Rachel Mindell is no Emily Dickinson—at least when it comes to how the Missoula poet approaches her everyday life. Quash all images of dreary women in white, barricaded in their bedrooms and stuffing poems under the mattress. Instead, picture a smiling, busy and enthusiastic 30-something, squeezing in a quick slice of pizza and an interview in between a couple of literary events (that she also happened to help organize).
Far from the isolated and introverted poet, Mindell spends her days (and weekends and nights) nurturing the city's community of writers, including organizing Missoula's biggest literary event of the year.
Mindell entered Missoula's literary scene like so many others in the community: She moved here to attend the University of Montana's MFA program. An unfunded student, Mindell patched together odd jobs and involved herself in the school's literary magazine, CutBank. By the time she graduated last spring, she had already established herself as a fixture in the scene, from teaching creative writing to kids through the Missoula Writers Collaborative to directing the revamped Montana Book Festival.
"I feel so lucky," Mindell says. "I didn't know that it was possible to create a work life for myself that is genuinely structured around things I am passionate about. It's really remarkable for a community of this size to have such a vibrant scene, and I've had so much help and guidance and enthusiasm."
In 2015, Mindell was asked to help reboot the Montana Book Festival when Humanities Montana ended its leadership role after 15 years of organizing the event. In just months, she and a core group of others in town had saved the event from disappearing—and injected fresh life into the popular festival. Under her leadership, the festival not only survived, but also added events like a rejection letter open mic session and a Nancy Drew erotic fan fiction reading.
"I think it's great to have a sense of humor about literary events," Mindell says. "To make it fun and inclusive. I think people find that poetry readings can be dry, inaccessible and pretentious. And they really don't have to be."
Mindell has also helped organize BinderCon Live Missoula, a branch of the national conference for women and gender nonconforming writers. In addition, she hosts TextCraft, a monthly group that meets to engage in book, text and word-related art building. Even her part-time day job is with Submittable, a company that got its start by helping literary journals handle online writer submissions.
On top of all of this, of course, Mindell is busy writing whenever she can find time in her patchwork schedule. She has a chapbook, Like a Teardrop and a Bullet, forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press this spring. And she will be reading from a new set of poems at Shakespeare & Co. Sat., March 26. Her work, like the events she puts on, has an overarching mood of playfulness, strangeness and humor—her latest poems have a paranormal theme, in part inspired by "The X-Files" and "The Twilight Zone."
For Mindell, the key to literary happiness is in striking the right balance between participating in community and finding a quiet place to create work.
"I think about poetry as a career in advocacy—a literary career that is not about just me," she says. "You can dedicate yourself full-time to writing and submitting, but that's not me. I find that I can't just be in a room. I need stuff to write about. I like to be busy and write. Which isn't always easy, but that's why I like it."
Rachel Mindell reads selected poems at Shakespeare & Co. on Sat., March 26, at 5 PM, along with poets Philip Schaefer and Jeff Whitney, who read from their new chapbook, Radio Silence.Updated Thu., March 24, to reflect the correct date when Mindell was asked to help reboot Montana Book Festival.