Spotlight On! Austin Newton

Austin Newton is a Creative Writing major in the BFA Program at Portland State University. A lover of skateboards and writing, Austin is a creative athlete and a unique artist of his time.

Q: What inspires you to create?

A: Connection. I can remember reading Catcher in the Rye for the very first time and thinking, “So I’m not alone in all this!” I had a similar experience reading Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. I’ve always felt alone, like something just wasn’t right. So when I create, it’s an attempt to reach out, to forge some kind of connection with the world outside my own head.

I won’t lie to you good people; clout inspires me too. I’m not immune to the desire to be recognized as a poet or a writer. I’d say fifty percent of my inspiration comes from a need to connect and fifty percent from a desire to be recognized — whatever that means.

Q: What does your process look like when you are taking the seed of an idea and turning it into a finished product? 

A: Well, the stuff I’m proud of usually starts on paper. The act of physically writing something out as opposed to typing it out is, to me, a more intimate process. It works a different muscle. I feel more honest and vulnerable when I write stuff out on paper and the sentences seem more poetic, I guess. Then when the written draft is finished I transcribe it to a word document where I edit as I go along. 

As far as taking the seed of an idea and turning it into a story or a poem, it varies. I wish I had a more solid way of doing things, but I really don’t. Sometimes a story or a poem works and sometimes it doesn’t. I just sift through ideas until I find myself working on one for more than five minutes.

Q: Who are some of your favorite artists / poets? Are these artists / poets reflected in your work in any way?

A: My two all-time favorite authors are Denis Johnson and Anton Chekhov. The empathy and generosity they give to their characters is, for me, something to aspire towards. And the poetry, rawness and fearlessness in Denis Johnson’s prose is something I try (and usually fail) to reflect in my work. I rip him off constantly. I like writing about humans in all their complexities, both dark and beautiful. 

I also draw from musicians like MF Doom and skateboarders like John Cardiel. I know most of you probably don’t know who John Cardiel is, but I encourage you to watch one of his skateboard videos so that what I’m about to say will make sense; I want to write the way he skates.

Q: How do you think your art communicates with you? How do you think it communicates with an audience? Is this communication important to the process of your art? 

A: Communication is very important in my writing. Like I said, fifty percent of why I write comes from a desire to connect.

How does it communicate with me? Well, I think as I write something, it’s constantly prodding me to dig deeper, to really expose myself as a person, flaws and everything. And my hope is that this sort of exposure will let my readers know that it’s okay to be themselves, that this is a safe space to explore things we may not be comfortable doing in different places.

Q: What is your next project? 

A: Oh, I got all sorts of ideas; none of which have actually materialized. Yet.

A book of poetry entitled “The Curse of Cain “which thinly reflects my life as a black drug addict in McMinnville, Oregon, has been floating around in my head for a little bit. We’ll see how that turns out. I’ve written a few poems that would theoretically go in there if I were to do such a thing. I think as a student and a young man whose chief personality trait is procrastination, I think a book of poetry is achievable. Maybe.

I’d also eventually like to write a novel and a book of short stories. Maybe a screen play; I just want to write as much as possible. That’s all. 

Q: As an artist, how would you define this phase of your life? 

A: Buffering period. I’m still learning how to write and finding my voice as a writer. I say to myself at least five times a day, “Maybe I’m not a writer.” I’ve got several unfinished stories and poems lying on my shelves, stuff I just gave up on and haven’t touched in years. There’s a lot of books I haven’t read yet that, as someone who wants to be a writer, I should probably read. 

That said, I can’t stop writing. I really don’t know why, but I can’t. And I know you never really master writing and it takes years to get any recognition (that is, if you ever do), but I like to think that since I keep doing it, writing, something good will probably come out of it, whatever that may be. I’m optimistic about the future.

Q: What makes you happy?

A: Sunshine, trips to California, skateboarding, writing reading, dancing, music. Lots of stuff. Life can be pretty cool if you like to live it.