Meet Kelly, J. Beard, Attorney and Author – this month’s WE Magazine for Woman on a Mission
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally.
For over two decades, I practiced employment discrimination law in the Atlanta area. During that time I founded (and served as President of) the Professional Women’s Information Network (ProWIN), which has grown into one of the preeminent women’s networking organizations in the state. I’ve received multiple awards from my legal and community service including (but not limited to) being recognized as a “Super Lawyer,” a “Star of Atlanta,” and one of the nation’s “Preeminent Female Lawyers.” Additionally, I was honored to work on dozens of cases for the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and received a Certificate of Recognition for my service. In 2016, however, I found myself longing to follow a dream I’d left behind when I chose to become a lawyer: I wanted to become a writer. With that goal in mind — and in my late 50s — I enrolled in the Vermont College of Fine Arts and began studying Creative Nonfiction. During my years there, I completed a manuscript (a memoir titled “An Imperfect Rapture”) I’d been working on for several years but hadn’t been able to quite finish. In 2017, “An Imperfect Rapture” won the prestigious Zone 3 Creative Nonfiction Book Award and is being released on November 1, 2018. I am continuing to focus my time and attention toward this new endeavor, and am currently having a great time traveling to readings and book festivals to promote the book.
What do you enjoy most about your profession and why did you choose it in the first place?
What I most enjoy about my “new” profession as a writer is getting out to meet people and to hear how my story resonates with others. Although the official publication date is November 1, 2018, Zone 3 Press provided early copies to various reviewers and festivals, so I’ve had a chance to begin reading and engaging with the public about my work. So far, I’ve received incredibly positive responses to the work, from famous authors and single women coming up to tell me how much the story means to them because of their own experiences or the experiences of ones they love. Andre Dubus III wrote, ““Written with the spare, sensual, and deeply evocative prose of a master, this brave and ultimately transcendent memoir is an absolute gem. What Kelly J. Beard accomplishes here is stunning: by stepping nakedly back into her youth as the daughter of Christian fundamentalists, a life-long couple whose love for one another never seemed to wane, she also steps back into violence and neglect, poverty and the shame of the poor, the striving for one’s very selfhood when few seem to be able to help or pay much attention. And Beard renders all of this, and more, with a poet’s clear-eyed search for the truth. An Imperfect Rapture is a plaintive hymn of forgiveness, and it moved me to tears many times over. This is, quite simply, a beautiful book.” ––Andre Dubus III, author of Gone So Long
Since the book is a memoir, I’d have to say that in large part the inspiration for the book was to try to make sense of my experience of growing up in the complicated crossroads of religious fundamentalism and poverty, and, of equal importance, to find a vehicle for sharing the experience with others. Much of this story I’d kept secret from even my closest friends and family. When my only child left for college, I remember feeling utterly bereft. As I worked to figure out why, it became clear that one reason I couldn’t “move on” or “let go” was because I’d never really shared that part of my life with her. So many people have asked me about the cathartic aspects of writing difficult personal stories. Although it sounds trite, I think in many ways writing the story – especially as I worked to understand the interior lives and motivations of others (not just myself) I learned more about my own experience, and gained a measure of empathy for us all.
Tell us about any new projects you have coming up.
I have an essay coming out in Creative Nonfiction, and am working on several other essays and an idea for a new book.
What is a typical day like for you?
Last March, I became a grandmother. The birth of my grand baby prompted me to move from the suburbs to Atlanta so I can babysit and spend time with him. So, a typical day often includes a quick (or longer) visit with him.
Also, I’m a huge dog-lover, so I have to take time for my dog Jack. Jack’s the first “boy” dog I’ve ever had, and also the first German Shepherd. (All Labs and sweetie-pie girls before!) This guy has been such a great lesson for me. We’re so much alike — stubborn and playful and completely devoted to the ones we love.
On my best days, I also write, usually from 10-noon. I know tons of writers who write all day, every day, and I think there’s a benefit to consistency, but I think two hours a day is plenty for me. I take comfort in the fact that Virginia Woolf said she could only write two hours a day also!
The other three important parts of my typical day include reading, playing the piano, and practicing yoga.
Tell us about your community involvement – what you are passionate about outside of work and home and why/how you participate?
I’ve always been passionate about the environment and the underdog. So I give time (and whatever treasure I can muster) to various environmental causes, from organizations that focus on global restoration concerns (e.g., Greenpeace, The Sierra Club, The World Wildlife Foundation) to those that focus on taking legal action to protect national environmental interests (e.g., the Environmental Defense Fund, the Dogwood Alliance, the Nature Conservancy). ProWIN has a strong charitable-outreach aspect to it as well, which was part of my original vision for the group, to “do good while doing well.” While working as a lawyer, I devoted thousands of hours providing assistance to victims of domestic violence on a reduced or free cost basis.
What is the biggest risk you ever took professionally and/or the biggest obstacle you have overcome?
The biggest risk was leaving the practice of law after two decades to follow the dream of becoming an author. I think the biggest obstacles are the messages we are all exposed to (especially women) that by the time we’re 50 or 60 we’re redundant and boring, that it’s too late to accomplish anything new or to make a mark on a new path.
From where do you draw inspiration? Who have been your role models, mentors, etc?
I love reading and find constant inspiration by doing so. Since I came to writing later in life, I found (and find) particular inspiration in knowing some of the writers who published first books (that were wildly successful) after the age of 50 and even 60! First publications for Frank McCourt (“Angela’s Ashes” published in his late 60s) Raymond Chandler (“The Big Sleep” published in his 50s) to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books (published in her late 60s), to name just a few of the brilliant writers who came to their own as writers later in life.
What do you do to keep yourself sharp? What one thing have you done in the past year that has made a significant difference in your life/your business?
I do a crossword puzzle every day, read, and try to get to the piano to keep myself / my brain sharp.
What one thing would you like to learn this year?
I’d love to learn conversational Spanish. I grew up in Southern California so it would have been easy to learn as a kid. There were lots of Spanish-speaking kids in my school and and our next-door neighbors were of Mexican origin so they spoke Spanish a lot, especially during family gatherings and parties. I remember loving the sound of their voices and would hang around outside or swing on the clothesline in the evening just to hear them talking.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself with a new book out, traveling and reading. I also see myself taking my grandson to Mexico or to other Spanish-speaking countries and being able to converse with him (and the residents) in Spanish!
What’s the best way for the readers of WE Magazine for Women to connect with you? My current website is www.kellyjbeard.com . For better or worse, my legal website still pops up quite often instead of my author’s site (and so does a WordPress site my daughter created for me before my book was published), so you sometimes have to be persistent about finding my author’s site. But it will pay off! I have an occasional blog on the site, and I find the responses to it fascinating.