Interview with Betty Sue Flowers, Part 2: From “Fire Alarm Time” to Generations of Love

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?

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Interview with Betty Sue Flowers, Part 1: From Rhythmic Systems to Scenarios as Theatre

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.

Betty Sue Flowers

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.

The interview will run in three parts on this blog, but you can also read the full transcript now as a PDF download.

You’ve had such a varied and accomplished career, it’s hard to know where to start. Then I saw one of the earliest and most curious entries on your CV: you were a lab assistant at something called the Rhythmic Systems Laboratory?

I started life off as a scientist. I put my way through college working in a zoology lab. I’m still in touch with my mentor, who went on to the University of Virginia. My love of poetry took me away from that path – I just kept following it in another direction.

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The Enemy They’re Searching For: Interview with John R. Parsons

Australian anthropologist John R. Parsons researches what he calls “the interplay between morality, narrative, violence, and human-nature relationships”. From 2017-2018 he spent eleven months conducting fieldwork with border militias in the Southern United States. “How,” he asks, “in an area where thousands have perished, did the volunteers enjoy what one described as ‘hunting humans?’”

I interviewed John about his research and the time he spent with border militias in the US, work covered by his article “Experience, Narrative, and the Moral Imperative to Act” for the Journal of Extreme Anthropology. Trigger warning for mentions of violence and sexual violence in this discussion.

I began by asking John what drew him to anthropology.

I used to be involved in historical re-enactments for a long time, working with groups that were focussed on Scandinavian and English societies from around the 950s. I was curious about how people lived, how they experienced the world. Re-enactment involves learning about a culture through performing an idea of what that culture would be. You learn about the materials people used in the past, then try to figure out how they would have used them in real life.

Anthropology provided a space where it wasn’t a hobby, but a discipline with theory behind it and conversations around it; a more formalised version of the things I was already interested in.

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2019 GovLove Hit Parade: Leadership & Scenario Planning

The US-based GovLove Podcast, run by the Engaging Local Government Leaders network (ELGL),  celebrates the end of each year by showcasing the most popular episodes of the previous 12 months.

I’m pleased to announce that July’s episode on Leadership & Scenario Planning, which I recorded with ELGL’s Kirsten Wyatt, has taken the number one slot.

Check out the whole list in this Twitter thread from the GovLove team.

 

Dots that I haven’t joined yet

I’m momentarily at rest in my beloved Brisbane, with the sun blazing down in December and bushfires on the news and Leila Taylor’s book Darkly to read.

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Taylor’s book, subtitled Black History and America’s Gothic Soul, blends memoir and criticism to explore the places where African-American history, culture, and experience meet the Gothic – from The Castle of Otranto through Edgar Allan Poe to Marilyn Manson.

I’m back in Australia helping organisations to look at their future and imagine what might await them in years to come, using scenario planning. This is a method by which, instead of trying to predict what’s coming, we co-create plausible visions of the future which challenge our current assumptions. Successful scenarios are not judged by whether they come to pass, but whether they trouble, complicate, and enrich our thinking.

And the dots which I can’t quite join yet became visible when I read this, in Darkly: “Gothic narratives were (and still are) a means of working through the discomfort of a changing world through the safety of fiction.”

Which is so close to what scenarios do as to blur the edges of the two concepts. In scenario planning we talk about avoiding the “brutal audit” of a crisis by rehearsing for the things you can’t, or don’t want to, see coming through your current framing of the world.

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A Serious House Built with Glitter and Toilet Rolls

I asked Justin Hoenke to join me for an online chat about community and libraries and a thousand other things. Justin is a highly accomplished, much-loved American library director who currently resides in rural Pennsylvania, where he leads the Benson Memorial Library while his family is restoring an old church as a community space.

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Justin’s work reminded me of Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going – “A serious house on serious earth it is, In whose blent air all our compulsions meet” – so we each read that prior to our chat.

It made for a nice jumping off point into a long talk about service, legacy, academic vs. public libraries, and the ongoing dance of community engagement.

Matt

Hello! How are you?

Justin

Good sir, I am well. How are you? We’ve got a lovely spring morning with the birds singing songs. I plan on watering some plants after this. I think this is ideal. Read more

4 Quick Questions with Ann Arbor District Library’s Josie Parker

Today, we’re joined by Josie Parker, Director at Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), an acclaimed US public library service in Michigan.

Josie1.jpgAs Josie approaches her seventeenth year with the organisation, she took a little time to answer four quick questions about her journey with Ann Arbor – and what’s next for the Michigan library.

How did you get started at AADL and how has the organization changed during your time there?

I have been Director at AADL 16 ½ years. I came to work at AADL in 1999 as the Youth Department Manager. The Library was a very traditionally organized public library institution that had suffered a financial scandal leading to imprisonment for one administrator, and the eventual resignation of the Director.

I had been promoted to interim Director during the end of the upheaval, and was later offered the job. I took it without intending to be in one library most of my career, and yet, here I am. It is an awesome library and the community is very supportive financially, as well as, politically. We are able to take library services in many directions sometimes stretching them beyond recognition. We consider that a positive outcome.

What’s your proudest career achievement so far?

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DNAInfo

I surfaced from my holiday to hear that Joe Ricketts, CEO of the news sites DNAInfo and Gothamist, has closed both enterprises a week after staff decided to unionize with the Writers Guild of America.

The abrupt move has shut down the sites entirely, so that even archived news stories are now unavailable.

I only wrote a couple of times for DNAInfo, but they were a place of welcome for me in New York and gave me valuable experience putting together local news stories through words and pictures.

Both the pieces I created for them, on New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Reach Out and Read programme and the NYC Kids Food Festival, explored projects at the junction of literacy, culture, play, health and wellbeing – a place I still work today with Australian organisations like Metro South Health Board and the Griffith University School of Allied Health.

I’m grateful to the DNAInfo team for the kindness and collegiality they showed me on my visits to New York, and hope that all of their reporters and editors move on to better and brighter things.

Postcards from the Future: Behind the Scenes at Wondrous Strange #notenoughscifi

Imagine letting your community dream wildly of the world to come.

Imagine collaborating on a future history spanning millennia.

Imagine turning public space into something that was wondrous and strange.

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As part of our time-travel themed festival of weirdness, storytelling, art and science at Ann Arbor District Library, we asked visitors to write postcards from the future.

We collected over 80 tales stretching from 2018 to the year 5000.

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