American songwriter and performance artist Toshi Reagon has some sound advice for aspiring writers at NYU Abu Dhabi: Find someone trustworthy to collaborate with, don't be afraid to go back to the drawing board when something's not working, and never ever dismiss an idea.
It's all part of the creative process, Reagon told a captive audience of Arts & Humanities faculty and Global Academic Fellows at an intimate Q&A session during her week-long artist residency with the NYUAD Arts Center.
Reagon, a singer, composer, musician, and producer, came to Abu Dhabi from New York to present her new-age opera adaptation of Parable of the Sower, a science-fiction novel by her favorite author and mentor, the late Octavia E. Butler.
The inaugural performance of the Arts Center's 2015-16 season, Parable of the Sower: The Concert Version is an evolving project that Reagon has been working on for several years and co-wrote with her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon, who is also a well-known musician.
During the artist Q&A, held the night before the first show, a student asked Reagon, "How do you approach script revisions and the process of retooling while you're writing?"
"When I start working on a piece I give myself a lot of room and a lot of permission," Reagon answered. "I've gotten really good at it and not having fear around it. This is the only job I've ever had, I've never had a 9 to 5."
Reagon believes allowing yourself to grow as a writer is an important part of the creative process, especially for those just starting out. As cliche as it sounds, it's all about letting go and adapting to different stages in life because "you could have been a great writer as a teenager but in your 20s, you're not the same."
Collaboration with other artists, including editors, is also critical, she added, because it opens doors to unforeseen opportunities and new perspectives.
"I love when it (her work) turns out different from what I thought, when people see something I didn't see, something important."
Parable of the Sower: The Concert Version was originally scheduled to premiere in the UAE with two public performances at the NYUAD Arts Center but demand for tickets was so high that Reagon agreed to add an additional show, which sold out within an hour, as well as a ladies-only matinee.