Spending five minutes chatting with David Starkey is enough to make any writer feel like a slacker. The poet-playwright-nonfiction author-editor-Santa Barbara City College professor-television show host is a busy guy. It’s no wonder that family members — he is a father/stepfather to eight children — mime him typing on a keyboard when they play Charades.
LD: What are you doing these days?
DS: Right now I’m working on a book-length memoir. … I just finished writing a creative writing textbook, which combines four genres — poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction. I have three books of poetry out in the last year and a book, Living Blue in the Red States … that I edited. It’s about progressives living in conservative parts of the country.
LD: Are you able to incorporate it into your teaching at City College?
DS: I haven’t yet. If we had a class on political writing or something like that I might. … I wrote a play about Alzheimer’s. We had a stage reading at this little theater in Ojai, Theatre 150. …. It is called Crossing the Bar.
LD: Do you have somebody in your family who has Alzheimer’s?
DS: No. I read an article in the L.A. Times about this camp outside San Francisco where people who are caretakers take their loved ones who live with them up for a weekend so they can get a break, because it’s so overwhelming. … The caregivers are together, the Alzheimer’s patients are together and they finally join up at the end. And a hidden conflict is that this woman has made a deal with her husband that if she finally goes too far she wants him to kill her. So the play is him trying to make up his mind whether or not to go through with it.
LD: Sounds really interesting.
DS: It seemed to me like there was a kind of crazy poetry in a lot of the ways that you hear people with Alzheimer’s speaking. It sounds almost like avant-garde poetry. …
LD: Are you still hosting the Creative Community Show (on the Santa Barbara Channels TV channel 21 )?
DS: Yeah, we just won another award. There’s a body that all the community and educational access stations belong to, nationwide, and they submit shows and the last two years it’s won the best talk show in the country.
DS: Yeah. I’m not sure what the competition is, but it’s a neat thing. … What I enjoy about this is meeting interesting people and getting a chance to talk to them.
LD: Coming from Chicago to Santa Barbara, what’s your take on the cultural arts scene here?
Vital Stats: David Starkey
Born: June 28, 1962, in Sacramento
Family: wife Sandy, children Elizabeth (23), Carly (21), Stephen (15), Miranda (6) and stepchildren Serena (24), Andrea (20), Julia (17) and John (10)
Civic Involvement: Creative Community Show, SBCC Creative Writing Program
Professional Accomplishments: Seven small press books of poems, editor and contributor, four full-length plays produced, three plays with staged readings, five 10-minute plays, professor of English and director of SBCC’s Creative Writing Program
Little-Known Fact: That he has so many children and stepchildren (eight in all)
DS: … I think it’s pretty lively for a small town. It’s extraordinary. I know that some of the artists that I speak with say that we’re a community that claims to embrace the arts and yet ultimately it’s more lip service than not. I don’t know. As a poet I don’t really expect to get much money anyway, so it’s not that big a deal to me. There happen to be a lot of people to interview for my TV show, so that’s nice. But I do think that we have a pretty thriving community.
LD: How do you do all these different things? Do you just never sleep?
DS: I guess I get enthusiastic about things, and I think I’m pretty good at finishing off. So if I have an idea that kicks around with me for a while, I’ll just look for ways to make sure it happens.
LD: Just the fact that you’re showing me these four books that you’ve had published in the last year and the play and you’re in a band (with poet Barry Spacks) and you’re teaching and you have a pretty young daughter, it’s impressive. That’s a lot to get done.
DS: I guess I feel when I get enthusiastic about something I just follow it. And I guess I get enthusiastic about a lot of different things.
LD: That’s great.
DS: And you know a lot of the things that I do are things that can be accomplished in real time in a relatively short span of time. So for instance, to write a poem and to revise it, you can do that in small chunks of time. … I try to make sure that I get a little something done every day. I think that’s important when you’re working on a really long project. When I wrote that creative writing textbook I tried to do that. School inevitably gets in the way, grading papers and stuff like that.
LD: I know how hard it is to work with kids in the house. The idea of writing something where your deadlines are self-inflicted is very impressive to me.
DS: You sort of feel like you want to finish it so badly, because if you don’t do it now you know you never will … there’s obviously gender issues involved in this. When I was with my first wife she worked and I was at home a lot with the kids and while they would ask me for things a little, I think I was able to ignore them in a way that a mom can’t. Or to address them more quickly … I guess that’s partly the way that my mind works. It can focus really intently on a task and then switch off and then switch back on, and I know that some others don’t work that way.
LD: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
(Loud laugh from wife Sandy in the other room) Work.
DS: To me that’s not work. Since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a writer. So that’s what I want to do, that’s my thing. And it might seem like work or it might seem like a way to get me out of this family (laughs).
LD: So seriously, what else do you like to do?
DS: I spent a lot of time on the City College Creative Writing Program (He’s the director). I got some release time this year, so we have a Web site, http://creativewriting.sbcc.edu/. If you could put that in your story I’d be grateful.
I’ve been fund raising for that. We’ve got some generous donors that put some money in to bring writers to campus to fund contests. …
LD: What kinds of students are in the creative writing program?
DS: There’s a real community college profile — you’ve got the person with the Ph.D. in English literature and the person who’s never written anything who’s just signed up because it fit into their class schedule. It’s always interesting that way.