Propagating Stories: Lauren Rhoades on Rooted and Life as a Jacksonian
Originally from Colorado, Lauren Rhoades has established herself as one of Jackson’s brightest new voices through her work in the arts and literary community, as well as her role as editor-in-chief of the online storytelling platform, Rooted.
We recently turned the Q&A back on Lauren to hear about her inspirations and projects – and what keeps her motivated to share her adopted city and state with the world.
Can you share your initial impressions about moving from Denver to Jackson? How has the location change influenced your life?
I moved here in 2013 and started work in West Jackson as an AmeriCorps service member with FoodCorps, an organization that promotes access to food education and healthy food options in schools and communities. I never expected to end up in Mississippi; when I applied, I left my destination open-ended, and they assigned me here. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. I arrived here with an open mind and immediately met a lot of great folks in Jackson, who have become lifelong friends. My career has evolved since then, but the people I've met have kept me rooted. The community has shifted over the years, with some friends leaving, but the ones who've remained are still inspired, motivated, and working on exciting projects. It's been a little over a decade since then, and witnessing the changes in Jackson has been fascinating.
You've donned many professional hats in Jackson – how have these experiences shaped your understanding of the community?
While my initial goal was to run Mississippi’s first sustainable fermentation company through what I learned during my time with FoodCorps (crafting sauerkraut and kombucha in our climate presents its challenges!), I ultimately shifted my focus to a lifelong passion – writing, and how I could be further ingrained in that world. My role at the Eudora Welty House and Gardens not only connected me with familiar faces from the agriculture world but also allowed me to immerse myself in our state's rich and far-reaching literary and arts community. Now, I'm getting to help support artists and art organizations with grant opportunities through the Mississippi Arts Commission and talk with other creatives on MPB’s The Mississippi Arts Hour.
Throughout my professional journey here, the takeaway is clear – Mississippi is full of creativity. In Jackson, I'm always meeting incredible and innovative people who are often making amazing things with a limited set of resources, which feeds into their ingenuity. Mississippi is a treasure trove, and I feel like I've only scratched the surface of the extraordinary work being done.
What inspired you to create Rooted – a free, online magazine that delves into Mississippi's stories? How do you want to represent what it means to call Mississippi home?
I come at it as a really curious transplant and outsider. I started Rooted because I sometimes felt isolated and unsure about my long-term future here, especially during the Jackson Water Crisis. I genuinely believe that Mississippi is an amazing place, but it's often a misunderstood place. My goal with Rooted is to learn from those who have either grown up or moved here and share their perspectives. I don't want it to be my voice in an echo chamber, but a broader conversation about life in Mississippi, creating art here, finding a community – sometimes even in the leaving, and what parts of Mississippi people want to take with them.
It's essential to acknowledge the complexities of life because nothing is ever all good or all bad – that's a fundamental aspect of being alive. While Jackson has its challenges, there are people here who are deeply invested and working tirelessly to improve the quality of life. Rather than navigating a larger city, and becoming emotionally detached, I genuinely believe that even our small actions and investment can have a greater impact on the city and its future.
Your forthcoming memoir - Split the Baby – is a deep dive into your own experiences and journey. Could you give us a glimpse into what readers can expect and what motivated you to share your story?
My journey into writing my memoir began when I went back to pursue an MFA from the University for Women, focusing on creative nonfiction. It largely delves into my coming-of-age experiences, growing up in Colorado in a divorced home with my Jewish mother and a Catholic father. I grappled with feeling torn between two families and two religions and navigating them as an adolescent. Interestingly, I think my time in Mississippi allowed me to approach my hometown and history more objectively and compassionately. While my memoir isn't exclusively a Mississippi memoir, living here has played a crucial role in shaping my ability to write it.