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2011 Twenty Questions Interviews : Ralph Dranow

20 Questions Interview
with Ralph Dranow

Poet, Editor, Ghostwriter


Ralph Dranow1. What's your name?

Ralph Dranow.

2. Where are you from?

I live in Oakland, California.

3. Who are you today?

I am a poet, editor, husband, and stepfather.

4. What do you do? (Elevator speech)

I edit to help make the client's writing flow, to transform the rough raw material of a heart-felt project into a polished work of depth and beauty.

5. What's your story (how did you get here)?

I've been a writer — poems, short stories, articles, memoir pieces — for over 40 years. A writing group, which I co-founded in 1979, and several writing classes have helped me develop as a writer and editor. I am also fortunate to be married to fellow writer Naomi Rose, who always gives me supportive, insightful feedback on my writing.

I started out as a prose writer, with a novel and short stories, but when my first marriage ended in 1979, I felt I needed something more direct and visceral to deal with the painful feelings I was experiencing. So I began writing poetry at the age of 50. This saved my life in a sense, because it was very healing, allowing me to explore my feelings in a direct, honest way. And the supportive and focused feedback I received in my writing group helped me evolve into a more skillful poet. My poems became more than just personal therapy. They began getting positive responses from people, as well as being published in poetry magazines.

6. Why is writing important to you?

As I just mentioned, writing can be a great tool for self-exploration. If my writing is deep and honest, I can get to peel away superficial layers of feeling and come closer to the essence of who I am. I love being able to revise early drafts and discover what feels truer, more real. Writing poetry can be a peak experience for me, in which I feel joy and a powerful sense of truth, beauty, and connection, a guide to how to live my life in all areas. And sharing deep, honest writing provides me with a good way to connect with others, allowing me to be more known and vulnerable and to get to know them more fully too. I also enjoy writing about a wide range of subjects — other people, nature, art, social issues, cats, etc.

7. When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?

I knew that I wanted to be a writer ever since I was seven years old.

8. How did you embrace it?

It took me a long time to embrace this dream, because for many years I lacked the self-confidence to commit myself to writing. In my early 30s, I felt a strong urge to write an autobiographical novel about my childhood in the Bronx. I struggled with it in the beginning, but after a while the writing began to flow. The novel took me five years to complete, with some help from a free-lance editor.

9. How did that feel?

Completing the novel felt empowering and exciting. I knew, finally, that I was a serious writer. I also felt somewhat drained from five years of intense effort.

10. Where has your journey taken you?

My journey has taken me to a life of writing, which has provided me with much joy and sustenance, as well as connection to a community of writers, local and elsewhere. I have made many friends and met a lot of fascinating and talented people through the writing community.

Being co-editor of a poetry magazine published by a San Francisco street ministry has given me the opportunity to reach out to the homeless and broaden my life experience.

Teaching a memoir writing class at a senior center has also been a rewarding experience. I've been touched and amazed by all the honest, vulnerable writing that class members have produced and shared with each other.

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