Artists in their own words: Johnette Downing

Johnette Downing (photo credit: Thom Bennett)

Who: Johnette Downing

What: Children’s author and musician

Where: The Riverbend

Q: What is the most unique interaction that you’ve ever had at a reading?

JD: Children are so honest, so you get all kinds of interesting interactions when you are doing a reading or giving a concert. Just the other day I was giving a Halloween concert at the St. Bernard Parish Library. All of the kids were in costume, and since they were younger, I did my ‘slightly spooky, mainly silly’ songs.

I was singing a classic Halloween song called ‘Dark Dark Night.’ There a line in it that is slow, and the lyrics are, ‘There was a …’  you’re supposed to yell ‘ghost,’ or something similar, but I didn’t want to frighten these kids. Instead, I sang, ‘There was a…butterfly.’ All of the kids burst into laughter and said, “a butterfly isn’t scary.”

Then this little girl in the back says, ‘Wait, was it a poisonous butterfly?’ Everyone laughed. You never know what kids are going to say. Little things like that constantly come up when I’m working with kids.

Q: If you had to see the same play every week for the rest of your life, what play would you choose?

JD: In college, I took two independent studies in Shakespeare. The funny part is that I have never done a Shakespeare-inspired children’s book. Perhaps that is on the horizon.

For a play to watch, I would most likely select A Midsummer’s Night Dream. It’s very playful and fanciful, which I love. When I was in college, I played of the fairy Cobweb in Midsummer. That was my very first role. I would love to see it every month and discover something new in the characters each time.


Q: When do you find yourself wanting to socialize?

JD: I’m a very private person. The art of writing and creating is really solitary, so I tend to be a hermit, and I am often very shy.

I’m much better on stage with my guitar  in front of an audience. Being behind a book at an author talk also feels very comfortable.

I absolutely love being around family and friends, though, so holidays are a time when I want to socialize. I also love festivals. Because I am shy, festivals are a way to hide and have help with conversation with other people around. I’m not very good at small talk, so I tend to have friends who like to talk.

Q: If you had to choose a professional sport to play, what would you choose?

JD: I played basketball in high school for a very short time. After college, I worked for a real estate company that had a softball team, so I ended up playing with them. The thing is, I love swimming, but I’m not a good swimmer. Whenever I’m at the gym and see people swimming, I wish I could swim so effortlessly.

Running is similar. I see people running, and it looks so effortless and blissful, but then when I run, it feels so painful [laughing].

Q: Who would you trust to rewrite one of your books as an adult novel?

JD: Most of my favorite authors have passed away, like Somerset Maugham and John Steinbeck. An acquaintance of mine named Laura Halse Anderson, is an amazing author. She writes historical fiction, and she could definitely translate my book.

I think I would have her turn either Why the Oyster has the Pearl or Macarooned on a Dessert Island into an adult novel. Macarooned would be interesting since it’s about a little girl who dreams about being on an island full of desserts. She gets stranded on a dessert island, and although she eats mainly fruits and vegetables,  she is surrounded by all those desserts. That feels very much like adulthood, so that would probably work great as a novel for grownups.

Johnette will be part of the Louisiana Book Festival on Saturday, October 28. She will be receiving the Louisiana Writer Award at the festival at 10:00 AM followed by a concert at 2:30 PM and then a book talk (3:15 PM) and book signing (4:00 PM) to finish out the day. To learn more about Johnette and her work, you can visit her website, as well as follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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