Meet Your Author: ’RiverWays’ by Meredith Heller and Chula Linda Gemignani
Meredith Heller and Chula Linda Gemignani have recently published their new book, “RiverWays: The River Goers’ Guide To River Etiquette.” “RiverWays” is a book of river etiquette to teach river-goers how to visit rivers with care and consideration, respecting the rivers and river communities. They will be having a book signing party Saturday, June 5, at the Farmers Market in downtown Nevada City. The signing will take place in front of Harmony Books from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
We spent a few minutes with Heller and Gemingnani to ask some questions about their book and themselves.
About the authors
Chula Gemignani studied art in the 90s at San Francisco State University. She has spearheaded many art projects including a gallery and community center in Marin County, a children’s summer arts program, and Viva La Milpa, an international art and education project in Mexico.
She’s also a gardener, singer-songwriter, massage therapist and a somatic coach.
She takes great joy making a positive difference in the world through art activism. She has participated as an artist in California’s Wild and Scenic Film Festival. Her oil pastel, True Gold is of the Heart, represents the native species of plants and animals threatened by the reopening of the San Juan Ridge Mine — which was successfully stopped.
Her woodcut, Rio No Se Vende/River Not For Sale, supported the successful fight against the Daguerre Point Dam Hydro Project in 2013 and she shares the image with various organizations who are also continuing to protest the damming of rivers.
Her painting, Conjuring Peace in Palmyra, depicting hummingbirds breaking machine guns -was completed over the course of a year, opposing war.
Postering the city walls of Oaxaca, Mexico with Viva La Milpa woodcuts in a campaign to protect the native corn seed from GMO contamination was, until RiverWays, the highlight of her art-activism career, and she is always up for a new adventure. To contact Chula for projects, prints or use permission email: email@example.com
Meredith Heller is a poet, singer-songwriter, and educator with degrees in writing and education. She is the author of three poetry collections, “Songlines,” “River Spells” and “Yuba Witch,” and a book, “Write a Poem, Save Your Life.” A California Poet in the Schools, Meredith teaches workshops for grades 1-12 in public and private schools, the Creative Writing Department at Marin School of the Arts, Juvenile Detention Centers, and online for women and kids.
Her passion is empowering people to believe in themselves, trust their creative instincts, tap their wild wisdom, speak their truth, and ignite their hearts.
An avid nature-woman, she spent 15 summers solo backpacking and now hikes the trails daily and lives with a gentle footprint in a tiny cottage made from a train caboose in Marin County. She spends her summers camping and writing beside rivers. She says she meets all her favorite people not at the river but in the river. She is mused by nature, synchronicity, and kindred souls. For more info about her books and workshops: http://www.meredithheller.com
What brought you to this area?
BOTH: The Yuba River.
How did you get into writing?
Chula: I have loved creative writing from a young age and it’s bolstered my art more than a few times. When we write down concepts of an idea it’s a preparation — like amending the soil before we plant. When we present a piece of art with a personal artists’ statement I could go on and on but they only allow so many words. Because the making of any work of art is a journey. When I paint, I travel the next mile out of myself as I break through my comfort zone to experience other worlds. In that same journey, I dive deeper into myself as personal transformation and self realization takes place when we create. I’m currently working on a very emotional piece for the VTA exhibit. It’s a painting of Bullards Bar Dam and Reservoir which was built atop Nisenan burial/burning grounds. This piece has been a deep dive and has an artist statement. Hope you come see the show.
Meredith: I started writing short stories when I was 5 years old. It gave me a way to bring to life all the characters that lived inside me and I could invent new friends and a world where everything was magically alive. Later, struggling to survive in my teen years, I found poetry, or rather, it found me and claimed me. Writing poetry gave me a medium through which to express my feelings and perceptions, and a way to access my deep psyche. Writing became my refuge and my companion. It saved my life.
What is your favorite book or who is your favorite author?
Chula: Currently I’m reading “History of Us: Nisenan Tribe of the Nevada City Rancheria” and I have to applaud Richard Johnson. What an incredible book of history of the indigenous people of this territory — the Nisenan Tribe. I highly recommend it. It gives the reader an idea of what it was like living here long ago and teaches the Nisenan traditions. One can find it locally or online. On the regular, I love books that inspire me to be a better person. Anything by Mark Nepo, Ram Dass or Jack Adam Weber usually works to bring me back home to myself when life gets moving too fast. Oh, and then there is Meredith, I mean that woman can write! I seriously love her work and no I am not just saying this because she is the author of my book.
