Artist Spotlight: Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
Don’t ever let rejection get you down. Local writer Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam has received over a thousand rejections since 2012, while being fortunate enough to have published over 50 short stories, have a novel on submission with her agent, and have released a collaborative album called Strange Monsters with her partner Peter Brewer.
Strange Monsters is inspired by a May Sarton poem called “My Sisters, O My Sisters”, which Stufflebeam says is about “creative women whose creative lives have suffered as a result of their devotion to art.” Thus, a marginalized group is regarded as “strange monsters” within the male-dominated society they inhabit. The lines are as follows:
And all women who have wanted to break out
Of the prison of consciousness to sing or shoutAre strange monsters who renounce the treasure
Of their silence for a curious devouring pleasure.
Every piece directly deals with how women struggle to forge an independent path while dealing with pressures of society with domestic, sexual, romantic, and creative norms that structurally discourage women from breaking the limits of expression. Every piece confronts a personal situation Stufflebeam has personally experienced.
It’s hard for her to pick a favorite track, but “The Stink of Voices” is about a ballerina who Stufflebeam personally identifies with. The main character, Marina, only wants to dance, but deals with teasing, unwanted sexual advances, and a curse from her company director. Stufflebeam says, “as an artist, I feel her desire to let her art consume her as well as her frustration. In order to dance, she has to chain herself to the corrupt company and a corrupt man, just as artists today have to work day jobs of varying relevance to their writing in order to finance their art.”
Stufflebeam goes full-bore in immersing herself within the local literary scene while taking inspiration from all sorts of artists within the creative space. After graduating from UNT with a degree in creative writing, she wasn’t able to gain entry into MFA programs to continue pursuing her writing studies. How did she take the following year off? She moved to Oregon with Peter but away from her friends and family. The removal from a cultivated social circle allowed her to hunker down and develop a routine with a focus on fictional writing. In particular, she was drawn to fantastical fiction. “Maybe it was something about the otherworldly nature out there: trees everywhere, constant drizzle, passing a river on the way to work,” she says.
For the past five years, Stufflebeam has hosted the annual Arts and Words Show in Fort Worth, which accept 10-12 artists and 10-12 writers for silent collaborations. She can also be seen at local spoken word events with Spiderweb Salon or random get-togethers hosted at Bearded Monk and Midway Craft House. She recently collaborated with Makayla Price on a piece in which participants dressed as male literary characters and wrote new pieces from their perspective. “I try to say yes to as many opportunities as I can, though that can be difficult. There’s such a vibrant scene here, and it’s getting stronger all the time. I end up having to say no for sanity’s sake quite often,” says Stufflebeam.
Stufflebeam mainly takes inspiration from short story writers, but her influences also include artists and musicians with such avant-garde forms of expression that they had to find their own means of publishing. These self-starts include Kelly Link, who initiated a publishing house to spread her stories and others like them. Amanda Fucking Palmer is also an inspiration for her ability to find ways to fund the arts while rejecting the record label model.
What’s next for Stufflebeam is a release from her day job and a deeper immersion into the expressive possibilities of the DFW area. Be sure to check out Strange Monsters, which features local voice actors, local musicians, and a design formatted by Claire Morales. When you take the time to listen to someone else’s stories, you may find something you didn’t know about yourself. To keep up with Stufflebeam's work, visit her website.
Strange Monsters iTunes link
Photos courtesy of Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
Header image design by Brittany Keeton