Creative Quarantine: Writer and Creative Kenneth Clarke

Portrait from "Our Work: Modern Jobs - Ancient Origins" at The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago | © Kenneth Clarke

Writer and creative, Kenneth Clarke, discusses how his life has adapted to the pandemic. He shares his optimistic view on the additional time he has due to the current circumstances how it has positively impacted his creative endeavors.

1.    How are you holding up?

I am holding up OK.  Every time I am tempted to let the pandemic get me down, I remind myself that I am in good company with everyone else in the world going through these hard times. I am also ravenous for the extra creative time I have been afforded by shut down, such as not having a commute to an office and the subsequent business slowdown. This environment isn’t going to last forever, so I’m trying to take full advantage of it. 

Lower Than a Snakes Belly | © Kenneth Clarke

2.    Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

The pandemic has provided me a creative opportunity unlike any time in my life, except for when I was pursuing my master’s degree that had a focus on creative writing and literary theory.  For the six months leading up to the pandemic, I was working on a startup with two other partners. The thesis for our startup is solid, but our timing could not have been worse, and the startup is now on pause.  But, this pause has allowed me more time to work on creative pursuits. Having the creative space to work on a cartoon series with my daughter and to finish writing and then publishing and marketing my new book “Wolves and Flax: The Prior Family in the Cuyahoga Wilderness,” using all the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years, has been interesting to watch unfold. So much of my creative energy over the years has been focused on growing and operating organizations, so having time to focus on my own projects is definitely a change of pace. These strange times have also helped me more fully realized that it is my creativity that has afforded me much of my business success over the years. It allows me to see things differently and more easily identify opportunities that others do not necessarily see.  It gives me the ability to piece all the disparate parts together toward a focused and successful product, be that an organization as a whole or a specific project. 

Wolves and Flax Jacket | © Kenneth Clarke

More specifically, I have been testing and applying techniques that I learned while running a literary arts organization and a museum & library to develop social media content and community around the new book. Upon publication, I was able to get a couple of substantial newspaper reviews that helped drive awareness and book sales, but I also wanted to create an online exhibit of sorts about the book and that also draws on different, new, or community provided information not necessarily contained in the book. I have built a growing online community and I am experimenting with ways to draw out other stories from the community on the topic. Social media gives me the opportunity to curate content in creative ways as long as I think outside the typical social media mentality – it really does allow an exploration way beyond the original work in a more mixed-media way.   

William Prior Sr. Photograph | © Kenneth Clarke

3.    Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

I have had the amazing opportunity to work with many artists, writers, and academics who have taught me the value of developing an aesthetic or “artistic voice” and then focusing all creative energy into that self-imposed aesthetic structure to drive creative production.  I have used these lessons throughout my business career, but only recently have I been applying this thinking to my own work. I have also been teaching my daughter these lessons as we come up with cartoon ideas together for our cartoon series. I am an irreversibly trained post-modernist – I often feel adrift in this culture where ideas are submissive to the individual ego.  I am much more creative when I’m not thinking anything about myself and where I’m working in collaboration with others. By providing myself an aesthetic structure in which to work I can take the focus off me and put it on to the thing I am working on. This has been freeing and it is not something I have done for my own creative work.  I want to keep doing this after the pandemic is over so that I can keep producing when time becomes scarce again. 

Prior Family Grist Mill, 1870 | © Kenneth Clarke

4.    Of the artists you follow, who are handling this particularly well?

The artists that I follow the most tend to be literary artists, musicians, or visual artists whose production isn’t necessarily impacted by the timing of something like a pandemic. That said, I thought it was awesome when members of Anthrax and Death Angel created a “zoom” cover of U2’s City of Blinding Light. I’ve been wondering why we are not seeing more of these kinds of collaborations with covers and new music – it seems like now is a perfect time for artists to break out of the molds of the pre-pandemic era.  I follow the painter Wesley Kimler closely – I’m always interested to see where he takes his painting. His pandemic era work has been powerful and following his aesthetic shifts is energizing. The hardcore punk band Rotting Out decided to release their album Ronin in April 2020.  The album sounds nice – a little like a hybrid between the Dead Kennedys and AC/DC – and it even features some Spanish language hardcore punk lyrics.  Releasing an album this year has got to be tough given the restrictions on live shows, so kudos to them.

Kenneth Clarke is a not-for-profit executive, fundraiser, marketer, and entrepreneur with a demonstrated history of working with universities, museums, non-profit institutions, and start-up businesses. More quietly, he is a creative. Clarke has published poetry under the pen names K.C. and K.C. Clarke, including studio-produced poetry and music releases. He has illustrated, designed, and produced limited edition prints with renowned literary and visual artists under the name K.C. Clarke that have been acquired by special collections of leading universities. He is the executive editor and creative director of history books and a visual art coffee table book. He has curated several museum exhibits. His photography has been used on book covers, websites, and museum exhibits. He is a ceramic artist. As a collaboration with his daughter, he draws and publishes the original cartoon T-Rocious & Firebird under the name KC & KC. Most recently Clarke published the book “Wolves and Flax: The Prior Family in the Cuyahoga Valley Wilderness,” which tells the story of his ancestors as they left the comforts of New England for the westernmost frontier of the young United States.