Interview with Laura Hawbaker
Laura (L.A.) Hawbaker is a writer & artist in Chicago. She previously lived in New Orleans, Hawaii, Poland, and Prague. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out Magazine, and Newcity Magazine, among others. She earned her Master's in Linguistics and was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship.
I was commissioned to do some costume concepts for an upcoming sci-fi movie, which were then displayed at the Library's spring exhibit, "Future Tense: Imagined Worlds from the Margins." That's when I learned about the Artist-in-Residence position. Since I was starting my MFA at Columbia in the fall, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
My mom worked at a children's library! I'm a library geek. A couple years ago, when I was teaching at a K-8 school in New Orleans, I refurbished the library (it had been neglected for years, fell into disrepair, was really just an abandoned, storage dumping ground). The school library was my haven growing up; I was shocked the NOLA school didn't have a functioning library space for the students. So I helped recruit kids to paint murals on the walls, organized books, bought new furniture and decorations, created a checkout system--really made the space a welcome sanctuary where the kids could nestle into a beanbag and burrow their noses in a book.
In regards to the creative process, I think research and libraries elevate our craft. Libraries intellectualize what we create, connect it to what's going on in the world outside our own heads. (Creative people can get a little stuck in their own heads, sometimes.) Creators need to understand how our art or writing or music or films fit into the broader social world, how what we're creating both acknowledges and builds upon history and culture. If we don't pay any attention to the research, the news, the historical documents, the discoveries of other people and societies ... then our art is in danger of becoming a vanity project. It can be self-indulgent if it's just about the creator and their micro worldview, which I know (for me at least) is pretty one-dimensional without macro research.
I'll be using my Residency to create a new series on the subject of masks--very relevant in our COVID era. I want a series of paintings that explore the evolution of the N95 respirator, how its origins are rooted in the plague masks of the Middle Ages. The project requires a lot of historic research, medical research, cultural research, etc. The Library is going to be a huge help!
I'm also a grad student in the MFA Creative Writing program, so I'm working on some short stories for my thesis. I'd love to publish a literary zine centered loosely on the masks idea. I want to include work from the Columbia community. But that wouldn't happen until the spring semester, with all the crazy going on right now.
We'll see how it goes. It's a weird year to be writing and creating art, that's for sure.