Emmy-nominated writer, director, and poet Jonterri Gadson visits WC campus

By Lucy Verlaque

Elm Staff Writer

The Rose O’Neill Literary House invited Emmy-nominated writer and director Jonterri Gadson to host two events as part of the Sophie Kerr Screenwriters Series.

Gadson began her career as a poet, publishing three collections of poetry and working as a professor of creative writing. According to her website, she “chose TV over tenure” when she left teaching to pursue her ambitions of being a screenwriter around 2019.

Gadson wrote for television shows such as “Everybody Still Hates Chris,” “The Upshaws,” and “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” which received an Emmy Nomination in 2022 for Outstanding Writing For A Variety Show.

On Tuesday, Oct. 3, Gadson discussed her screenwriting work during a panel facilitated by Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and Associate Professor of English Dr. James Hall.

“When we started talking about the [Sophie Kerr Screenwriters] Series and planning it very seriously…I just knew that Jonterri would be great for the students here who like poetry, like comedy, [and] like being entertained,” Dr. Hall said.

Screenings of television shows and comedy sketches Gadson worked on interspersed the discussion. Gadson explained the context and inspiration behind her writing, much of which was based on her experiences.

“In the writers room, a lot of the time, we’ll share our personal stories,” Gadson said. “We want things that will connect with people.”

According to junior Katlyn Klunk, who attended this first event, she appreciated Gadson’s vulnerability as a writer and enjoyed hearing about the personal connections behind her work.

“To me, knowing that writing is personal in any facet just makes it better,” Klunk said.

Audience members also got the chance to ask Gadson questions about her work before the event ended. According to Dr. Hall, they were particularly impressed by “how generous and open Jonterri Gadson is with an audience, especially with students.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 4, Gadson combined her background as a professor with her screenwriting experience to teach a comedy writing workshop. Between lecturing and encouraging audience participation, she explained the structure behind a comedy sketch and helped participants craft their own jokes.

Gadson also emphasized her commitment to creating a space in which the audience felt comfortable sharing their ideas.

“You have to be vulnerable in order to write jokes,” Gadson said. “So I will create an environment where everyone feels safe expressing themselves.”

The workshop allowed the audience to gain further insight into the process of writing for television and hear more about Gadson’s involvement in the writers’ room.

Sophomore Teddy Nies attended both events and was pleased with how informative they were.

“I learned a ton about not only comedy writing, but writing in general for TV,” Nies said. “You don’t realize how many people are in the writing room, or how many people are overseeing the jokes and making these decisions for what will go in and why.”

In addition to the events, Gadson took time to interact with WC students. On Monday, Oct. 2, Gadson met with members of Cleopatra’s Sisters for dinner in the Literary House.

Gadson also visited Dr. Hall’s Poetry Workshop class on Thursday, Oct. 5 to speak about her work as a poet and answer students’ questions about her poems.

“I have followed Jonterri Gadson’s poems for as long as I’ve been a poet,” Dr. Hall said. “I think [it’s] a really great opportunity for folks to have an open conversation with a poet. When I was an undergrad, I got to have those class visits with poets. It really changed me and my relationship to poetry.”

Dr. Hall also praised Gadson’s vulnerability in her writing, particularly in her poems.

“Poetry is [not only] about writing and metaphor and tone, but it’s about how vulnerable you can be on the page, and how you can help the reader feel that vulnerability,” Dr. Hall said. “That vulnerability creates intimacy and community.”

Photo courtesy of Dante Chavez

Photo Caption: Dr. James Hall and Jonterri Gadson pictured in the Rose O’Neill Literary House during her talk on Oct. 3.

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