Interview Series: Creative Couples: Beth Kephart and William Sulit
As a fellow author, I've crossed paths with Beth a few times over the years, as literary circles are rather small. I've never had the chance to sit down and really get to know her, but from afar have always admired the incredible volume of work she's brought to life throughout her career. She's not only prolific, however. Beth is a National Book Award finalist among many other accolades, a teacher, a reinventor of creative paths, a mom, and I'm sure much, much more. She and her husband William Sulit (Bill), an artist whose work has stunned me when I've seen the occasional photos Beth posts online, have lived and collaborated together for many years. Here's a little insight into how they've made that not just work in the functional sense of marriage, but how their creative lives have flourished together, and individually.
It seems there's nothing these two can't create.
We all love a good love story. Tell us the moment you each knew you were in love. Make us swoon!
Beth: He walked by at the architecture firm where I worked as a marketing coordinator. He was passing the time, three months, between a year in Europe and graduate school. All he had to do was walk and turn. He had me at the pivot.
Bill: I had been so excited about going to grad school but then I was so sad that I had to leave. Fortunately we made it work.
Liz Gilbert said she “married” her writing at 16, and many people think it’s not possible to have two artists in the house. In the beginning, were you of the mind that two creatives would live well together or the opposite?
Beth: In the beginning, he was the artist-architect and I was the closet poet with the corporate job. My artistic soul was a secret. His never was.
Bill: We are both creative but travel in different lanes so there isn’t an over-saturation of the same thing. It keeps the conversation fresh and interesting.
Share a little bit about your work—books, music, movies, art—what do each of you do?
Beth: He paints, designs books, makes clay objects, charcoal sketches, designs the Juncture Workshop presentations that we give. I write—stories, memoirs, poems, history—and, in the last year, I’ve started making blank books.
What brought you to these outlets/jobs?
Beth: Writing is what keeps me whole. No matter how many corporate hours I was working, I squeezed it in, or dreamed that I could. Making the blank books was an obsession that erupted in the wake of my father’s passing. I wanted to make cards and booklets for those who had loved him. I gelli printed, sliced extracts from old books, folded cards, chain stitched. And then it grew and grew.
Bill: From architecture to graphic design and photography to ceramics and painting. It’s been an interesting accumulation that informs everything I do.
Do you ever collaborate on projects? Tell us a little bit about that process.
Beth: We now collaborate on everything. Bill has illustrated my picture books and middle grade novels, designed the books we produce through Juncture (Tell the Truth. Make It Matter: A Memoir Writing Workbook and, most recently, We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class), created the illustrations that support my teaching through Juncture, created the art I glue into the books I make, etched leather with his designs (that leather also going into the books I make), designed all the graphics associated with BINDbyBIND, our Etsy shop. Plus he’s really good at mailing labels and banking.
I’ve also glazed his clay objects. Shape is more his thing than color.
Bill: We do collaborate on projects - the best ones are when we bring independently created work together into one thing.
Creative work doesn’t normally lend itself to a regular routine like punching a time clock. Describe your method for completing projects while also living regular life, raising kids, if applicable, or working a day job. How do you manage your time together?
Beth: Each day unspools in its own way. Sometimes all I’m doing is cutting signatures or sewing, while Bill is outside, in the garage, painting. Or Bill is upstairs, printing his work onto khadi paper, or figuring out how to ship economically to the United Kingdom. We have breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. I take walks. He doesn’t. At night we watch stupid TV. We are in and out, both always near.
Bill: This type of life can easily devolve into chaos if you let it. I’m not good at multi-tasking so for me it is deciding where I need to spend the time and then sticking with it. We don’t manage our time together - it just happens.
How do you support each other’s work?
Beth: I tell him how much I love what he does and I find the most beautiful way to present it.
Bill: I can’t help with her writing since that's totally out of my lane. With the book and paper making I help with some of the more mechanical / technical aspects.
We all have challenges in our relationships and having the same job can present its own hurdles. What would you say you have to work on the most as a creative couple, in particular?
Beth: We’re many years into our marriage now, and we’ve learned what not to do, what not to say. I know not to trespass into Bill’s private workspace, for example. I know just to wait for whatever Bill is doing. I trust that it will come.
Bill: We have a life together but we work apart. We each occupy very different environments when we work (mentally and physically) but are very similar in our attitudes about life in general.
And on the other side of things, how does both of you being artists feed or fuel your relationship?
Beth: I can’t imagine any life other than the one we’ve built, with art at its core. We imagine and create and wonder every day, and it won’t make us rich, and it doesn’t take us all over the world, but it’s an alive life, a good one.
Bill: It all starts with the fact that we both understand (and accept) what it takes to engage in a creative endeavor. That clears the space for a happy and healthy relationship.
And for fun...
What fictional character does your partner most resemble?
Beth: The truth is, I’ve written Bill into many of my books, one way or the other. There’s a young Salvadoran artist in my novel Wild Blues, whose life and memories belong to Bill. So there he is, on the page. (Bill also illustrated this book, gorgeously.)
Bill: I like to imagine Beth as a ninja character in a kung-fu movie. I wonder what kind of damage she could do with a sharp sword.
If your partner and their work ethic/process was an animal, what animal would they be?
Beth: Any animal that does not suffer from, nor bend to, anxiety or panic.
Bill: It would be an animal that doesn’t stand still for long - perhaps a hummingbird
Describe your dream working space as a couple.
Beth: A place by the river, with a view. Long tables. Wooden floors. Wide shelves. Long windows.
Bill: And no yard!