Award-winning author Suzi Banks Baum will present her work at the first open studio on October 9

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Greater Barrington— Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the mid-1970s, Suzi Banks Baum remembers just one instance of “mutual recognition that [she] had a body that did something. Baum was in middle school when she got her first period; not wanting to miss a school trip, go swimming in the pool with friends, her mother suggested she go to the convenience store and buy tampons. There, Baum was dismayed to find them on a shelf too high to reach; as asking for help from the only employee, a teenager, was completely out of the question, she left empty-handed. It was her father who finally came back to buy the box of tampons and congratulate his daughter on delivering them. The end.

Except that wasn’t really the end at all, because Baum was in middle school and his journey with a woman’s body had just begun.

As has been his approach with a myriad of subjects over the ensuing decades, Baum finally embraced the mess and found a creative outlet to make sense of it, as evidenced by his award-winning essay “Connect: Disconnect”. The Good’s Honeybee Creative Nonfiction award. Life review. The award-winning essay (Baum’s second, both from his ongoing memoir) delves into teenage life, sexual exploration, gender identity, confusion, and nurturing (or lack thereof) in the Midwestern American culture in the 1970s – issues that remain highly relevant in today’s world.

While Baum received a pot of honey from Nebraska in addition to her prestigious publication award, the winning review nods to more salty-than-sweet writing. “‘Connect: Disconnect’ strikes me with its unapologetic exploration of the power and pleasure of female sexuality,” wrote contest judge Jessica Hendry Nelson. “With careful attention to language and pacing, he combs through memory to unpack a complicated legacy of longing and wonder. This essay does not flinch, capitulate or fade. By tracing her voraciousness, the narrator reminds the reader of the vital power of hers. Baum’s essay was inspired by Merritt Tierce’s NYTimes Magazine cover story titled “The Abortion I Didn’t Have.”

Baum brings a woman-centered orientation to her work as a writer, book and mixed-media artist, and teacher; From her own backyard in the Berkshires to Gyumri, Armenia, Baum’s approach (and by extension the process) resonates with women from all walks of life. As for the bond that unites the seemingly disparate mediums? “I’ve practically spent my life chasing a different narrative [than the one I grew up with]says Baum of his affinity for all those different and messy processes that inevitably create “an irresistible invitation to express… [and] we need these reminders that our voices are precious, important and necessary.

Basically, the conversation revolves around the education of children, especially girls. “And we just don’t have enough elevation yet,” Baum says, pointing to the inherent elevation, or reverent position, that the process should entail. This week, 50 years after American women took to the streets to burn their bras in a statement of solidarity while seeking equal rights, women across Iran are burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in a statement of protest (following the death of a 22-year-old who was arrested by the vice squad for improperly wearing her hijab). Which just means the work continues.

In Baum’s garage-workshop, spent marigold flowers — lauded for their bounty of hue, scent, and texture — are artfully strewn on a blanket to dry in the cool fall air. Photo by Hannah Van Sickle.

On a recent weekday morning, under the auspices of drinking tea and discussing memoirs, I visited Baum in his garage-workshop (a sparse but beautiful space). Spent marigold flowers – praised for their bounty of hue, fragrance and texture – were artfully strewn on a blanket to dry in the crisp autumn air. As I listened to Baum speak, I felt my body lean forward in an effort to catch every last word that escaped his lips. Using the language I consumed, as if to quench an insatiable thirst, Baum gave voice to “the [crushing] weight of expectations” coupled with “the female body as a barometer”. His message was peppered with mentions of choice, acceptance, surrender, free will – largely, it seems, from those dealing with parenting; upon closer examination, we must adopt these ways of walking for ourselves and handle each arduous step along the way with the same grace that we would invariably show to another.

Baum compares it to “putting[ting] [something] in [a child’s] lathe and model[ing] how to hold it,” a practice she also finds applicable to animals and uncomfortable conversations, as well as dozens more in between. It’s by empowering young people with these kinds of tools that we uplift them and ensure that when we send them out into the world and into other relationships – where this way of moving and conversing may not be welcome – that they understand the inherent power, and by extension value, of their voices.

From her own experience, Baum “raised herself well…witnessing births and deaths, living a life filled with curiosity,” which she equates to witnessing, which might be the most important job of all. .

On Sunday, October 9, residents of Berkshire will have the rare opportunity to see Baum’s work in person at his first open studio event at 39 Hollenbeck Avenue in Great Barrington from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. She will demonstrate the ecological paper dyeing process (around 11:30 a.m.) and offer a small form of book to try (around 2 p.m.); a selection of hand-bound books and original Baum decorative papers will also be available for sale.

In the meantime, Baum continues to issue an indefinite invitation to join her “here, in this beautiful [world] it’s there for you, no matter your gender, who you are, no matter your background. And let’s get messy; let us experience a truly tactile joy. Your story is safe here.

REMARK: Suzi Banks Baum lives at the crossroads of literary and visual arts. Writer, mixed media and book artist, she expresses the ordinary saint. His dedication to daily creative practice is the superfood of his signature teachings: Backyard Art Camp, Powder Keg writing workshops, and Advent Dark Journal. She travels to Gyumri, Armenia, to teach book arts to women artists. Baum’s book, An Anthology of Babes, gives voice to 36 artist mothers; in addition, his work has appeared in the literary magazine Kerning (2021); The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory by Anchala Studios; and the Review of Walloon Writers. His play, Shoal, won third prize in the Hypertext Literary Magazine’s Doro Böhme Memorial Competition in 2021. His mixed media work appears in Storey Publications’ 2022 release, Collage Your Life! by Melanie Mowinski. In addition to Baum’s winning essay in his ongoing memoir, his art work has been featured in The Guild of Book Workers Journal and Mingle Magazine. Baum’s flagship offering, Advent Dark Journal, a six-week immersion in creative practice, begins in late November and ends in early January.

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