In the Spotlight
Creator of #GrowFierce
New York City Member Since: 2015
About: Caits Meissner is a published poet, transformational educator, and vibrant creative spirit standing at the crossroads of art, community, and justice. For over ten years, Caits has extensively facilitated youth and adults in poetry and multimedia expression in prisons, schools, needle exchanges, and community centers, and has worked long-term instituting innovative community arts and education programming at cultural hubs such as Tribeca Film Institute, Urban Arts Partnership, the Facing History School, and the Lower Eastside Girls Club. A co-founding editor of The Wide Shore: A Journal of Global Women’s Poetry, Caits also stands for women through #GrowFierce, a community centered around Digging Deep, Facing Self, a thirty-day open-access writing course designed to uplift, heal, and transform women into their boldest selves.
What are you reading right now?
I'm currently between Chris Abani's The Secret History of Las Vegas and Maggie Nelson's The Art of Cruelty. Often I find myself balancing multiple genres of books that offer different methods of stimulation. Poetry books are also always flying in between longer texts, and there are too many to name! Most recent: Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, Natalie Diaz's When My Brother Was an Aztec, and Ross Gay's Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. I highly recommend all.
Who encouraged you to be a writer?
Everyone. I love writing that because it’s true. I’m an exception, however. Not everyone’s parents and partners and friends throw their support in the direction of a potentially difficult career. I believe this is what instilled a heightened need to recycle that permission outwardly (though with less emphasis on career, and more light shone on the benefits of self-expression). Part of the way I do this is through Digging Deep, Facing Self and the #GrowFierce community, a thirty-day intensive online writing course supporting a safe community of women in exploring artistic expression and profound self-examination. The project has directly reached over 300 women worldwide through a multimedia online curriculum that matured into a state-sponsored cultural exchange in Malaysia, youth and prison programs, online publications, and a series of live readings. The community is currently at a transitional crossroads; as founder, I am ready to release the need to run it personally as a live experience (an endeavor that required a team and asked participants to pay a significant fee), and offer a tweaked curriculum free to the community, with suggestions for creating one's own support structure, if desired. It feels good to write this here! My impact is shifting into new spaces, and the widening of access can only be a positive offering. We all need mentors, and sometimes they are difficult to locate in the realm of face-to-face interaction—depending on location, interests, belief systems, and so forth. The online platform has significant flaws, but this is one of the most profound benefits.
If you could meet any writer, who would it be?
Right now, the answer is Maggie Nelson. Her multiple forms have given me so much permission! I would want to ask silly questions about daily ritual, love, anger, her opinions on the state of the world. The human fodder is often more exciting to me than the writer’s life—if one can even pull the two impulses apart. I want to dive deep quickly; it’s in my nature to look under the conversational skirt to access the secret habits and hurts and joys of individuals, in addition to an often calculated presentation of process for art making.
What do your books look like once you’ve finished reading them?
Rotten! I can't preserve a book to save my life. For many, this is the ultimate disrespect, but I am a New Yorker and the books travel with me everywhere—pages tattered, spilled upon, sometimes written in but not often (I get too absorbed to stop and demarcate). I think a book that looks as if it's been lived in embodies the reader's love and attachment, how they constantly needed it at their side. A book is a companion.
Do you feel influenced by your peers to produce a certain type of creative work, or do you feel free to follow your own interests and passions?
I’m working on this one. There is pressure in literary communities, as in any community, to have a certain kind of approach, an accepted and celebrated approach, that keeps one safely liked because of its energy or sound. This is how movements are born, so it is not a bad orientation, but it can also be dangerous to the production of meaningful working if left unchecked. I have been safely liked for some time, and it’s exciting to finally be cracking open what it is I want and need to say. It’s not always safe or nice or even very likable. What I am curious about in regards to this question is how social media has influenced us to be more aware of audience—and often not an audience of readers even, but an audience of our peers and their projected judgments and tastes. It has affected me. It’s an active will to push back against the impulse that says, “Be more like them.”
What is the greatest compliment that you could ever receive about your writing?
That it made someone take action: forgive, apologize, begin, contribute, change, grow. Humanize. Strong emphasis on the last word in that list. This might be what accounts for the community work I engage in, be it the online course, teaching in jails, prisons, schools, and needle exchanges, organizing readings... Though I am keenly aware that writing is enough (as an offering, as a contribution), the juice for me is found in a larger experience of engaged creativity and how it lives within communities—how it both touches and offers permission to touch. There is literature I love to read for fun and joy, and there is literature that inspires me to pick up the pen. Similarly, my connection to literature is through my own writing as expression and craft, and the employment of writing as a rehabilitative tool.
How has AWP helped you in your career and/or creative endeavors?
The resources are important; the database of listings and calls for work is a place I revisit often. The conference itself is a treasure trove. But beyond resources, I might also say connection. This business of writing can be a lonely one. It’s so good to know others are out there—and are accessible.