Meredith: Oh… so many. My latest favorite is “Where the Crawdads Sing.” I love Delia Owens’ poetic writing and her celebration of nature. I relate to the main character, Kya, who raises herself in the wild and sometimes has to do crazy stuff to survive.
What is your book about?
The title kind of says it all. “RiverWays” is a book of river etiquette to teach river-goers how to visit rivers with care and consideration, respecting the rivers and river communities. This book gives people the opportunity to learn how to be a riverkeeper rather than just a river visitor. Because the Yuba is suffering from overuse, no river name is mentioned, making this a book for ALL rivers, and not drawing more attention to the Yuba. The paintings are playful and so is the poetry. So rather than just a bunch of boring rules, it’s engaging. Art is powerful that way. When you stand in front of a painting you can’t be thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Art is sobering in that it plants someone on their own two feet. It’s a great way to get a message across.
What inspired you to write this book?
Chula: This book was inspired last year when no one could get on an airplane due the pandemic. The rivers got flooded with visitors (pun intended). The rivers got trashed! Literally, trash was left. River DJ’s were blasting their music on every beach. Swimming in the river was like dipping into a soup of Sea & Ski sun screen; it’s all you could smell. I sat on a rock meditating to the sound of the river and some folks parked themselves next to me and started smoking right into my face. They could care less. I watched a family start a BBQ right under a tree in the middle of fire season. I smelled human poop near the river. Dog poop was everywhere, poop bags left on the sides of trails. And don’t even get me started about parking! The parking was horrendous. River-goers didn’t care if an emergency vehicle could get through or not. They just selfishly wanted to get to the river even if it meant blocking roads to do it or parking their hot tail pipe in tall grass causing a fire hazard!
Every day on social media, I’d see another post about some mess at the river. So, my call back to their posts was to post a new watercolor every day or so depicting a river scene. Friends were applauding and their call back was “You have to make this into a book.” Then others actually started micromanaging me, which I actually kind of like. They were cracking the whip — “Don’t forget to do one about leashing dogs, I got bit by a dog last week” or “Don’t forget to tell people to pack out their fishing gear. My dog swallowed a hook!” So basically, it was a big community collaboration.
I knew I needed poems along with the watercolors to really bring the river into the reader’s heart. The river brought me Meredith, and I am so grateful. Her poetry is steeped in the depth of river experience.
What did you find most challenging about writing a book?
Fundraising to get this book into as many hands as possible continues to challenge me. It takes consistency and stamina to fund a project like this. Right now, I’d like to raise enough money to run an ad on social media for June, July and August. This ad has a mission bigger than just selling the book. The purpose of the ad is to teach river etiquette to the people who may not buy the book, who are on social media, and who plan to visit rivers this summer. Because we live near the Yuba, and it is our first and foremost concern, we will be tagging Yuba City, Marysville and Sacramento with this ad. You can see it on the Riverways Facebook page. If there is a business that wants to fund a month or all summer of this ad, we will put your mention on the last frame.
What is your key takeaway or message you hope readers find in your book?
Last year was a big wake up call to the damage that occurs to our rivers from uneducated human use. There seems to be a separation between nature and home and a disconnection to one’s own sense of place in the world. People seem to have forgotten how significant they are. We want you to know that you matter. Your place in this world matters. “RiverWays” is a guide to help river-goers understand how their footprints impact nature, and how nature is an opportunity to reclaim our connection to ourselves. “RiverWays” invites you to see nature as home and shows what considerate and responsible river use is all about.
Where can people find your book?
Come to our book signing party June 5 at the Farmers Market in downtown Nevada City. We will be set up in front of Harmony Books from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Riverways:The River Goers’ Guide to River Etiquette” is now available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
If you have a retail store, you can find it on Ingram or Booklocker.com
Please describe what you’d consider your perfect day
Chula: Waking up with my sweet cat purring next to me, playing a few songs on my guitar with a hot cup of tea by my side, painting for a couple hours, strolling through my garden to see what’s sprouting or blooming, picking a bouquet of gorgeous inspiring flowers. Receiving a healing massage followed by a long walk to my favorite river spot for a swim, followed by warm rock therapy while I watch the water ouzels dash about until the sun sets and my sun kissed skin cools.
Meredith: Waking up at the river after sleeping outside on the earth, under the stars, no tent. Listening to the morning songs all around me. Singing along. Watching the light climb up over the hill. Writing a new poem. Going for the first dip of the day, and coming up shining.
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