We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Kendra Preston Leonard. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Kendra Preston below.
Kendra Preston, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. We’d love to hear about when you first realized that you wanted to pursue a creative path professionally.
I always knew I would write, but for a very long time I assumed that writing would be an avocation or a part-time activity. I trained to be a professional musician–I played the cello and specialized in new music–but when I developed a condition that limited my playing, I became a music scholar instead. I was happy doing research and writing academic books, but I missed being part of new music. I realized that as a lyricist and a librettist–writing the words for songs and for operas–I could still be part of it. After working on several texts, I got in touch with Jessica Rudman, a composer I’d met at a scholarly conference. She too knew the balancing act that is doing scholarly work and creative work, and our aesthetics were a great fit. In 2018, I went to my first rehearsal of our music together, and as soon as I heard a singer singing my words, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. It gave me chills and I was utterly enveloped in the experience. I do about half creative writing and half scholarship now.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I’m a poet, playwright, librettist, and lyricist. I’ve written lyrics and libretti for everything from solo voice to large chorus, from short pieces to operas, and my novella in verse Protectress was just published by Unsolicited Press. In it, the mythical gorgons have survived to live in the modern world, where Athena, pumped up by all of the people who blame women for being raped, who slut-shame women who wear and do what they want, and who think that men are always right, is trying to drive Medusa to suicide. Medusa, you ask: Isn’t she dead? She and her sisters managed to fool Perseus, but now Medusa’s happy life as a college professor is upended by Athena’s new negative energy, and the gorgons host a party of goddesses, nymphs, and others from myth to try to figure out how to bring Athena around to a more compassionate stance. It’s a book is about rape culture, about the concept of the “heroic,” about solidarity, and about collaboration. It’s also got sea monsters, a dragon, several wars, lots of good dogs, and magic.
I am inspired by history, language, the environment, social issues, and the mythopoeic. I’ve written for very young performers about Halloween and for experienced artists about breast cancer, the life of Marie Curie, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Singers or actors can commission pieces from me on specific topics or ideas, and I work with them and a composer to create a work tailored to their desires and abilities. In early 2022, composer Lisa Neher and I were commissioned to create a choral work for low voices. We met with the chorus and its conductor and got ideas and feedback about what the singers wanted to sing, and, using that information, wrote the piece Gilgamesh Weeps. It’s about close friendships and being vulnerable–things the singers said they never got to sing about. And it was based on a mythic story, another thing they liked. It was premiered in Spring 2022.
I also offer consulting services on lyrics and libretti for writers getting started in the field. This includes detailed notes and a Zoom discussion about their work and project. I help with character development, organization, voice, and other elements of writing text that will be sung.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
Hearing someone sing my words, or tell me how much my words meant to them, in any form. Knowing that someone has chosen to read or sing what I’ve written is a very intense kind of joy.
What can society do to ensure an environment that’s helpful to artists and creatives?
American capitalism is terrible for creatives. Too many of us work as gigging performers without the benefit of any kind of security. We’re subject to the ever-changing market and fads, to discrimination and exploitation. I support a basic universal income, which would allow many artists to do the kind of work they want to do without worrying about whether it will sell, and to whom, and for what purpose. We could do away with the predatory contests and promotional schemes that flood every aspect of the creative world, and support individual artists instead.
- Website: https://kendraprestonleonard.hcommons.org/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/k_leonard_phd/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kendraprestonleonard
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kendra-leonard-b68aa0225/
- Twitter: @K_Leonard_PhD