Kelsey Pinckney of Four Chambers on Why Phoenicians Need to Listen to Each Others' Stories

Kelsey Pinckney of Four Chambers on Why Phoenicians Need to Listen to Each Others' StoriesEXPAND
Courtesy of Kelsey Pinckney

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 28. Kelsey Pinckney.

Kelsey Pinckney learns by listening. 

The 24-year-old writer grew up in California, where she says she spent her adolescence "not really being aware that there were people in the world who had different lives than the one I was familiar with. I'm not super proud of that."

But in leaving her hometown, Pinckney found a new world, full of people with their own distinct stories. She describes it as surreal. "I think it's really important to listen to each other in any part of life, but especially in the act of creating art," she says. "I get really excited when I think about the fact that we are humans, we all come from each other, we are shaped by the world around us (seen and unseen), and we affect each other in ways we don't even realize."

These stories are what inspire Pinckney. She began her practice by writing traditional short stories. Now, though, she's departed from that strict structure in favor of flash fiction and prose poetry. "I think most of it is kind of frustrating to read, actually, but I always hope that a reader will let go of their inhibitions while they read, and let the piece take them on a ride," she says. "It's a ride through my scary, scary mind. "

Her days are devoted to engaging in art and literacy through both her work as program coordinator for Read Better Be Better, a nonprofit that runs after-school literacy programs for kids, and as managing editor at Four Chambers Press, where she works with artists to lay out books, plan events, and edit or develop works. 

Which leaves evenings for her own writing, if she feels a creative flow coming on — in between studying for her bachelor's in social work at Arizona State University and spending time with her cat. 

It was for the Four Chambers and Eye Lounge project "In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration" that Pinckney achieved one of her greatest personal accomplishments. The collaboration involved pairing visual and literary artists for an exhibition featuring written pieces inspired by visual art. She worked with Ashley Czajkowski, spending time in the artist's studio to connect with both Czajkowski and her work.

The result was a short story that explored Pinckney's thoughts on childbirth, domesticity, and "the animalistic pieces of humanity that are often quieted by societal norms." Pinckney says it helped her to realize she could use art as an avenue to express something — a sort of primal connection that's challenging to illuminate — she wouldn't have written otherwise.

Lately, she's been finishing a body of work she'll present on Friday, August 26, at {9} The Gallery as part of the Phoenix Poetry Series. Also on the bill is her partner Jake Friedman, founder and editor of Four Chambers. "So needless to say, I'm terrified," she says.

But the writer has other projects in the works, too, including a piece about Thomas, the disciple of Jesus, coming into the modern world, befriending Pinckney, and making her realize all her doubts and fears. She's considering whether this might be the beginning of a new body of work centered on biblical characters entering her life and devastating her. Pinckney says she's also been writing a lot about her body, and her stages of acceptance and rejection from society and herself. 

"There is so much to say, think, and feel, and one person only contributes to a tiny fraction of that," she says. "There are so many voices out there that differ from my own. I want to hear them all."

An excerpt from Pinckney's story for "In Sight."
An excerpt from Pinckney's story for "In Sight."
Courtesy of Kelsey Pinckney

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I came to Phoenix with no plans and an open heart.

I make art because it's the only way to make sense of all the things in my heart and brain. And even then, I don't know if any of it makes much sense.

I'm most productive late at night, usually after I've attended a show or reading, or engaged in a really great conversation with someone.

My inspiration wall is full of words and images from the hearts and minds of others. Poems that make me cry, or open my eyes to a different perspective or way of thinking. Images that shed light on cultural, social, or political issues or experiences that are either different from or relatable to my own. Shout out to local artists: Charles Brownson, Ashley Macias, and Ashley Czajkowski — you're all there!

I've learned most from growing up. Which I'm still doing, but the changes that have come between the ages of 18 and 24 have been tremendous. I've lived in three different states, met tons of people with different backgrounds and experiences, and learned how to interact with and participate in the world around me. I'm learning to be my authentic self, which is really important to me but also very, very hard.

Good work should always start a conversation. Or stop one. Or be its own conversation. Either way, I think good work comes in all shapes and sizes, but whatever it is, I think it should be very present. Very much a part of its own authentic environment and culture.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more listening and collaboration. There are tons of amazing minds in Phoenix doing incredible work, and we're all going through huge changes together — development is happening everywhere, businesses are opening and closing, our little "small-town city" is turning into a large, vibrant city, and I think it's prime time to create together to preserve all our unique voices.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
48. Liz Ann Hewett
47. Tiffany Fairall
46. Vanessa Davidson
45. Michelle Dock
44. Nia Witherspoon
43. Monique Sandoval
42. Nayon Iovino
41. Daniel Davisson
40. Andrew King
39. Michelle Moyer
38. Jimmy Nguyen
37. Tiffany Lopez
36. Kristin Bauer
35. Donna Isaac
34. Douglas Miles
33. Sierra Joy
32. Francisco Flores
31. Amy Robinson
30. Julio Cesar Morales
29. Duane Daniels


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