Kay Windsor treasures early mornings, sitting in a rickety porch swing, a journal on her lap.
She taught English and journalism for years in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Salem Academy but became more purposeful in her own writing after her teenage daughter died in car wreck in 1996, finding that the written word could help her sort through her grief.
Windsor became part of a writing group of bereaved mothers who have been writing together for 17 years. A collection of their writing is featured in the book “Farther Along: The Writing Journey of Thirteen Bereaved Mothers.”
Windsor, 71, grew up in western Forsyth County, drawn to such books as “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.”
Q: How would you describe your art?
Answer: I love words, and I enjoy reading them, writing them and crafting them into pieces that reflect, refract and find “how the light gets in,” to borrow Leonard Cohen’s poetry from “Anthem.” If there are genres my writing fits, then essays, creative nonfiction, memoir and poetry — maybe proems, as Brian Doyle calls prose poems — may describe the kind of writing I do. Oh yes, and letters. I have been an writer of letters since I was 8 or 9 years old, once writing to 42 pen pals all over the country and in Europe.
Q: How have you evolved as an artist?
Answer: Small encouragements: I received a prize of $10 for a piece of writing from the local Women’s Club when I was in high school. Journalism mentors reminded me that everyone — each of us — has a story, and everyone’s stories are worthy of retelling. Studying literature, history, writing and yes, even grammar courses that showed me how the language works and how it evolves, reflecting and being effected by those who use it helped me to remain a writer and grow. Teaching high school journalism and English courses and advising school newspapers and yearbooks for four decades and working for the national Journalism Education Association as a mentor to high school journalism teachers, all the while hoping to influence how students write and to show students the power and beauty of writing inspired me to practice the craft with more deliberation.
In 2002 I became part of a reflective writing group after a writing toward healing workshop for bereaved mothers. Carol Henderson (“Farther Along: The Writing Journey of Thirteen Bereaved Mothers” and “Losing Malcolm: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief”) led a day-long workshop for bereaved mothers sponsored by Winston-Salem Hospice (now Trellis Supportive Care), Salem Academy and College and Home Moravian Church. Most of us have continued to meet for 17 years at twice a year retreats, and we have traveled together to write at a chateau in France and at Ghost Ranch, N.M. We have written to prompts that have allowed us to reflect on our children and our grief journeys.
In leading a reflective writing group, Writing Our Lives, sponsored by the Geist Institute for Women’s Words at the town hall in Bethania, I continue to practice and share reflective writing, offering prompts for legacy writing, writing through grief and examining our everyday lives and our places in the world.
Writing alone and with others has allowed me to use reflective writing to examine, reflect and evolve as a writer.
Q: Who has influenced your art?
Answer: I used to tell my students that “I am a part of all that I have met,” from Tennyson’s “Ulysses” reflected us all, not just the epic hero. And it was teachers, especially Juanita Clarke in high school, who encouraged me as a reader, a writer, a lover of language. My grandmother, who had only been able to attend school for four years, fostered my love for words as she had me write letters and lists that she dictated to me. I still like to write in the kitchen sometimes because of the memories of writing her words as I sat listening to her tell stories while she rolled out pie dough or shaped dough into biscuits. And my children and my grandchildren have influenced my writing because they continue to help me to see and appreciate life more fully. The list of writers who have influenced my writing is long but includes Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver, Brian Doyle, Richard Rohr, David Whyte and my friend Carol Henderson.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
Answer: Keeping time for the practice of reflective writing — so I write with most groups that I lead, responding to the prompts I offer them. Finding a balance of reading, writing, reflecting, essentially, of letting action lead to contemplation and contemplation to action.
Q: What does art do for you?
Answer: Writing is part of my lens to see the world and myself. As an introvert and perhaps a 5 on the Enneagram, reflective writing helps me “save my life” (as Pat Schneider, Flannery O’Connor and many others I admire have said) and savor my life, as the poet Mary Oliver suggests in “The Summer Day”: “pay attention” and “do something with your one wild and precious life.”
Q: Any advice for other artists?
Answer: Read, write, share, write, read, share, write, write, write. Be curious, be conscious, choose words carefully, let them choose you, have time for contemplation — reflect on your work, reflect on your world, reflect on your heart, and have time for action. Put words forward. Put feet forward. Act on the words you write.