On this episode (click here to listen), we’re joined by Kelundra Smith. Kelundra (@PieceofKay) is the senior publications writer at Emory University but is also a journalist covering theatre, art and culture for a wide range of outlets, including The New York Times, Food and Wine, The Undefeated, and The Bitter Southerner.
Kelundra talked about her path to a journalism career and some favorite pieces she’s written (the links above include examples). She also talked about how she watches a play when she is reviewing it, the key to writing from the heart, her work with The American Theatre Critics Association Equity Diversity Inclusion Committee, and how she would design an arts journalism curriculum .
Highlights from our Q&A, edited for length and clarity, are below:
What is the goal of your writing?
My goal is always to get people curious. I figured out pretty early on that people don’t really care about what you do until they care about who you are.
And so the way that I figured to make people care about the art is to make them fall in love with the artist. So I want people, when they read something I write, to get curious.
How do you come up with some of the most memorable lines in your stories?
As I’m listening to the person as I’m interviewing them, I’m the type of writer who I start configuring this story in my mind.
It’s almost like architecture. I start building it. I’m, I’m thinking in terms of structure, like, do I have my opening scene yet?
Do I have an image? Do I have a central metaphor? And I think that also comes from the fact that creative writing is where I first came to writing in terms of poetry, short stories, theater.
So I’m thinking about things in a non-journalistic way, in terms of story structure, so that I can give you visuals and strong figurative language. And I don’t stop until I know I have that image
When it comes to my technique, I’m reading a lot of fiction and poetry writers. I’m looking at how they set up stories, because what I’ve learned is that if you give somebody a compelling Image and you carry or a metaphor and you carry that through, people will stay with you.
What’s the key to writing from the heart?
The more I learn about myself and what I care about, it is harder to deny what’s inside of me, and therefore it has to come out in the writing.
I also think that people are looking for someone to say the thing that they’re thinking that no one else will say.
What do you watch for when you’re reviewing a play?
Everything. I’m watching from the parking lot. Who’s going into the theater? How are they dressed? What’s the experience when they walk in? My process starts before I even get inside. And then if the set is not behind a curtain, when we enter the house, I’m looking at setting, I’m listening to house music, I’m, I’m listening to whatever sounds or whatever, maybe, you know, on stage before the show even starts.
And then when it starts, I know I’m really loving the show when, in my mind I stop reviewing it and I’m just enjoying it. And that is rare. Because most things are just okay. And that’s fine. But it’s a treat when I really love something to the point where I can like, kind of turn the critic off.
And then again, as I’m watching it, I am writing in my head.
What can I or a listener do to help improve diversity in theatre and culture writing?
The first thing is that particularly for people from marginalized communities, they may not know that arts, journalism and arts criticism, particularly when we’re talking about is even an option as a pathway in journalism. So I think just telling people that it’s an option is a huge form of advocacy because we cannot assume that everybody knows or has access to all the same information.
I would say the other thing is to share. When you read good art stories, share them on social media, share them with friends and family.
If we can get the metrics (pageviews) up, then we can restore the idea that being in an arts critic is a viable career. Right now it’s a great passion project. It’s a great side hustle. the jobs have been stripped away.