Artist Profile: Jennifer New

Jennifer New is best known as a writer with three books that area all, at their core, about creativity. She is the author of Dan Eldon: The Art of Life, the story of Dan Eldon and his journals, which was a more in-depth follow-up to The Journey is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon, edited by his mother, Kathy Eldon. Drawing from Life: The Journal as Art, which she published in 2005. Jennifer lives in Iowa City, IA, and you can find out more about Jennifer on her website, which has a link to her blog. Her newest book, just out this month, is Dan Eldon: Safari as a Way of Life.

Listen to a recent podcast between Ricë Freeman-Zachery and Jennifer New here.



Q: What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a project quite different from the others and more personal—more akin to my blog—a memoir of divorce that is interspersed with interviews with other people about their own divorce experiences. I want to be the Studs Terkel of divorce!

Q: Why do you make art?
I write to understand life. I write because I feel a lot better after doing so. I write to connect to others and —hopefully—to help them feel better through a sense of connection, reflection, or deeper understanding of some aspect of themselves.

Q: What’s your current favorite, can’t-live-without-it tool, supply, material, or junkyard find?
Hmmm… my guess is that you’re looking  at this question from an artistic angle and we writers are lucky (or deprived, depending on how you look at it), that our gadgetry is pretty limited. Give me a computer and I’m set. I live in DREAD of my MacBook dying … But I do love my new iPhone and the way it helps me to keep information, record ideas, make lists, etc. I have it wrapped in not one but two protective sheaths so that my kids can drop it and I won’t have to hurt them.

Q: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
I was blown away by Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. BLOWN AWAY. I’m going to read it again, which I hardly ever do. I largely keep books pertaining to yoga and Buddhism by my bedside, things to dip into in the middle of the night when my mind needs to be mollified.

Copyright Jennifer New, 2011.

Q: What’s the most inspiring trip you’ve ever taken or adventure you’ve ever had?
Travel has been out of reach for a few years. A trip to France, including a week in an apartment in the south of France stays with me. A Mexican fishing village… Several trips to New York, including doing research for Drawing from Life: The Journal as Art, have been chockfull of museums and interesting people and good food and all sorts of soul-feeding fodder. I’m hoping to take my kids to NYC, Boston and Maine this summer.

Copyright Jennifer New, 2011.

Q: What’s the last thing you cooked?
I love to cook. I pretty much cook every day. I made some really good black bean chipotle chili last weekend from Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s Splendid Table newsletter, I added sweet potato, which was a good addition. (I can’t find a link to this, oddly, but I put it below.)

Q: If you could surround yourself with only one color, what would it be?
Blues of all hues. Especially water/ocean blues.

Copyright Jennifer New, 2011.

Q: Do you have a talisman/power garment/magical thing you wear?
I have a necklace from my beau that I wear when I need his love especially nearby. And my 3-stacked ring, which I always wear, represents my two children—Bella and Tobey—and me. When I need to walk tall and feel tough, I wear the Frye boots that I bought with a book advance.

Copyright Jennifer New, 2011.

Q: What’s your favorite place in all the world?
I’ve only been there once, but Big Sur is the place I go to in my mind’s eye when I need to connect to a sense of inner peace. I also spent a month at Kripalu in July 2010 getting my yoga teacher training. It’s an amazing place—beautiful and full of history. If time and money allowed, I’d go there every year.

Q: What one thing do you want to do that you haven’t done yet?
So much … a vipassana meditation retreat; Esalen; living abroad for a month or more; milking a cow; holding crow pose (it just eludes me!); being present at the birth of a grandchild (I have a ways to go, but it would be magical) …

Q: What’s the best day you’ve ever had?
Simple days are so often the best. Days with unexpected pleasures. This 4th of July, my kids and I rode our bikes to see a local Shakespeare production at an outdoor theatre, then rode our bikes to a bridge that crosses the river to watch the fireworks.  We came home and made sandwiches and talked. It was a wonderful evening. I also recall two falls ago when my partner and I walked all over town, played Scrabble in a café, and came home and watched movies. It was gray and chilly out and the town was deserted for Thankskgiving. It was very cozy and gave us time we’ve rarely had as a couple who’ve come together after both having kids, jobs, etc.

Q: What’s today’s Words to Live By?
I collect all sorts of quotes and post them around my house. The one I had up the longest was from Khalil Gibran and more or less said that if you could be as amazed by your sorrows as your joys, you would be ok. I read it every day when my dad was dying and I was getting divorced. I also get a daily message called “Any Advice” from Roger. It’s often amazing how on the mark these two paragraph messages are. Today’s, for instance, begins thus:  “Your attitude guides all that you attempt to do. Attitude is created
 by how you decide to think about a particular thing, and that 
translates, if you will, a particular feeling tone which you
 experience in your emotional body.”

Copyright Jennifer New, 2011.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
I can’t really think of any. I mean wine and chocolate but those are so common they’re dull. I clearly need to work on this!

Q: What do you listen to when you create?
I envy my visual artist friends who listen NPR all day and podcasts. But spoken words are definitely out, and when I’m really cruising with writing, so is music with lyrics. I really like kirtan and can listen to quite a bit of Krishna Das. Since most of is in Hindi, the language doesn’t get in the way. Or jazz—Chet Baker, Bill Evans, John Coltrane.

Q: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
One of my favorite movies is The Incredibles. I love the mom who can stretch—Elastagirl?—and creates a parachute in which to save her children when their plane crashes. I cry every time I see this because it’s so true; it’s what mothers do. I have an intense interest in what it means to be both a mother and an artist, the ways in which the two both inform and hinder each other.  But back to your question:  Being able to sleep anywhere anytime would be an excellent super power!

Q: With whom would you love to spend one day making art?
My daughter.

Q: When is your favorite time of day?
Morning is best for writing for me, though I do love a summer evening.

Q: What is on your workspace right now?
I’m bad, bad, bad. Try as I might to have real offices, I always end up working either at the dining room table or—even worse—on the kitchen counter. There’s something about being in the heart of my domestic space. I had an office in the attic for a while, but I couldn’t hear anything from up there, which was weird. I don’t like to be too isolated. Writing is isolating in itself! I also enjoy working in coffee shops.

Q: What is your earliest memory?
Driving in a moving van to our new home across the state on the day that Nixon resigned.

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for artists?
Don’t worry about what people think of your art; produce for yourself.

Q: What’s your one favorite material thing?
I’m not sure I have one any more. I’m trying to let go of my attachment to things. I think ten years of parenting has helped immensely!



From Quick-Fix Vegan: Healthy, Homestyle Meals in 30 Minutes or Less by Robin Robertson (Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2011). Copyright © 2011 by Robin Robertson. Used with permission of the publisher.

Serves 4

The addition of unsweetened chocolate gives this chili a rich depth and balances the acidity of the tomatoes. Chipotle chiles in adobo add their special smoky heat. A green salad and cornbread are ideal accompaniments.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons grated unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
  • 3 cups home-cooked black beans, or 2 (15-ounce) cans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup vegetable broth or water

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Stir in the chocolate, chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, sugar, salt, and pepper. Add the diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and chiles and stir until well blended. Add the beans and broth and bring to a boil.

3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the chili thickens and the flavors have developed, 20 to 25 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot.


For more inspiration and information on Jennifer New visit, Jennifer’s blog here and her website here.



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