If Brenda Joyce Patterson’s working title is Fine Arts and Adult Programming Librarian, then her working, working title must also include poet, essayist, columnist, author, and host of the PGTV show, Writer’s Den. Patterson has had an essay published among the words of Maya Angelou and Gwendolyn Brooks. She co-authored a book, “Soothsaying” with Suzanne Roth, which earned the 2005 Florida Artists Book Prize and remains in the permanent collection of the Bienes Center for the Literary Arts of The Dianne and Michael Bienes Special Collections and Rare Book Library at the Broward County Main Library/Florida Center for the Book. She’s been a columnist for the Lakeland Ledger and DIY MFA and has had her poetry, flash fiction, and other work published across platforms.

Born and raised in Lakeland, Patterson described the swan city growing up as “sleepy and small,” remembering a time of the Five-and-Dime Store and S.H. Kress and Co. After graduating from Lakeland Senior High, she got her associate’s degree in psychology at then Polk Community College, followed by a bachelor’s degree in psychology at USF and a master’s in Library and Information Science. “I thought I was going to be a clinical psychologist when I grew up,” said Patterson. “Then I realized, my heart was a little too not resilient to do that – to take on people’s pain every day. 

The Fine Arts Librarian found a way to do psychology, in a way, amid the stacks at the Lakeland Public Library, where she’s worked for 37 years. Though her official title is Fine Arts Librarian, her working title includes Adult Programming Librarian too. A wonderful thing about working at a library, certainly at Lakeland Public Library, she said, is, “You get the opportunity to use the things that you love, and they let you run with it, within the boundaries of your job.”

“I have always been a reader. My mother and my older brother read to me when I was a child,” said Patterson of her earliest bookish memories. She began reading on her own even before elementary school. Her interest in writing started when she was in junior high, increasing more seriously throughout high school. She stopped writing for a time and came to work at the library. “To see all the books that came across the desk when people were returning them, that was like nirvana because every reader has their little patch that they tend, like a garden. If you get enough different readers, you expand your garden because you’re seeing what they’re reading, and that’s what happened with me,” she said.

Her own mental plot, ready to be tended, Patterson began writing more in earnest in her mid-twenties. When a library patron returned a book of poetry by someone Patterson had not yet heard of, her interests were piqued. She picked up the book, flipped it to the back, and was pleasantly shocked by the author’s photo of a young Nikki Giovanni. “It was a Black woman,” she said. “It’s the thing of seeing someone doing it right in front of you, actively writing, and the fact that they look like you. You can easily project yourself into doing that same thing,” she said.

When you ask Brenda Joyce Patterson who she is, the first in a succession of accomplished writing titles is ‘poet.’ She lays her verse against the backdrop of her blog, Pinacasa. 

Random, stop-everything-and-write, lightning strikes of inspiration were rare when she described her previous writing efforts as less intentional. “Before I started claiming for myself the idea that not only am I interested in writing, but I too can truly do it, not just sometimes do it. The idea that I have to sit and wait for an idea – that made it few and far between.” That commitment to intentionality can be traced back to a series of life-altering health events. “I had a near-death experience six times,” said the poet. A series of spells in which she believed she was passing out, followed by tests that turned up nothing, and more awful bouts ended with an emergency room visit. She described the sensations as feeling ill, the need to lay down, and then “click, the lights would go out.” She would awake to someone, often her husband, in her face trying to wake her up.

During her ER visit, attached to a heart monitor and EEG machine, it happened again. She awoke to a technician in her face saying, “She’s back!” After viewing the recording from the monitors, the doctors found that Patterson had flatlined. “They watched my heart stop,” she said. The recording revealed her heart rate slowing steadily before stopping, her brain following suit. Patterson had clinically died without any activity in the heart or electrical activity in the brain.

