As many of you are aware, March is designated as Women's History Month. And as part of my annual "Roar Series," my purpose is to highlight women who are doing great things, living their "best lives" and empowering others.
Accordingly, today's feature interview is with Angelica Rose Toumbas, founder of Rosemary's House. Please join me in welcoming her to Pen & Prosper.
Welcome, Angelica! Can you please tell readers a little about who you are and your background?
I’m a multimedia storyteller. Songwriting is my primary medium. The aims to understand others and step into the worlds they occupy drive my creative work. The world becomes a lot larger, when the experiences of others open up to you. I think that I’ve always been attracted to the idea of occupying expanding worlds in the pursuit of some kind of cosmic smallness. I’m currently based in London, but I was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, a coastal city in the north of the country. I spent most of my childhood in Boston, which is where my mom’s family is from and moved to New York City, when I was eighteen years old. I studied Political Science and Nonfiction Writing at Columbia University, History and Politics at the University of Oxford, and am just finishing an MSt in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge. At Cambridge, I’ve been finalizing a manuscript for a memoir.
While a student, I’ve been writing, recording, and producing music for my debut pop-album, which is set to release later this year. I also run a creative media agency, Hot Matter Media, and I am the founder of Rosemary’s House.
You describe yourself as a “multi-media” storyteller. Can you elaborate here?
As evidenced by my professional and educational background, I’m fascinated by the formats and tools we can use to tell a compelling story. Many of my favorite creators are those who engage in multiple forms of storytelling; Maya Angelou, Patti Smith, to name a few. The story I can tell about grief in a three-minute song is different than the story I can tell about grief in a 300-page memoir. Every medium and genre has unique constraints that can be leveraged to amplify an intricacy of experience.
What is Rosemary’s House mission? What types of writers can benefit from residency here?
My mother fit a few lifetimes into forty nine years, and she still had plans to reportage, recipes, and radio dramas. In the spirit of her living memory, Rosemary’s House is an invitation to tend to your budding stories and invigorate your creativity.
We’re in the business of asking two primary questions: “What makes a good story?” and “What makes you feel the most alive?”
The mission of Rosemary’s is to nurture both established and emerging writers. We’re committed to creating a community where writers of different genres and mediums of expertise can cross-pollinate their skillsets. We’re committed to diversifying the kinds of stories that get told in the mainstream pop culture cannon.
Our residential workshops and retreats are geared towards serious writers from across the globe. Under the supervision of a distinguished fellow, each workshop will challenge attendees to expand and refine their work. A combination of individualized critique and group workshops will guide writers on the path to publication.
Tell us about your series of workshops slated for 2023. It looks exciting!
We’re thrilled with the inspiring group of fellows we’ve lined up for this year. Each of these individuals represents different styles and mediums of storytelling. They’re writers who’ve had incredible success in their own industries. Our mentors have had their work featured in cultural curations as diverse as The New Yorker, The West End, and The BBC.
Each workshop runs for a week, and attendees have the option to apply for two weeks in a row, if they’re interested in more than one of our workshop leaders. The retreats occur on the Sithonia peninsula, which rests right on the Aegean Sea. Local taverns provide all meals and, in addition to writing time, attendees will have the opportunity to engage in swimming, boating, wine tasting, as well as visit some incredible local archeological sites.
What is the best advice your mother Rosemary ever gave you?
“Let the joy into your life.”
I’m really intrigued with song writing. I’ve dabbled a bit myself. Tell us a little about your experience as a songwriter. Have you ever written lyrics for others?
Songwriting is its own language. I don’t think people are aware of how scientific it is, how intricate the process of choosing a lyric is. I don’t know if there’s anything as satisfying as finding the right lyric for a song you’re writing. Pop songs also have a pretty dynamic life cycle. A song takes on new life as it moves from the privacy of your bedroom to the recording studio to the stage. When you’re performing a song live, an underlying meaning can often reveal itself.
The challenge of contemporary songwriting lies in the inherent constraints of the medium. Just as the size of a canvas limits a painter, the attention span of the listener bridles a songwriter. How does one, faced with this constraint, capture and communicate a compelling story in under four minutes?
The last few years, I’ve mainly focused on writing songs for myself. The songs in my first album are pretty personal and represent a period of great upheaval in my life. I wasn’t prepared for how emotional it was to finally finish the album - it represented a chapter of my life closing. But the beautiful thing is it allowed a new chapter to begin. I’m really excited to share the arc of the story with listeners.
What is your favorite song?
Either “Home’ by Vanessa Carlton or “Last Day of Our Acquaintance” by Sinead O’Connor
If someone were to write a book about you
what do you think they would call it?
That’s a tough one! Hopefully something cheeky. “Not So Angelic”? “1001 Ships”?
What passion project are you working on these days?
I’m delving into script writing and production and am excited to be developing film content to accompany the release of my music.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Just a final encouragement to apply to Rosemary’s House - we’re dedicated to creating a space where all writers can flourish regardless of background, you don’t have to be a published writer to attend. So if you have a project you’re trying to finish or simply want to improve your storytelling skills, we look forward to seeing you in Greece. To apply, head to: www.rosemaryshouse.org/application
Image credits: Pixabay.com