Jessica Johns is a nehiyaw aunty and member of Sucker Creek First Nation in Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta and is currently living, working, and learning on the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. She is the managing editor for Room magazine and a co-organizer of the Indigenous Brilliance reading series in Vancouver.
Her short story, “The Bull of the Cromdale,” was nominated for a 2019 National Magazine Award in fiction and her debut poetry chapbook, How Not to Spill, won the 2019 BP Nichol Chapbook Award. She has been published widely, in magazines such as Cosmonauts Avenue, Glass Buffalo, CV2, SAD Magazine, Red Rising Magazine, The Rusty Toque, Poetry is Dead, Bad Nudes, Grain, Canadian Art, C Magazine, and Poetry is Dead.
Why did you pursue a career in writing?
I have always loved stories and the art of storytelling. I loved listening to stories and making them up, even before I knew how to write. When I really, seriously started writing creatively, it very quickly became something I wanted to dedicate more time and energy to.
Can you tell us what it’s like being a professional writer?
It’s very busy. Being a writer, for me, means always being on the grind. Always writing, pitching, submitting to magazines. New projects are always on the go simultaneously with other ones.
Why did you pursue a degree from the Creative Writing program?
Because I wanted to be a part of the literary community and focus on my writing in a more intentional way.
How did the Creative Writing program help your writing practice?
It taught me a lot about the kind of writing I didn’t want to do. It helped me find my own voice and the kind of writing practice that would work best for me. Mostly, it allowed me to connect with other writers and opportunities for writing and editing which opened a lot of doors.
“I have always loved stories and the art of storytelling. I loved listening to stories and making them up, even before I knew how to write. When I really, seriously started writing creatively, it very quickly became something I wanted to dedicate more time and energy to.”
Can you tell us a little about your award-winning short story, “Bad Cree”? What do you want your audience to take away from reading this story?
I wrote that story in one of my creative writing classes during my degree, but I wrote it in defiance of advice the class received from a professor. This professor advised us to never write about our dreams, and said that writing about dreams would lose your audience. I had a really hard time with that because dreams are such an integral part of nehiyaw ways of knowing and communicating. So I wrote a story based completely on the power of dreams, and I hope my audience takes away that dreams are cool and valid.
In addition to writing poetry and short stories, you’re also the managing editor of the feminist literary journal, Room. Why did you get involved with Room and what does your role as managing editor involve?
I got involved with Room first as a volunteer, because I wanted to get experience in editing and magazine publishing. I also wanted to be a part of a feminist organization that was focused on featuring work from marginalized genders, and Room’s mandate fit that description. As a managing editor, my role is mostly centred around ensuring all of the moving parts of the magazine are working as they should. We publish four issues a year by four different editorial teams, and all of those issues are in some stage of production at all times, and I need to make sure these teams and the people in them feel supported and have all the tools and resources they need for success. I also try to bring an anti-oppressive lens to this work by thinking deeply about how to better the organizational structures and practices of the magazine.
You are co-organizer of the Indigenous Brilliance Reading Series in Vancouver hosted by Room. What inspired you to start this series and what is its purpose?
This series was started by Patricia Massy and Jonina Kirton and I was, gratefully, invited to be a part of it. The reading series features Indigenous women, Two Spirit, and Indigiqueer writers and storytellers, and being a part of creating this kind of space has been so incredibly formative for me as a community member and writer. It has now grown and includes jaye simpson, Emily Dundas Oke, and Karmella Cen Benedito De Barros, and we’ve shifted the in-person series to a podcast series and online events.