Kendra Levin must be one of the busiest people in the world of children’s literature. She is the associate editorial director of Viking Children’s Books, a life coach for writers, and a sought after speaker and workshop leader. I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Kendra at TENT, a workshop for writers sponsored by PJ Library and the Yiddish Book Center. But, I was a fan before we met; I had read her book THE HERO IS YOU (Conari Press) cover to cover. Using Joseph Campbell’s classic concepts, Kendra brilliantly encourages writers to see themselves as the hero in their own creative journey. She provides examples from her coaching clients, as well as validated research to underscore her insights. It’s as if Kendra is a personal mentor, leading writers on the path to follow their dreams. I am delighted to share my interview with Kendra about THE HERO IS YOU.
Using the Hero’s Journey as a paradigm for writers, THE HERO IS YOU is both practical and spiritual. You provide readers with the opportunity to dig deep emotionally while defining their creative lives and projects. I know I will be referring back to my copy for boosts of inspiration. Is there a “best” way to work through the book?
Thank you so much for your generous words, Barbara! It’s my dream that the book will help and inspire writers, so it’s very gratifying to hear you say that. I tried to create a book that could be read and experienced in many different ways, much like my favorite books both about writing and about spiritual topics. So The Hero Is You can be read straight through, but I hope writers and other creators will be just as comfortable dipping into whatever chapter or archetype is relevant to them at that particular moment. A writer or other creator can read it alone, but I also love the idea of reading it with a partner or a group, and doing the exercises together. The “best” way is whatever works best for you.
There is playfulness in the activities you have created. For example, you encourage writers to choose a Hero avatar and name. Do you think playfulness is an essential part of the creative process?
Playfulness is crucial for creativity– to make it flow and to make it fun! When you watch children playing, you can see they are all creative practitioners– they all make up stories, act them out, envision worlds that they draw and paint, compose songs and improvise. They’re all creators and performers without putting a label on it that’s tied to their identity, but they take the work of play very seriously. Staying plugged into the spontaneous creativity we had as children, before we started censoring and editing ourselves or putting labels on what we were doing, allows us to access so many more ideas and ways of thinking that our adult, “work”-oriented mind might dismiss. And play is so much more fun than work. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, at least some of the time, why are you doing it?
You provide a lot of anecdotes and research to support the processes and activities you offer. How did you balance all of these elements while you were writing THE HERO IS YOU?
One of my favorite stages of the process of writing The Hero Is You was interviewing all the authors, screenwriters, playwrights, and other creators I spoke with who informed the content of the book. Every single writer I talked with had at least one brilliant reflection in the course of our conversation, and I was so blown away by their passion for their work and the ferocity of their struggles with it. It was a challenge, but a really enjoyable one, to integrate their stories into the concepts I had already spent four or five years thinking and writing about.
Working through the book not only helped me define my personal goals as a writer, but also illuminated my understanding of the Hero’s journey in literature in a deeper way. Was this an intentional byproduct?
That’s so wonderful to hear. I’m a great admirer of Joseph Campbell’s work on the Hero’s Journey, as you can tell from reading my book, and I think it’s an incredible tool for storytellers. So yes, I wanted readers of The Hero Is You to gain a deeper understanding of the Hero’s Journey and how it could apply to their favorite stories to consume– books, films, and other media they love– as well as their own writing, their creative process, and their lives.
Does the Hero’s Journey play a role in your work as an editor?
As an editor, I work on books for babies all the way up to young adult novels that can be read and enjoyed by adults. I love having the Hero’s Journey as a tool I can use with the writers whose books I edit– it’s a great way to explain and codify narrative structure or character archetypes when I’m trying to help them strengthen their work. And I also find I use it just like in The Hero Is You, as a metaphor for the creative process itself. When the authors I edit are struggling, I try to show them that they’re heroes, and that the journey is far from over– that they may be facing a challenge now, but they’ll emerge on the other side of it stronger, wiser, and ready for the next adventure.