Sophie Johnson
Sophie Johnson

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Sophie Lucido Johnson '08 is no stranger to Whitman College or the community of Walla Walla. She has walked the halls and sat in the classrooms of Olin and Maxey halls. She graduated from Whitman in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in English, creative writing, and a minor in studio art. This month, Johnson returns to campus as Whitman's 2018-19 Visiting Writers Series begins.

The Visiting Writers Reading Series brings established and emerging writers to share their work with the community. Johnson has established herself as a writer and illustrator. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The Believer, Bon Appetit, The Guardian, Jezebel and Vice, among others. She is also a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Johnson's first book, "Many Love: A Memoir of Polyamory and Finding Loves" was released in June 2018. It has been described as love letter to everyone she has ever cared for. On Sept. 20, Johnson will grace the stage of Kimball Theatre at 7 p.m. to share excerpts from the book. Before her arrival, Johnson shared some of her inspirations, the lesson she learned at Whitman that she uses daily and more about her enduring love for pie.

1. Name one lesson that you learned at Whitman that you apply to your daily life.

The first time I sat down in Katrina Roberts' Introduction to Creative Writing class, there was an abandoned coffee mug in the center of the table. The coffee mug had been in there when Katrina arrived, and it perplexed her. "Everyone, let's write for20 minutes using this coffee mug as a prompt," she said, and we did. Afterward, she added: "You see, the world is always giving you little things to write about. It only requires your patience, and that you look." I teach that same lesson to my writing students now.

2. As a painter and writer, how do you intersect the visual and verbal with what work you are doing currently?

I believe that our brains like to move between images and words, and that sometimes where language is very dense and sticky, the visual world can offer a sort of reprieve. I enjoy the inhaling-exhaling aspect of reading a work that employs images. It's about stretching one's brain a little more holistically around all its possible avenues.

3. What inspired you to write "Many Love: A Memoir of Polyamory and Finding Love(s)?

I had written a piece for Jezebel about polyamory that sort of blew up, and I felt like I had a lot more I wanted to say and learn about the subject. I wanted an account of polyamory that allowed for multiple types of sexualities, orientations and gradations of love.

For example, I don't think polyamory has much to do with sex. For me, it is about the acknowledgement that love will change, and the commitment to staying honest and open to the reality of that change. And then it's also about a shift in priority: I think it's powerful to consider what might happen if we societally embraced nonsexual friendships as being as valuable as romantic partnerships. I wanted to tell a story about love that wasn't just about romance, but was, instead, about loosening the grip around the ways we choose to care for ourselves and each other.

4. What subjects do you teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago?

I teach a reading comprehension course at SAIC, as well as a journalism and writing at The Chicago High School for the Arts.

5. Could you share some of your favorite writers and how they may have influenced your style?

I love Lynda Barry and I think she is my one true god. I took a course from Chris Ware and he, likewise, changed my life and the way I think about telling stories with pictures. (I got them both tattooed on my bicep.)
I read a lot of Samantha Irby, but I'll never be as good as Samantha Irby, let's just be real. She is a true original - no one can emulate her genius. I loved "Hyperbole and a Half" by Allie Brosch; it taught me that words and images could interact in a different way that comics traditionally do. And Phoebe Gloeckner for the same reason.
I enjoy stand-up a lot; I used to perform, and I think it's super hard. I liked Hannah Gadsby's special this summer. Not everyone liked it, and that's fine, but I did. It's hard to tell your story, make people laugh and also take care of yourself and be lovingly critical of the world you share with others. I think she did that well.

6. Tell us more about your love of pie. Can you share some of your favorite places to eat pie in Chicago and Portland?

Isn't pie a perfect food? All cultures have it. Seriously, filling surrounded by some kind of pastry that you can pick up or eat with a fork seems to be a universal culinary reality. I appreciate how that can bring people together. So, I don't discriminate. I love sambosas, samosas, empanadas, spanikopita, cherry pie, mincemeat tart, you name it! I'm vegan, so meat pie has to be veganized to suit me, but this can be done, and when it is, I am filled with glee.

My favorite pie place in Chicago is this place called First Slice, which not only has a trillion amazing pies, but also provides meals for folks without homes or regular food access in Chicago. In Portland, the best pie is at my sister's house. Or my mom's house. Portland has changed so much since I was a kid; I don't know where there is even pie anymore. But my family is great at making it, and that's good enough for me.