This is part two of a three-part interview with Betty Sue Flowers – you can catch up on the first part here, and read the whole piece as a PDF download here.
Betty Sue Flowers, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, and international business consultant, Emeritus Professor at the University of Texas, and former Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.
She has been a consultant for NASA and the CIA, Visiting Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy, Public Director of the American Institute of Architects, and editor of scenarios for organisations including Shell International, the OECD, the University of Oxford, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
She has written scholarly works on Robert Browning, Adrienne Rich, and Christina Rossetti among others, as well as serving as a consultant to television series including PBS’s Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. You can see more of her work and her extensive publication history here.
In September 2020, I talked with Betty Sue about her career, her accomplishments, and her understanding of the diverse fields she’s worked in, from foresight and healthcare to poetry, literary studies, and library leadership.
Just thinking of your own writing for a moment, with your early poems, with your teenage plays, did you have an ideal audience, or a specific reader in mind?
I wrote plays for my cousins to perform at Christmas, but actually as a teenager, a play I wrote was performed on television in my home town of Waco, Texas. It was a satire on the Kennedy administration. It was put on TV, and I thought it was quite funny, and obviously it was a political play, intended to be of relevance to the world; they were going to rebroadcast it, and then the assassination happened, and that was the end of it.
That shocking, moving event changed my sense of where I was heading. But my first published poem, which I wrote as a Brownie scout, was about meeting a beggar selling pencils on the street in Abilene, Texas. I was in my uniform, and I thought the appropriate thing to do was to give him the Brownie salute: to stop and acknowledge his humanity. I did this, and he saluted me back, and that was an interaction I wrote about. The little girl and the beggar. The point of the poem was to establish a human connection which overcame the way people were treating him on the street. Insofar as my writing has had an implicit purpose, it was something about opening eyes.
Can you talk a bit more about your process when you’re writing your own poetry?