Where Art and Mythology Meet the South

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Where Art and Mythology Meet the South

Hello, I’m LuLu

I write women’s fiction about art and travel and myth. My heroines tend to hail from the southern part of the US, like me, where they explore the art world while giving an ancient myth a modern twist. I also write poems about car trips and essays about men in Europe.

My favorite pastime is visiting museums. I’ve volunteered in several, from registrar to installations. Being behind the scenes is great, but standing in front of art is even better. My love of art history, galleries, and artists drives me to write novels set in that world.

My Writing Journey

I earned a degree in Art History in Dallas, Texas, at Southern Methodist University. At SMU, Dr. Alessandra Comini changed how I saw art, and how I lived my life.

Dr. Comini brought art to life and had a profound effect on me. I left college enthralled by artists and determined to build a career in the art world. Didn’t quite work out like that.

I did work as a registrar at Connell/Great American Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia. After that short stint, I earned a second BA and an MFA in English/Creative Writing with a Poetry concentration. My worlds collided in graduate school when I began to model in art studios. 

Modeling for artists shifted my experience from admirer to co-worker, from fan to inspiration. I became friends with talented and generous artists who often gifted me their work. The joke around our house is that any painting of an animal belongs to my husband, while any portrait of a woman is probably me, and probably mine.

After earning my MFA, I taught English at the university level for three years. Then I moved to Germany as an exchange student. Along with PhD coursework, I traveled, mostly alone, to museums from Copenhagen to Paris, Florence to Prague.

Two years later, I returned to the States fluent in German, captivated by major museums, and driven to share those experiences through words. And that’s one dream that has worked.

MY FORMAL BIO
LuLu Johnson turned to Art History the day a live rat was dissected in her pre-med biology class. Ditching the pre-med path, she switched gears and went on to earn an MFA in Poetry. She silently stores half a PhD in her back pocket. Born in Valdosta, Georgia, LuLu has never lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line, except for two years in Germany as an exchange student. She writes prize-winning essays about those days of traveling alone and becoming acquainted with numerous European men. (Wink, wink.)

Armed with her Art History degree, LuLu worked in various museums and galleries. She began modeling for artists in graduate school and has never quit. Her studio walls are lined with portraits of her painted by artist friends. Surrounded by versions of herself, LuLu writes novels about art and myth, essays about travel, and poems about car trips. She also hikes and whitewater kayaks in Appalachia where she lives.

My Writing Life

My novels focus on what I know best—women and art history and artists. In my work, modern-day southern heroines explore an aspect of the art world while giving an ancient myth a modern twist.

Works of art—real and imagined—art historians, artists, and art galleries enrich my plots. This sounds like heady stuff, but I intentionally set my novels in an accessible, modern-day art scene to bring that world to life for my readers.

The artworld in my novels reflects my personal experience—one that takes place in local galleries with living artists creating art in a contemporary context. Fiction about art often portrays art in the historical past, or in a rarefied environment of rock stars and landed gentry fighting over cultural artifacts with price tags in the hundreds of millions of dollars. To me, presenting art this way this can do it a disservice by making art seem out of reach.

This hasn’t been the case for me.

I’ve worked in painting and drawing and sculpting studios for years. Many of those talented men and women became friends, and I’ve always considered myself fortunate to have artists in my life, and to be their inspiration.

It’s a unique feeling to see one’s self inside a frame, to have modeled for that pose, and to have worked closely with the artist. Conveying that intimate relationship drives my work.

 

My Current Project

My dear friend, Roger Dorset, was the inspiration for my novel Pandora’s Gift in which a young art historian befriends a genius driven by demons but bound for stardom.

I met Roger Dorset during my brief stint at Connell Gallery in Atlanta. One lucky day, he drove his station wagon over from Rome, Georgia, to deliver work for his show. Roger invited my dear friend Rebecca and me to visit his home, and we gladly went. That was the start of a beautiful friendship that lasted for decades until we lost Roger in 2019.

While he was alive, I wished I could clone myself so I could live my own life while also living in Rome and managing his art career. Roger just didn’t have the personality to manage it himself. One day, I told a friend this dream, and I ended the conversation saying, “I should write about that.”

I must admit, the idea struck me like lightning. The next morning, I outlined a novel based on the Pandora myth featuring a Roger-like artist and a young art historian.

In Pandora’s Gift, the character of Cary Taylor isn’t Roger Dorset, and the character of Paisley Locke isn’t me—but it’s been a pure pleasure to create characters that build on Roger’s old-school southern charm, his drive to create and the demons that haunted him, and my youthful past innocence.

My Essays

I write essays about men in Europe. My collection, Travel Through a World of Men, focuses on the years I lived abroad as an exchange student in Germany.

Honestly, I didn’t know what these long, pretty pieces of truth were until David Shields told me at Bread Loaf Writers Conference that they were personal lyrical essays. They are, quite literally, words born of emotion recollected in tranquility.

The essay collection follows the structure of the Odyssey in which I act as my own Homer to chart the course of my heart as it roved across Europe—from Berlin to Denmark, Paris to Florence, Venice to Prague, Amsterdam to Croatia, and home.

Steven Church selected the essay, “In My Other Life,” as winner of the University of New Orleans Study Abroad Contest. The fabulous prize allowed me to study with Steven for a month in Madrid. The essay went on to be published in The Pinch. I was recently a resident at The Hambidge Center in Rabun Gap, Georgia, where I wrote an essay set in Rabun County.

My Poems

I’m at work on a series of poems about car trips my family took across Texas and the South with my two sisters, a pop-up camper, and a revolving cast of toy poodles. It’s a pretty rich vein to mine.

I earned my MFA in Poetry at Georgia State University in Atlanta. There I studied mainly with David Bottoms and fell in love with the way he uses verbs. Leon Stokesbury taught me the structure and history of poetry. My work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Flyway, Atlanta Review (twice), and The Distillery.

Write Here! Podcast

When the world’s not under quarantine, I attend writing workshops and residences to the point that it borders on addiction. I’ve learned so much that an attendee at a conference once suggested I start a podcast to share my tips. So, I did!

I’ve had the great good fortune to study fiction with Elizabeth George through Hedgebrook in Tuscany, with Marita Golden at The Norman Mailer Colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, with Lori Roy at Writers in Paradise at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

I’ve worked on nonfiction at the Hambidge Center as a resident, with David Shields at the Middlebury Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, with Janisse Ray at Looking Glass Rock at Brevard College, and with Jim McKean at Tinker Mountain Writer’s Workshop held at Hollins. I’ve studied poetry with the late Thomas Lux at Poetry@Tech at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and with Philip Shabazz several times at Table Rock Writers Conference held at Wildacres Retreat Center in North Carolina, to name a few (I told you it was an addiction!).

Write Here! is a podcast featuring interviews and opinions about writer conferences across the southeastern US so that first-time attendees can figure out which best suits their needs. There will also be tips on what to pack and notes on the various workshop formats.

Stay tuned and sign up below to get notified when new episodes launch!

Contact

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Portraits of LuLu and artwork by Roger Dorset, Diane Fenjack, Charles Reid, Peter McIntosh, and Marc Chatov

Copyright 2021 LuLu Johnson. All rights reserved.