It’s been a colorful life thus far for Bend writer Avery Grace. Her résumé includes being an NGO worker in a refugee camp at age 20, teaching English as a second language for four years to middle schoolers in Los Angeles and studying and practicing traditional Chinese herbalism and medicine.
The 36-year-old poet, playwright and creative nonfiction writer is this week’s featured Central Oregon Creative Artists Relief Effort (CO CAREs). The Bulletin created the grant program in partnership with Scalehouse Collaborative for the Arts to financially assist creatives hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grace’s pandemic year was no less colorful than her life up to that point: She was living in New Orleans with her partner and their three kids when COVID-19 hit. When it began to look like New Orleans was on its way to being the next COVID-19 epicenter, she said, their family pulled up stakes and moved back to Oregon — first to Portland and, about five months ago, to Bend.
Grace has taken more of a DIY path to expressing herself in writing. (Note: Though her legal surname is still Erickson as of this writing, she will soon take Grace as her legal last name.)
“I started with a certain amount of talent, but then, it was also about honing that talent with skill and with training and with mentorships,” she said. “I didn’t go get an MFA necessarily, but I took plenty of classes, read books on writing by some of my favorite authors and editors, would take online classes. … I’ve started a lot of writing groups. Anywhere I went, I started a writing group.”
A primary writing interest: exploring the atypical and the marginalia in prose. Grace cites Hunter S. Thompson as an early influence on her creative nonfiction.
“I started, like, four different blogs as a kid, but most of them were kind of creative nonfiction,” she said. “I find that this life, the people in it, and people’s stories, are amazing and strange enough. I’ve always been very attracted to telling the stories that folks are not aware of, that folks shun, folks judge. The stories that go untold and that are not mainstream.”
Her other love is poetry, which often turns up on her Instagram (@averybraverygrace), which she appreciates for its concision and economy of language, she said. You can read selections of Grace’s work at averybraverygrace.com.
“I’m also a person who lives with neurodivergence and ADHD, so doing a poem and being done with it is very satisfying to me,” she said. “I’ve done much longer projects, like I just wrote a full-length play that took the better part of a year.”
The play is semi-autobiographical and delves into the relationship of Farzin, a scholar from Iran, and his partner, Dani, a trans woman and sex worker.
“He’s a little bit more traditional. She’s kind of having a hard time kind of figuring out how to manifest herself in the world professionally, and is very spiritually inclined, and kind of gets the sense of internal guidance that she needs to experience the world through doing professional sex work,” Grace said. “She has some sexual trauma history that she kind of hopes to work through … also unclear is, like, is that driving this impulse, or is it actually what I’m supposed to be doing?”
Its main theme is “how much can you grow, or stretch, or how much of yourself are you willing to face and let go of in order to love someone in the way that they need to be loved.”