Annette Hope Billings is known as “the Maya of the Midwest” to many of her readers. She is an award-winning poet, playwright and actress from Topeka, and she recently published her first collection of poetry, A Net Full of Hope, which is available at your library. She recently retired from a long career as a nurse to become a full-time writer. What’s been the best part of the journey so far?
“Being able to commit the best of my energy to writing instead of assigning scraps to writing,” Billings said. “It feels like finally being able to place a plant in full sun and it’s blooming for the first time.”
Sharing the beauty of poetry is important to Billings. She has talked with a number of readers who didn’t think that they liked poetry until they read A Net Full of Hope, or heard Billings perform.
“I like to think of them as poetry converts,” Billings said. “My hope is that they’ll read other poets and gain an increased appreciation for poetry.”
Annette Hope Billings is proud to be a Kansas poet, and gives her years in Kansas credit for shaping her into the writer she has become.
“I think being a Kansan offers an emotional evenness and settledness that I return to after experiencing the peaks and valleys of what it means to be human. I think being a Kansan calls me to be resilient and curious and kind. I think Kansas and being a Kansan means surprises. An African-American, woman poet is not likely the first image the world thinks of upon thinking about Kansas –yet, here I am! I hope to make Gwendolyn Brooks proud! Through my poetry, I want to show the world that “plains” means anything but flat.”
Read on for an original interview* with the poet.
You recently retired from a long career as a nurse, which has given you the opportunity to devote yourself to writing and sharing your poetry. You’ve moved your art “from the back burner to the front of the stove.” What’s been the best part of the writer’s life so far?
Being able to commit the best of my energy to writing instead of assigning scraps to writing. It feels like finally being able to place a plant in full sun and it’s blooming for the first time. Another wonderful aspect has been talking with readers/listeners who share with me that they didn’t think they liked poetry until they read my book or heard me perform it. I like to think of them as poetry converts. My hope is that they’ll read other poets and gain an increased appreciation for poetry.
How has living in Kansas shaped you as a writer and influenced your work?
My life-partner, Joyce, who died in 2009, was from The Bronx, and she was utterly amazed at the things I, living in Kansas, knew about the world! She assumed there was little else that Kansans knew besides Oz, wheat and sunflowers. I think being a Kansan offers an emotional evenness and settledness that I return to after experiencing the peaks and valleys of what it means to be human. I think being a Kansan calls me to be resilient and curious and kind. I think Kansas and being a Kansan means surprises. An African-American, woman poet is not likely the first image the world thinks of upon thinking about Kansas –yet, here I am! I hope to make Gwendolyn Brooks proud! Through my poetry, I want to show the world that “plains” means anything but flat.
You were honored with an Arty Award for literature this year by the Topeka community and ARTSConnect. Were you surprised? How did it feel to be recognized for your artistry by your community?
“Honored” is precisely the word I think of when I share about being chosen for the Arty award, and “surprised” would be putting it mildly! The nomination itself was deliciously unexpected and entirely sublime! To be considered on par with Jeffrey Ann Goudie and Doug Wallace was astonishing to me. Winning, oh my, that was a moment of absolutely grateful amazement–a pretty constant state for me since embarking on this journey. My sweet Mom died last year, but I feel her loving influence in how this poet’s path is unfolding. I trust that she sees all that I get to be a part of and I suspect she has a hand in it all.
You talk about how thankful you are for your fellow writers and your friends often, and with enthusiasm. Tell us a bit about what it means to you to have their support. How do you recommend that we give the same back to others?
I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to live a life in which writing occupies the bulk of my days. Without the outpouring of support and encouragement I’ve received, I would not have had the courage to make the decision to become a full-time writer. Nor would I be able to sustain the labor that being a full-time writer/artist demands. My name appears on my efforts, but my success is truly the results of the continued combined contributions of many people–friends, family, and other artists from all genres. I want “thank you” to precede and follow every opportunity I have. And I think it’s important to take continual note of new artists, to be willing to share time, attention, billing with those just getting started–to see new artists as a welcome addition as opposed to competition.
More poems, as long as my muses will have me!
Are you working on a new collection?
My first collection of poetry, “Hope’s Wife,” I self-published on a teeny scale and I plan to re-release it. It’s currently in the process of editing and I plan to re-launch it shortly after the first of the year. I am also working on a new collection of poetry. I also hope I am successfully well on my way to completing a draft of a novel for NaNoWriMo by the time this interview is published. 🙂
How can readers find out more about you and follow your work?
I invite readers to visit and like my Facebook author page: Facebook.com/anetfullofhope
My website is currently undergoing remodeling. Bear with me: www.anetfullofhope.com
To listen to me read my work, there are short YouTube videos available at: tinyurl.com/anfohvideos
*Miranda Ericsson interviewed Billings via email in November, 2015