Vernell Clouden-Duval is a Caribbean-born writer, now living in Massachusetts, who describes herself as a multi-passionate creative. Whether it’s card-making or more recently the fibre arts – crocheting, weaving, sewing and knitting (the sweater she’s wearing in the photo is one of her own creations) – she is always keeping her hands busy. She works for a non-profit organisation helping prevent homelessness, so she certainly has a lot on her plate. During the pandemic, she decided to add writing to the mix. She joined her first course with the Collective during the autumn of 2020 and is now on her third.
What gave you the urge to add writing to your creative pursuits? And why now?
I have always enjoyed writing. Perhaps because I was always an avid reader, or because my mother was a language and literature teacher – now retired, but tutoring – I was always surrounded by great literature. I remember enjoying writing essays in school, seeing the thoughts in my head come together in a story on paper. Then life got in the way, and academic writing for college became the staple, then business writing for work after that, though I always knew I wanted to get back to creative writing. So with the pandemic and life going remote, I thought this would be the perfect time to finally start back. I asked for recommendations, and my friend Wendy who is already an IWC student told me about it. After taking a look, I decided to try my first class and loved it. The appeal for me is that it is international writers, which means a diverse set of perspectives and writing.
You’ve said you’re an avid reader – and now writer! Do you have a few favourites you could share, or new releases you are looking forward to?
I currently have a lot of diverse and BIPOC authors on my reading list, and am particularly looking forward to reading Amanda Gorman’s poetry collection “The Hill We Climb and Other Poems”, “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and “Things I Have Withheld” by Kei Miller. I read a lot of Caribbean authors growing up, and I have rediscovered some of those, as well so many new ones over the past year – due to a Caribbean Book Club that I joined. The book club was created during the COVID19 lockdowns of 2020, and is a casual group of Caribbean literature enthusiasts based anywhere in the world!
Each year I set myself a reading challenge, though in recent years I admit I’ve been too ambitious! On average I consume 30-35 books per year, but of course, this is balanced with all my other creative pursuits. I’m currently reading “Island Beneath the Sea” by Isabel Allende and listening to “Here Comes the Sun” by Nicole Dennis-Benn. I often read multiple books simultaneously, in different formats like this. A recent favourite I listened to is “Four Hundred Souls” by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain – it prompted me to buy the paper version and I think is book everyone should read and own, so they can reference over and over again.
What does your process look like?
I am still developing my process, but having a deadline motivates me the most – so the IWC classes definitely help with that. I am trying to get to a place where I can be more consistent with my writing. I recently started a year-long journaling workshop, with the hope that writing from the prompt each morning (or evening) will translate into being more consistent and accountable to myself with my writing. I start with a brain dump of ideas on the computer, then print it out and write with pen and paper, usually in the mornings when it is relatively quiet, that’s when the ideas flow for me.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from the IWC courses?
That writing takes time! That I should not be too hard on myself, and not to overthink. Inspiration can come from all different experiences, things you’ve heard or read, and it is always better to submit something – however short or crappy – than not submit anything. I used to fear my work would not be good enough, and the idea of strangers critiquing it was terrifying! But now I relish the feedback each week, finding out what worked or didn’t, I look forward to it!
What are your plans going forward with your writing?
My plan is to make writing a priority amongst my other creative pursuits and to really work at getting better at it. I have a couple of stories that I started for class exercises that have potential to become something more, so I would like to work on those. But I think the biggest thing I want to achieve in the next year, is having a consistent writing practice. Daily writing practice will hopefully lead to me spending more time on my stories, so I may look to submit something in a year from now.