An Interior Life: Q&A with NYWC Veteran Artist Ann Quintano

Poet Geer Austin recently visited Midtown’s Prince George Gallery to catch up with with NY Writers Coalition workshop veteran Ann Quintano. Geer formerly led workshops for LGBT homeless youth at New Alternatives, Sylvia’s Place, and The Times Square-supported housing project.

Ann Quintano lives in the Prince George, a hotel rehabilitated by Common Ground to provide permanent, affordable housing for low-income and formerly homeless adults and persons living with HIV/AIDS. Ten years ago, NYWC launched its first workshop for underserved populations at the Prince George, and Ann was a member of that group.

Ann is an artist and writer who carries a low-resolution point-and-shoot camera with her at all times. Her photographs of the flora and fauna she finds at locations ranging from Coney Island to the High Line prove that it is the photographer not the camera that determines the quality of the photograph. The Narrator recently asked her to talk about her experiences writing in NYWC workshops and also about her other interests, photography and drawing.

I understand you were part of NYWC’s first workshop. Did participating in the workshop help or change your writing?

My first encounter with NYWC was a “sample” workshop offered at the Prince George ten years ago. I remember I wrote about my love for pears! Painting them, loving their beauty (but less so eating them). Nancy Weber was the workshop leader. Writing in response to her prompts was a new experience for me and these prompts seemed to kick me into the action of writing…to stimulate that ‘writing part’ of me.

The support and encouragement of Nancy made me think that writing was something I had a knack for.  I had written a lot as a child; when I was eleven I had two novels going, about which I told no one!  And I would write and illustrate my own children’s stories. But as an adult I had stopped writing. In the workshop, I discovered I loved writing and was surprised when people thought it was good. I surprised myself. So much of my growing confidence was due to the encouragement and support of Nancy and the feel of the group, which allowed for a safe, positive environment and feedback. I looked forward hungrily to those workshops.

What were the circumstances of your life ten years ago?

I had recently moved into the Prince George Residence from a transitional housing after being in a shelter for homeless women. But I continued to coordinate the “Not Just Art” workshop I started at that transitional housing. It was there, taking folks out on excursions with disposable cameras, that I re-met photography which I hadn’t done in some twenty years. But mostly I was doing drawing and painting around themes of social justice, oppression, war.

Do you consider yourself primarily an artist or a writer or a photographer, or are all equally important?

I never think of myself as a “writer” or a “photographer,” terms which to me denote some proficiency, skill, expertise, and professionalism. I simply do those things because I love them, and because, in a way, I “must.” In some way I’m propelled to express what’s inside me and what I see in the world. However, I feel most able to enter the interior life, the emotional and spiritual life of character, and the experiences of my own life through writing, and giving expression to the interior life of persons is very important to me.

What drives your photography? What are your primary inspirations?

My photography seems to be inspired by noticing the world around me: the beauty of it and the brokenness of it; shapes and texture, the richness and diversity of the human family and documenting social issues and the struggle for a more just society. And, in a little way, documenting the changing face of our city: I take many, many pictures of Coney Island and its fascinating mixture of seediness and exuberance, gaudiness, and the simplicity of the ocean.

Describe the photographs you recently exhibited at the Prince George Gallery.

The photographs in that exhibit were about keeping my eyes open, noticing things or moments around me. The sheer joy of children at play, an old typewriter in a flea market.

What do you think about when you look back on your life ten years ago?  How has your art changed, and how has your life changed?

Looking back, I think I feel more confident in my writing and photography than my drawing. The past two years I have exhibited photographs. Before that it was drawings. My latest sketches drawn in Penn Station are of people who are homeless through which I wish to say: “You are not invisible. Your life matters. Your life is sacred.”

And NYWC has so nourished my writing.  I continue with NYWC at the 14th Street Y in a workshop facilitated by Eileen Sutton. I am always so impressed by how she can just enter into people’s writing and express so articulately what works in the piece. She is a wonderful and gifted writer and has so encouraged my own writing. To hear the diversity in writing around a prompt from which we are all working is so fascinating and rich an experience. And the workshop members themselves have been so supportive of my photography, visiting my exhibits last year and this year.

What are your hopes, for your life, your writing and your art and anything else that’s important to you during the next ten years?

The next ten years. Whew! What a gift it would be to have those years. I would want to connect more – in my life, my writing, my art – with that part of me committed to social justice. And to continue to explore the complexity of the interior life.

Comments

  1. Hi Ann,
    I spoke with Michelle this week for the first time in several years and she passed along this article. It’s so amazing. I was in the corporate world until about 5 years ago when I went to work for Dress for Success. I’m not the Volunteer Director for The Children’s Aid Society. Some of my work has involved women and young people who are homeless and in transitional housing. I’d love to see you sometime.
    Fondly,
    Kath