Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sylvia Ross, Poet, Author, Artist

Today I’m interviewing Sylvia Ross, another of the contributors to Leaves from the Valley Oak.  Sylvia not only contributed several of her poems and a memoir to the anthology, but she also helped with the production. She did the graphics on the cover and made all the interior pictures better. She’s a longtime member of Exeter Writers.
Sylvia, not only have you authored children’s books, you’re a poet and artist too. Tell us about yourself.
My husband and I chose a country life, but I was raised in Los Angeles. My mother was one quarter Native American, and my own number on the state’s Indian Roll was 30326. After high school, I worked for Walt Disney as a cell painter until my first child was born. Subsequently, I earned a B.A., and as our four sons grew older, their need for clothes, shoes, and music lessons drove me into a teaching career. I taught at Vandalia in Porterville, CA, where the kids from the Tule Indian Reservation were enrolled. I enjoyed finding connections with my own origins through the Indian kids and their admirable families. I was a good fit for the school and it for me.
How long have you been writing? 
Oh, since I first found out that my fingers could make marks in mud. I was an inarticulate child, but once I learned to use the ABCs to make phonetically correct words, I felt that I had a voice. That led me to being a girl too shy to give an oral book report but who earned the English award at 8th grade graduation, and to being a woman who struggled desperately through college speech class, but had the blue book proficiency to easily graduate with honors.
How many books have you written?
I’ve written four books: two cultural works for children, Lion Singer (2005) and Blue Jay Girl (2008 ) published by Heyday; a collection of poems and drawings for adults published this year and titled Acorns and Abalone; and a novel titled Acts of Kindness, Acts of Contrition.
I’ve also given many readings during the past ten years. My work was included in a cultural arts exhibit called Sing Me Your Story, Dance Me Home which toured museums and other venues, 2009 through 2010. With three other writers, I was invited to read at the Modern Language Association’s International Conference in San Diego in 2003, and I read at U.C. Irvine’s California Indian Conference in 2010.  I’ve written for an award winning quarterly magazine, “News from NATIVE CALIFORNIA,” for many years. I have poetry and short stories in the anthologies: The Dirt Is Red Here (2002); Spring Salmon, Hurry To Me (2008); The Illuminated Landscape, A Sierra Nevada Anthology (2010); Leaves from the Valley Oak (2011). An minor abstract from an article I wrote is included in the book: Seaweed, Salmon, and Manzanita Cider (2008).
How did your upbringing color your writing?
My mother’s people were storytellers; my early teachers were Irish nuns, fond of literature and grand storytellers all.  Parochial school exposed me to the rhythms and eloquent vocabulary of the Bible. I listened to the Latin mass weekly as a child and was also exposed to the sounds of other languages I didn’t speak or understand. I understood early on how sound could nuance content.
How do you develop your characters? 
 I don’t know. My characters are greatly altered but naturally are modeled on people I’ve known. I put them into fictitious situations and let them react as they might.
What books and authors influenced you?
The author Frances Hodgson Burnett, who wrote A Little Princess, brought me through a complicated childhood. My copy of her book was an old edition (1937) with illustrations by Ethel Franklin Betts. (Burnett’s book is still being printed but in an updated version - which is more politically correct and not quite the same.)
Later, all the great writers: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Flaubert, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost and James Joyce impressed me.  California’s John Steinbeck, England’s D.H. Lawrence and Paul Scott were influences. At the present time, Charles Frazier, David Gregory Roberts, Barbara Kingsolver, Neal Stephenson, Allan Furst, Elizabeth George, Gil Adamson, and Kazuo Ishiguro are still influencing me.  I am fond of books in translation and films with subtitles.
In college, I studied with the poet, Robert Mezey, and the novelist, John Stewart. They both went on to other campuses and greater honors. I was lucky to have been taught by them.
What is your latest project?
After completing the novel this past month?  I plan to give the house a good cleaning, lie on the sofa and read.
Where can your books be found?
They can be ordered through The Book Garden on Pine St. in Exeter, and at The books published by Heyday can also be purchased at I can be contacted at or by regular mail at P.O. Box 44040, Lemon Cove, CA 93244

1 comment:

  1. Informative interview and profile of a talented Valley writer and artist.
    Thank you!