Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton says, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s crush is Martha Grover.
Martha’s work engages with place in a manner so engaging and thought-provoking that the reader often finds themselves wishing they had the writer’s brain. While characters and people are vivid, complicated, and genuinely-rendered, they fit into landscape and scene as background. Her voice is clear and thoughtful, analytical and intuitive, and so very necessary.
In her words:
I’ve found that what I connect with in other writers’ work, are the same kind of themes that I still return to in my own writing: work, class, family, chronic illness, disability, sense of place.
Not having a sense of local history, to me, is almost a spiritual deficit. I’m third generation Oregonian and grew up lower middle class/working class. I have a deep connection to my home. Writing that paints a picture of a place, and our connections to that place, of the people who are shaped there…that gets me excited! I also like writing and reading about local history. Not only in Portland, but anywhere a story takes place. Two books that had a huge impact on me as a young person were The Liar’s Club and This Boy’s Life.
I also regularly feel alienated by the middle and upper middle class stories that get told over and over again in mainstream culture, through mainstream narratives. Common middle class experiences were not my experiences. Because of this I struggled to connect in college. People would go home for summer, a room waiting for them in their parent’s house. Their mothers would help them apply for college or financial aid. I couldn’t identify with having parents that had the time or resources to give that kind of help. It was baffling to me and I don’t think I even realized that it was a class issue for a long time.
In other writers of non-fiction, I also look for a strong voice and a strong emphasis on storytelling. I don’t even necessarily look for finely-crafted sentences, just a good story and a strong voice.
However, right now I am writing two essays that are kind of kicking my ass.
I feel like I’m in a growth period. Instead of a strong storytelling angle, these two essays are more about ideas and I’m struggling with how to express those ideas, in a beautiful way. I don’t have the easy framework of a story to hang these ideas on, and so it’s a slow process, but I think a necessary one. I think too, when you are up against the edge of your skill set, that’s when you grow as an artist. So, full steam ahead!
I was a pretty quiet kid. I was homeschooled up until the seventh grade and I spent a lot of time alone, reading. Or alone, running around in the woods. At least that’s how I remember it. I also spent time with my sisters and neighbors playing. (I do remember some schooling going on, but mostly just a ton of reading!) I was the kind of kid who would read the encyclopedia with her breakfast cereal.
Talk about art that wowed you at a young age.
It’s hard to pinpoint an early memory of art that made a distinct impression on me. As a kid, I loved fantasy books where kids were whisked away through a portal into another world. Think the Oz series, or Narnia. I also liked books where kids were deserted on an island or were homeless and had to fend for themselves. I think escapism was a big part of my reading habits as a young person. I love the Lynda Barry quote: “We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay.” In that vein, I love the documentary “The Wolf Pack” because it so perfectly encapsulates the insular, isolating aspects of my childhood – being homeschooled in rural Oregon. But it also shows the joys of having a ton of siblings, the bonds that isolation creates, and the joy of imagination and creativity. If you haven’t seen that movie, it’s a masterpiece.
My mother was an artist. She made a lot of things by hand and was decent at drawing. Seeing her basically teach herself to draw and make wreaths and stuffed animals had a big impression on me. She is by far my biggest artistic inspiration because she was so DIY in a lot of ways. She just started doing it and figured it out on her own. Both of my books are illustrated, and to this day, I am entirely self-taught.
Sometimes I think maybe I make things a little hard on myself, because it’s like I have to do it all myself. I think part of that is being poor, and having no choice, and I think part of that is just watching my mom and realizing that you don’t need to take classes or get permission, just do it! Just start, and figure it out as you go.
What do you feel proud of?
I feel proud of my storytelling event that I host every month; I like the community it creates and the confidence I give people who maybe have never performed in front of an audience before. If you’re in Portland, it’s called the Beeswing Listening Bee. And it’s also just good, old fashioned fun. I love it!
I’m also proud of my zine, Somnambulist, and the fact that I’ve been doing it so long. It provides me with artistic continuity and community. I’m proud of my work with the Portland Zine Symposium, helping to organize and fundraise for them.
I also helped put out “The People’s Guide to Portland” with a local non-profit called Know Your City. The guide helps educate people about different marginalized communities here in Portland and how we can support them and how they can get the resources they need. I love the mission of Know Your City, the local history education they do, and I feel like everyone that was involved was really stoked on the project.
And last but not least, I am proud of my Patreon page! I put a lot of work into my page and it’s been paying off. I am grateful that so many people are willing to give me money every month to create art!
What’s keeping you sane right now?
To be honest, I recently decided to take a few weeks off Facebook because I couldn’t stand it anymore. With the tax bill, and Trump and everything else. I just needed to get off of social media for a while. As a disabled person, it is emotionally draining to see the constant attacks on the ACA. Every time I called a senator, I felt like a serf from the middle ages down on their hands and knees begging a local duke not to kill my son, or rape my daughter. All I did was kill a deer in the royal forest to feed my starving family!! Please don’t kill me!
It’s humiliating. It’s the same feeling that people probably have who live in areas of high homicide and police violence and poverty. It’s like, what do I need to say to you to get you to care whether I live or die?
It’s super demoralizing.
So now I’m just listening to a lot of “Beautiful Anonymous” podcasts and cleaning my room a lot more regularly. I don’t know if I’m keeping sane, but we’ll see.
I’m also realizing that I need to get involved with groups that do activism for people living with disabilities. It’s something that I should have done a long time ago, but I feel like I’m finally in the right place to do it.
Tell us a story.
As I said before, I was homeschooled and pretty sheltered. There was a local video store where my family rented videos all the time. When I was a teenager my sister and I rented “Kama Sutra” and brought it home to watch. We had no idea what Kama Sutra was. We thought it was just the name of this Indian romantic film. Of course, it was all sex. Sex in a million different positions, ridiculous sex. It had no plot, it was basically a beautiful porno. We brought it back to the video store, and said to the clerk, who was a young man in his early twenties, “You know, this movie is all sex. Maybe you should warn people…”
Looking back, I realize now he was mortified. His face turned bright red.
“It is called Kama Sutra,” he said.
This meant nothing to us. We continued arguing with him that they should put it in the back room with the other pornos.
“It’s a foreign film,” he said.
“We’ve watched a LOT of foreign movies,” we said. “And they’re not like this one!”
We couldn’t believe how stupid he was.
He just stammered and shrugged.
I remember getting into the car to leave and talking with my sister about how uncultured that guy was… How he must know nothing about foreign film.
Martha, where can we find your work?
You can find my books for sale on Perfect Day Publishing’s website.
Or, if you want to follow my creative output, you can follow me on Patreon. If you subscribe to my Patreon page you get rewards like zines, copies of my books and patron-only material.
Or, if you want to really nerd out and get back issues of my zine, you can go to: somnambulistzine.com/shop
Martha Grover is an author, poet, artist and writing coach living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of One More for the People (Perfect Day Publishing) and The End of My Career (Perfect Day Publishing). The End of My Career was a finalist for the Oregon Book Awards in creative nonfiction in 2017. Her work has also appeared in numerous journals. She has been publishing her zine, Somnambulist, since 2003.