20 Questions with... Joan Leotta
Joan Leotta is an author and story performer nominated for Pushcart and Best of Net in 2022. She plays with words on page and stage. “Encouraging words through pen and performance”, she performs tales featuring food, family, nature, and strong women. Her writings are in or soon will appear in Ekphrastic Review, Pinesong, The Sun, Brass Bell, Verse Visual, anti-heroin chic, Gargoyle, Silver Birch, Ovunquesiamo, Verse Virtual, Poetry in Plain Sight, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Yellow Mama, and others. She received Best of Micro Fiction 2021 (Haunted Waters) and was a 2022 runner up in Frost Foundation Poetry Competition. Her first chapbook, Languid Lusciousness with Lemon came out in 2017 from Finishing Line Press. Her second chapbook, Feathers on Stone, is coming in late 2022 from Main Street Rag. She has been a Gilbert-Chappell Fellow and a Tupelo Press 30/30 writer (twice).
She is a member of the North Carolina Poetry Society, gave a talk on poetry at the Society’s 90th celebration, is a member and area representative for North Carolina Writers Network and on the stage side of her work, is member of, and the coastal area representative for NC’s Tar Heel Tellers and coordinates Poetry Workshops/Readings online through her Brunswick County’s Arts Council.
Latest short story published (some flash fiction after this) https://blackpetalsks.tripod.com/artofchrisfriend/id23.html
The confession black petals appeared in yellow mama Halloween issue 2021
Feathers on Stone poetry chapbook available for pre-publication orders now at
Other Joan Leotta Books
Languid Lusciousness with Lemon, Finishing Line Press (Amazon)
Morning by Morning and Dancing Under the Moon, two free mini-chapbooks are at https://www.origamipoems.com/poets/257-joan-leotta
Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? What was your life like growing up?
My name is Joan Leotta. Well, Leotta is my married name, but I grew up Italian -American as did my husband. I was in Pittsburgh, right in the city, however and he was about eight hundred miles away in upstate New York. I had a remarkably close extended family and loving mother and father. I went to a private Catholic girl’s school. My mother and my father both worked—unusual in the 1950s. I had many friends at school, but most of them lived far from me, so after school I spent a lot of time at home alone, reading and playing by myself. (Great for a writer to-be!)
I loved acting and writing and reading from an early age—learned to read when I was four and was in a play that same year at the nursery school I attended. I was so upset by the role I was given. I wanted to be the Gingerbread Boy, but as I could read, they made me the announcer and I had to introduce everything and read from cards about my classmate actors.
High school was fun, but my high school moved away! Yep, they built a new campus in the suburbs almost an hour away from me. So, for my last two years of high school, I went to a public school—from a private girls-only school of three hundred, I went to a huge school of 3,000, boys and girls. Adjustment was a bit rocky at first, but I soon learned girls do not take the role of class clown in such environments, and that the enormous number of people made it possible to find large numbers of friends in diverse groups—some of the cool kids, some not so cool, and mostly, middle group kids like myself. I joined the school paper and the drama club, although of course I was no longer in line for editor as I had been at my old school. Lost all ”seniority” in the transfer.
Off to college. My dad lost his business, but I had scholarships. It was the sixties—political activism, studying philosophy. Spent senior year in Spain.
By graduate school I had switched from journalism to political science. Did graduate work at Johns Hopkins, one year on their DC campus and one year in Bologna, Italy where I learned Italian and finished my MA in economics and international relations. Worked for the government in Washington DC for ten years.
Met my husband, and when children came along, decided to stay home, and started writing features for newspapers and performing as a storyteller in area schools. (Took a course at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts on constructing a story program)
Supplemented our family income with my writing so many business articles and just a bit of poetry and fiction. Also with my story performance work. That lasted until we moved from the DC area to North Carolina, near the ocean. I continued journalism and began to write poetry and fiction again, and with the help and encouragement of the North Carolina Poetry Society and many others, I have progressed.
Did you always want to be a writer? If you also work, what do you do / did you do?
Yes, both a writer and someone who spoke or acted on stage. As I say often, I play with words on page and stage. I still do both. My first poem was published for pay at age 14 (in a national magazine here in USA) Poetry does not pay but it is my favorite form of writing. Poetry requires packing a lot into a few words. I love playing with words. I use both my writings and performances to entertain, encourage, inform (myself as well as readers/live audience) MY motto is “encouraging words through pen and performance.” At this stage of my life I work mostly on my poetry, flash fiction and non-fiction and essays and short stories. I also write for free for some places and teach writing and performing. I have published a bit in the UK, Ireland, and Australia, and in other places that publish work in English around the world.
Tell us about your most recently published work in a sentence.
My book Feathers on Stone focuses on family, nature, food, and how small moments change us and our view of the world.
What are you working on right now?
