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  • Writer's pictureBenita Garvin


I became a writer by accident. Before I walked into a graduate class at Wayne State University and realized it was a writing class instead of a journalism class, I never gave writing five minutes of thought. If I had, I would’ve immediately rejected it, believing at the time that I was not smart enough, literate enough, had zero talent, and said even less. The professor gently coerced me to remain in the class. Being a people pleaser, what choice did I have?

At that stage of life, I had a seemingly dream job; I did the publicity and advertising for a small professional theatre that was connected to the nation’s major theatrical producers. It might not have been as glamorous as a job in New York City or Los Angeles, but it was close to show biz. But even with that supposed dream job, I was restless.

I still feel a wave of anxiety when the professor said we’d be reading our work OUT LOUD every week! Each of my classmates aspired since birth to be the next Harold Pinter, I never even had a fantasy of writing a play. I grew up in Detroit. What did I know about the theatre?

My lack of knowledge, I later discovered, was my asset. I was immediately captivated by the class and, my professor, Esther Broner. Esther was nothing sort of a force of nature. Without ever “teaching” a specific thing about playwriting, she inspired us to plunge deep into our souls and create personal and honest stories.

At the time, I was a working as a publicist in the theatre. I loved my job and willingly put in long hours. It wasn’t uncommon to get home at ten or eleven at night. It didn’t matter; I would be so eager to start writing my assignment for class, which required us to write a play from scratch that I would skip sleep to do it. In those early years, when I had nothing to compare my work against, and no one was telling me what to do, all I knew was that it felt so good to put pen to paper and create something out of nothing.

The joy I derived from writing my play did not diminish my love for my full-time job. I had a greater appreciation for and understanding of theatre, and a sense of wonder at how I had pulled off such a feat. By the time I wrote my play, my professor, herself a revered author and playwright, reached out to me privately to encourage me to enter the country’s most prestigious playwriting competition. The idea seemed ludicrous to me, but at her urging, I submitted my play.

My stomach churned as I dropped it in the post box and tried not to think about it for the rest of the day. Every second that passed that day felt like an hour, which felt like a decade. When the letter from them arrived, announcing that I was one of the finalists, I knew that I was going to be a writer. I didn’t know how or what was involved, but it felt as if I possessed some other sense: something inside of me was telling me that nothing else would do.

I imagined my first play being performed on the stage down the road and avid theatre-goers pouring into the seats. I knew what it felt like to be a part of an audience watching a performance; now I would know how it felt to give one. Nothing could stop me!

Entering that competition changed everything. I became a finalist which inaugurated my commitment to a long, bumpy, rewarding, not what I expected, writing career.

Having accessed my voice, I discovered it there were many other voices in my head. Like one of those stories about schizophrenics, only I can control the voices and don’t change personas. At first, I thought I could only write plays. Then, no; it had to be screenplays. Then, no; it had to be something else. Then I was asked to write a personal essay for an anthology, and I said, 'I can't write a personal essay.' When they told me they wanted something big-hearted, honest, and vulnerable, I decided to try. I’ve since written three personal essays all of which have been published in book anthologies.

Around 2015, I picked up Patti Smith’s award-winning book “Just Kids.” The timing couldn’t have been better. I was feeling stale creativity. Reading that book completely changed my approach to writing and creativity in general. I decided to do something new, something I'd never done before, because I believe one artistic endeavor inspires another. I chose painting. I had never taken an art class. I knew I have “spatial” issues. I can’t even make a straight line with a ruler. I didn’t expect to be good at it. The whole point was I didn’t give a shit. I was doing it for the experience of doing it. Nobody is more surprised than I am that what started as hobby, has morphed into a profession (although it’s hard to accept that!). I’ve been featured in several art shows and sell my work around the world. In the process, it rejuvenated my love of writing and my way of approaching it.

People often tell me I’m “gifted.” I promise you I’m far from gifted! If you enjoy something and do it regularly, you will improve! Most people immediately discount themselves – they ASSUME they don’t have talent, or discipline, or whatever ingredient they think they’re lacking.

That philosophy is what lead me to create Storytelling Lab where I put that "philosophy" to work. And it works! Anyone who has attended Storytelling Lab will attest to it. There is magic inside every one of us. We just have to get out of our own way and let it shine through.

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