No longer was she going to sit and wait for inspiration to strike – she would reach out and strike it herself. The ordeal had her asking of herself, “You like to call yourself a poet. Are you really writing poetry? Are you really writing, period?” A fire was lit in her belly, and she’s been writing poignant poetry ever since, on topics from writing amid the pandemic to lucid dreaming and even baking. “Sometimes it’s lavender hair, sometimes it’s baking, sometimes it’s somebody got on my last nerve, sometimes it’s just seeing someone walk down the street and thinking, ‘I hope they’re okay…’”  From those simple musings, it’s about “letting the mind play,” she said. “I think we as writers do ourselves a disservice if we’re sitting around waiting for inspiration.”

“You put some words on the paper, and then you hate them. You fiddle with them, and then you hate them a little less. I don’t know of too many writers that are totally pleased with what they put out. But by the time they put it out, they certainly feel pleased that they have done as much as they could with the product that they have in front of them.”

In the blog entry preceding her poem, “When You Say,” Patterson writes, “Stories find their way into my poems. Somewhere in me, I think, is a fiction writer yearning to be free.”  She has already had short fiction published and has experimented with mixing fiction into her poetry. “That’s because I don’t feel comfortable writing fiction,” she said. To circumvent her insecurities, Patterson uses an ability she’s confident in, her poetry, to explore fiction writing.

A reader of eclectic tastes, Patterson enjoys romance, science fiction, even mystery during the right reading ‘season’ as she describes it. “If the thing that you return to over and over again shows how much you feel about it, then it’s definitely a love for me, and that’s romance.” With the general tone of angst and uncertainty reverberating throughout the world, “I need a happily ever after. I certainly need a happily for now story, so I read romance,” she said.

“The fiction that I write, one day if I become intentional enough, I have a science fiction fantasy/ speculative fiction that is at least a novel, but maybe a series of novels. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to do it – I push myself, but I don’t know if I’m brave enough to do it.” Patterson has a science fiction fantasy/ speculative fiction story within her that deals with sentient spiders. The idea came to her one day while she was brushing her teeth. Now, vivid plot details whisper to her almost like an out of body voice while she’s driving or falling asleep, urging her to write them down. Another plot stitching itself together in her mind is that of an assassins league. Dialogue for the story can be read at her poetry blog in an entry titled, “The Trick Is.”

“I’m still trying to convince myself that I have imagination, and that website is showing myself that not only do I have imagination but that I can produce daily if necessary,” she said of her blog, Pinacasa.

Much worth the mention in Patterson’s writing career is that of her essay, “The Kindness of Strangers.” Her first time writing an essay for publication landed on the pages of the anthology, “Go Girl!: The Black Woman’s Book of Travel and Adventure,” edited by Elaine Lee. The book is a collection of essays from 52 women, including literary titans like Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and, of course, Brenda Joyce Patterson. Wanting to travel and looking for travel stories from Black women, Patterson ended up in correspondence with Elaine Lee. When Lee mentioned that she had gotten a book deal, Patterson leaped at the chance to submit for it. “I said, ‘Great! If you need someone to put an essay in, I’d be happy to help you out with that.’”

“Certainly, I don’t make a billion dollars writing. I just now make a little money writing,” she said. “Every sort of jump in my writing resume, literally every jump in my writing resume, my little heart is beating like a bird.” In moments when she was nervous or bogged with self-doubt, people around her would say, “Why are you freaking out? You can do this. Are you forgetting what you’ve already done?” Patterson has been a make-it-happen sort of woman all her life, though her insecurities may try and dissuade her at times. “I took it one step at a time, and I would just throw myself out there, and they’d say, ‘You’ve done these things that were difficult before, you can do this, and you can do more.’”

“That’s what I would say to any writer, any person, who has something that they want so hard to do. You may not feel like you have the credentials or what have you, but do it anyway. Try – because you might get the opportunity,” she said. This year, Patterson’s goal is to monetize her writing. She is setting her prices and plans to start a Patreon. The esteemed poet and essayist aims for writing to be a career after she retires from the library. She also plans to seek help navigating the process of compiling her poems for a collection, and notes that she also hopes to submit more work. “I have a number of things that I know I need to work on, but I’m afraid. I’m trying my best to push through that fear.”

 

Brenda Joyce Patterson

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