Excerpts from Ms. Etienne's Application for 2017 Kresge Artist Fellowships
I am motivated to create because I have to. I don't even particularly enjoy writing but there is an incessant urge that I feel at all times and I have to indulge it. I believe that if I had not found writing I would have committed suicide by now. It's quite literally the only thing I'm good at. I've been in jails, rehabs, mental institutions, etc. I have survived disgusting levels of abuse as a child and as an adult, both physical and sexual. The main artery in my writing is my refusal to accept victimhood. I do not identify as a victim or a survivor. These are things that have happened, and I talk about them. My work has been described as extremely difficult, graphic, and obscene; but I have also heard people talk about the binary which I try to execute in everything I create. The dark and light. The beauty in the grotesque. I have lived in places no human should be, survived things where I should most definitely be dead. I don't dwell on it. These are things that happen. I grew up difficult and its been difficult ever since. For a few years I completely gave up and the hardest part was realizing that I was still here. My father was a drug dealer and my mother roamed the plains of Wyoming living in teepees. I come from rough people, and I've done rough things. I live in my body and my body has been through a thousand wars. Larry Clark, Harry Crews, and Sam Shephard inspire me. I was drinking a fifth a day and managed to get a BA so I thought I'd try graduate school. I was a wreck. I was asked to leave with 3 classes left and I don't think I'll go back. I'm way less of a wreck now but I don't think academia is for me. I'm outsider and I am raw, but my goal in my work is always to be tender at the same time.
Danielle Etienne is a experimental writer working on her second chapbook. She is prolific with her desire for performance and presents literary readings in avant garde forms. She was awarded numerous grants and fellowships during her undergraduate education and in recent years has devoted her time to publishing her first chapbook, currently finishing her second chapbook, and honing her skills performing for audiences at readings. Her performance work is vast and she enjoys bringing new life to readings i.e. incorporating sound collage, theatrical voice, and live musical accompaniment.
I do a lot of performances. I feel most connected to my body, myself and my audience when I am on stage. About a year ago, I started noticing that after a performance people would come up to me and they would be crying. Mostly women; I think I've had maybe two men. I never expected this reaction but it humbled me and it was one of the best things I have ever felt and will ever feel. The women that came up to me weren't crying because they were particularly upset or melancholy, they were crying because they felt like they were finally being heard. I don't want to be a voice for anyone because I don't consider myself very good at it; plus I'm kind of a messed up person. But when women come up to me they tell me 'thank you', and I ask Why. They tell me that I've helped them understand their trauma and if I can get through it so can they. I approach my writing not with feminism in mind but it always comes out as feminism on the page. Granted its more experimental and abstract, also even sometimes more grisly or haunting than I intend it to be, the common thread is always there. I am a woman who has led several different lifetimes in my short stay here on earth. And I've experienced the ugliness and simultaneous beauty that being a woman on this earth affords me. I feel good when I help other women to cry. I want to teach a free class on experimental feminist fiction. I previously taught two other classes through a local arts organization but the people this organization attracted were people who probably needed it the least. The upper middle class. No adversity. I felt like a fraud and they didn't seem to get that much out of it either. I want the women with scars and glass eyes because I am those women. I'm the little carnie girl who ripped her hair out in second grade because I didn't know how else to express my shame. I think that when I'm done with a performance/reading and I hear gasps and the choking back of tears I think I have done my job.
I think that if I received a fellowship I would try to do the most with what I have, because I've never had much to work with. I want to teach a class at a Free School or some other organization. I want to work with abuse and trauma survivors and read their stories and let them know that it won't always be as bad as it seems. I don't know exactly how I would do this, I'm just being honest. But I think that teaching a class or workshop would help. I also want to start a literary journal for marginalized women in the city of Detroit. Not the girls that go to Universities or even the girls that have homes. I want women who have struggled and struggled and have held such deep depression inside themselves that they have no idea who they are. To a certain extent I am still one of these women and will always be, but I'm learning to make it better through writing. Like I said before, I don't enjoy writing, I just have to. I can't do anything else. I want to publish stories and poems of women who have had nothing but shit and who have come from nothing. These are the things we need to hear. These are the things that make your heart stop for a moment and you look around with your hair standing on end and wonder why you're still breathing. I don't articulate myself well with plans but what I'm trying to say is that I want to teach and I want to publish. I want people to stop focusing on "New Detroit" and women in yoga pants and Dan Gilbert and remember those little side streets like Halleck and Lakepointe and the stories the wallpaper scratched up with nails and hair can tell. I wanna hear those women howling and crying and digging out of their graves.