel that I have no choice. I love the battle.  I like the fact that the odds are against me.  The challenge inspires me to no end.  Great inspiration comes from great difficulty.  We become better by learning to embrace adversity.

How has being a writer affected your relationships? 

It’s difficult. I believe in total commitment to one’s art.  I believe part of each day should be dedicated to one’s craft. I also believe that we should be aware of our vision and our art 24/7.  We can’t wait until we’re “in the mood” to write.  My family isn’t always understanding.  They think I’m “not really here.”  They’re right about that.  However,  I strongly believe that visions and art allow us to live deeply again.  We should never apologize for following our passions and for being dedicated. Despite the “hell” that one might have to go through, following our dreams ultimately make us better people. Richer on the inside, more aware of our own power - and ultimately happier.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community?

I don’t belong to a community of writers, but I draw inspiration from the FB fans of Across The King’s River. They inspire me to keep moving forward and to keep my heart open. They remind me that  creativity and wisdom are meant to be shared.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

Not sure yet.  I plan to write a companion book about the making of Across The King’s River. I’ll share all the insights I learned along the way.  After that - who knows?  A script for a feature movie?  I’m open to anything.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be? 

A guitar - no doubt about that.


  1. I like the fact that the odds are against me. The challenge inspires me to no end. Great inspiration comes from great difficulty. We become better by learning to embrace adversity.

    This is inspiring.

    I also enjoyed that the interview talks about writing in the context of film-making, and the particular challenges of that.

  2. Hi HKatz: I also took particular note of that passage, & I agree it's inspiring. The fact that James is using his writing skills for film-making struck me as a strong feature of the interview--I'm glad the series has been able to encompass many types of writing. Thanks!


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