Bella Bravo is a Bloomington based author and playwright whose craft emerges from their zeal for storytelling and all its un-positioned parts.
As Bad As They
Bella and I first met in 2009 at a Midwest anarchist gathering hosted by our mutual friends. Bella had come from Bloomington, where they studied law at Indiana University. Though new to each other’s company, I felt their sense for language and story-generation right away. We quickly related over our favorite authors and through our care for reading and writing. It was curious to me that they were studying law, while storytelling appeared at their heart.
Only a short while later I moved to Bloomington where I first lived in Bella’s closet. Believe it or not, that tiny room remains my favorite. At the time they were just starting to experiment with sharing stories with others. When I moved away three years later, their debut collection The Unpositioned Parts was published and they were embarking on a month-long reading tour through the Northeast.
Now a deputy public defender, Bella still somehow finds the time to make way with words. In just the last year, they joined the Monster House Press collective (a nonprofit publisher of literature, art, and thought in the Midwest) and wrote and directed their first full-length play. As Bad As They will run live just once, at 9:00 pm June 30, in Bloomington, IN, but you can catch it streaming on the site 24/7 for a year.
More than happy to catch up with an old friend, I sat down with Bella to talk about life, their recent endeavors, and writing process.
How did you start writing fiction?
Honestly years ago my partner broke up with me. After they moved back home, I had a months-long psychic tailspin until I realized that as much as I missed having them in my life I was wholly dependent on them for direction – cosmic, political, and emotional. I needed something for myself, so I started journaling pretty instinctively. At the time, I was in law school, which was a stressful program designed to disorient its participants and congeal us into a like-minded professional class. I remember I spent a lot of emotional energy keeping my two lives separate. I’m not sure where this impulse came from, but the outcome was that I wrote fiction in my journal. It was unintentional at first; I started with a piece of my environment or a gesture that I saw and wrote from there.
Stories born out of your journal. That's perfect. Would you talk about your meaning-making from there?
I believe in telling stories. It’s funny though, 'meaning' apparently triggers my millennialist, and I go all apostle. Sure, “I believe.”
So, with a story, I can start to decipher my experience. Meaning happens with resonance, so to the extent that the decoding reaches beyond me, the farther the better. A story will always reflect back to myself, but I don't think my experiences are that unique or what I want to devote my energy to, but rather finding how certain experiences coalesce.
With writing, I try to orient myself within myself and among other people. It's bigger than that, too, like the individual is a necessary part of the universe. I think that's why I get so zealous about storytelling. It's a way for me to test my contours and insist that I'm not alone.
Like in “Young Biographies,” a long short story in my collection The Unpositioned Parts, parents and then siblings try to protect their family, their the greater whole, by withholding parts of themselves. People in my family definitely bequeath generation to generation an impulse to withhold yourself from the people whom you love. And, I had been thinking about what that does to a community, so like how people live together and how we thwart our efforts by cutting ourselves off, whether piecemeal or whole.