We had the good fortune of connecting with Chanel Brenner and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Chanel, why did you pursue a creative career?
I chose to be a writer in response to a series of intuitive moments. One of the most significant ones was when my son, Riley, was two years old. Watching my husband, Lee, run around with him in our backyard, I remember thinking how someday, Riley would be older and not need me as much. I heard a voice in my head say, take that writing class. I hollered to Lee from our backdoor, “I’m signing up for that class I told you about!”

The next significant moment was when my son, Riley, was six years old and died of a brain AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation) hemorrhage, a rare birth defect that he was diagnosed with at age five. The night he died, standing in my kitchen, I heard the same voice in my head say, write. Instead of screaming and pulling my hair out, I sat at my computer and started to write a poem. It wasn’t good, but writing it was—the act of creating instead of destroying. Poetry became my lifeline. I’ve often wondered what life preserver I would have grasped if I hadn’t listened to the earlier calling to take the writing class. I fear it would have been something destructive. I don’t think I would have had the tools I needed to navigate my grief.

I’ve continued writing poetry for the last ten years, and more recently personal essays. Writing about Riley’s death and how I mother his younger brother, Desmond, through that lens of loss, is how I create hope and continue my connection with Riley. It is also a way I connect with others who have experienced loss.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My poetry and essays chronicle the trajectory of my grief after the death of my firstborn son and illuminate the new perspective I have when mothering his younger brother through that lens of loss. I became a mother when Riley was born, and I became a poet when he died. His death and writing poetry are intertwined.

I am most proud of the poems and essays that I refuse to give up on because I feel compelled to share them with others: the ones that endure multiple rejections and revisions before they finally find a home.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
What a fun question…makes me want to invite a friend to visit soon!

Day 1, I’d take her to one of the beachfront hotels in Santa Monica, probably Shutters, to drink champagne, catch up, and watch the sunset from the lobby deck.

Day 2, we’d brunch at Café Vida in Culver City, share the organic brown rice pancakes along with one of their healthy egg entrées. Then we’d walk across the street to Village Well Books & Coffee, browse the shelves, buy books by authors we’ve never heard of, and drink coffee while we read and write.

Day 3 would be a drive down the coast to the South Bay…where I grew up. Up first would be lunch at my favorite vegetarian restaurant in Redondo Beach, The Green Temple. Then a walk on the treelined Veteran’s Parkway that runs from Redondo to Manhattan Beach. After, we’d probably go to the Manhattan Beach Pier, look at some shops, and grab a drink at one of the bars or restaurants…so many options!

Day 4, I might leave open for spontaneity. Maybe take a boat to Catalina?

Day 5, I would take her to one of the local hotels that offer a day pass and spend a relaxing day in a cabana reading, talking, and drinking Rose.

Day 6, I’d take her up the coast to Malibu for a hike at Solstice Canyon followed by dinner and margaritas on the rocks at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Paco’s Tacos, in Culver City.

Day 7, We’d stop at Primo Passo on Montana Avenue for coffee and goodbyes.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to dedicate this to Jack Grapes and all my Wednesday-morning comrades who provided a nurturing space for me to first share my grief and poems about Riley. I remember standing in front of the class for the first time after his death, sharing the news. Saying the words, “He died,” out loud to them was the beginning of my healing journey. In the class, I also met Alexis Rhone Fancher, the first friend I made who had also lost a child. I am deeply grateful for her friendship, unbridled honesty, and support of my work.

Website: Chanelbrenner.com

Instagram: @chanelbrenner

Twitter: @chanelb2

Facebook: @chanelbrennerauthor

Image Credits: headshot by Kate Haus Photography

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