I just sent in the final comments on the book galley and am working on two articles for local papers, one as a donation, and one for pay. And I’m revising a couple of poems. I am always working on more than one thing.
Do you have a writing routine, and if so what is it?
I like to write in the morning, but to tell the truth, I can write at any time, and I jot down ideas in notebooks and on the backs of things and then transfer the work to the computer.
Where do you write – always in the same space, or different places? Can you write
‘on the move’?
My office is a jungle of paper. I avoid it. I write on the couch in our living room. I can write anywhere there is pen and paper or a computer. I keep a sort of journal—not a daily record. I was writing a haiku a day but got out of the habit when our daughter became ill earlier this year. She is doing much better now, thank you.
What advice do you have for other authors who are starting out? What is the best
advice you’ve heard?
Persist. Work on your craft. Challenge yourself. DO not take rejection personally.
Do you enjoy doing live readings or are they a necessary evil – or somewhere in
I’ve already confessed to being a born ham, so I LOVE to do readings!!!! Zoom has been wonderful since I also hate to drive! I love telling the audience amusing anecdotes about the poems or the writing of them. I hope that with my poems about everyday things that even those who think they don’t like poetry will find value in poetry and maybe even be inspired to write something themselves!!!
Are there recurring themes in your work? Where do you feel these emanate from if
Food, family, nature—just looking out my window. I’m a city girl, but I loved the trees and birds around me. I love family and well, I’m Italian, So I express love through food quite often—in writing and at the table. My background is a major influence on my writing and my recent associations with other poets is a constant source of encouragement and ideas on how to improve my craft.
Should writers have a moral purpose? What is the purpose of a writer in today’s
Short answer-yes. I do write poems about social issues as well as crafting pieces on the small things in life—I think it is a writer’s role to open people up to new thoughts, to seeing the world in a different way, to experience new things, new cultures—I do that as a performer as well. It is sometimes also our obligation to call attention to what we see as wrong in our society in an artful way, to foster deeper thinking and hopefully help work to correct the wrongs we see. I have written for New Verse News and other places in that regard.
Do you write between genres or not?
Oh yes!!! I still write newspaper articles, I write fiction (mostly crime fiction short stories), children’s books and essays.
Which living writers do you most admire?
Living writers—hmmmmm. Fellow North Carolina poets Jacinta White and Betsy Mars, Christina Norcross, John Stanizzi, Jim Lewis. Neil Silberblatt, Rich Lupert, oh dear—so many more I would like to name!!!
Which dead writers do you most admire?
Lorca, Neruda, Shakespeare, Joyce, Elliott, Dante, Ellis Peters, PD James, O’Henry, Mark Twain, Louisa M. Alcott, Cervantes, Italo Calvino. I could probably name more.
What’s the book you wish you’d written?
Hawk. I love the way she integrated nature and observation of human existence.
What other external influences do you have: nature/place, music etc.?
My house has a wonderful view of a pond—sunrise each day. I like music or simply voice noise as a background when I write.
Do you suffer from ‘writer’s block’ and how do you overcome it if so?
My problem is too many ideas, not enough time/energy to do it all. If I am at a stopping point on a story, I leave it, walk around, work on another thing. Sometimes I clean house, but not as often as I should.
What’s been your favourite reaction to your writing?
People writing and telling me that a poem of mine touched their heart or helped them through a rough patch, made them happy, when my daughter or husband say they like something I’ve written—with performing it’s the laughter—lots of laughter. Healing for me when after our son died I had to do six weeks of telling in public libraries in DC area. I changed the program to one-third humor and the laughter of all of those children was wonderful for me.
How do your family and friends feel about your writing?
Friends are fans more than family. Mostly my family just accepts my writing as a part of me, happy for my success but not really reading a lot of it—especially the poetry. They simply do not like poetry very much. Only one cousin likes poetry.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
I used to like the bookstore in the little village near me, but it has changed hands. Now I like to visit Barnes and Noble when we go to see our daughter. There are several bookstores in bigger cities near me, but I do not visit often enough to count them.
How do you see the future of writing? Will we become more or less dependent on Amazon?
Writing is writing. Publishing is increasingly under the control of Amazon, but as long as they do not restrict it, I find it hard to worry about them even though I am not fond of the idea of ANY one source becoming too powerful.
Creativity is an explosion of expression and a way to share my love or interest in something or someone with others, what I see and how I see it. I'm both a writer and a spoken word performer. My two art forms, performance and writing find their shared nexus in the element of story—a line that runs through most of my work. Indeed, even my shortest poems are often narrative in nature. Story is the fuel of my creative engine.
Although I write and publish in many genres, poetry is my primary written medium to express this deep love of story..
After family, food, and art as topics, my delight is to seek the unusual in what is ordinary. Creating art, on paper with pen, or onstage in performance, my artistic goal is always the same—to show the beauty of the ordinary and lift up my audience—encouraging others through pen and performance.