Interviews of Literary and Mental Health Enthusiasts, Artists, and Authors
We at the Elysian Muse believe in the importance of storytelling.
When we share our stories with others, we open up worlds of possibilities; it's an effective way to destigmatize, spread information, and inspire others. By listening to the voices of those who've struggled with their mental health and those who are advocates, we better educate outselves to maintain our own mental health.
The Jed Foundation offers such conversations on their YouTube channel. Here at the Elysian Muse, we're in the works of our "Interview Initiative", in which we interview notable mental health and creative expression advocates.
Mrs. Lisa Manganello has been a school librarian in South Brunswick for fourteen years, but the route to her current position has been rich and varied. As a student at High Point Regional High School, Mrs. Manganello was active in local visual arts programs. As a high school senior, she was selected to participate in a workshop with the Artist-in-Residence in Ceramics at Peters Valley Craft Center, an opportunity that influenced her to study to become an art teacher. At Mansfield University, Mrs. Manganello pursued her Bachelors degree in Art Education before graduating with a degree in Art History with a studio art minor, a change that stemmed from her growing interest in research. After graduating, Mrs. Manganello spent two years working as an Art Grant Assistant for the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization that awards grants to artists and scholars. This job gave Mrs. Manganello an opportunity to work with a number of sculptors, photographers, authors, and scholars including George Segal and Kiki Smith. In 1997, Mrs. Manganello entered the University of Pittsburgh where she earned a Masters degree in Art History. In Pittsburgh, while working as a museum docent and a teaching assistant, Mrs. Manganello realized how much she loved to teach. Instead of pursuing her doctorate in Italian Renaissance art, she left to find a position that combined her love for art, research, and teaching. She accepted a job as an art cataloger at Princeton University and spent nine years in the Visual Resources Library of the Department of Art and Archaeology. During this time, Mrs. Manganello also taught art history at Sussex County Community College. Her interest in research, an important part of art history, led her to the library. After graduating from Rutgers University with her Masters in Library and Information Science with a concentration in school libraries in 2006, Mrs. Manganello was hired by South Brunswick Schools. She has worked throughout our district moving to the high school in 2010. Of all her professional achievements, Mrs. Manganello is most proud of her selection as South Brunswick High School’s Teacher of the Year in 2015. Outside the library, Mrs. Manganello teaches a graduate course at Rutgers University on student engagement in the school library and presents annually at the New Jersey Association of School Librarians conference. She is also a happily married mother of two boys.
Q: Why did you choose your job? What did you major in undergrad, and why?
As my bio notes, I have always been looking for a way to combine my interest in research with my love for teaching and for me the school library has proved to be the best of both worlds. I love to read and share new books with my students, so that is an added bonus. While I don’t use my art history background directly in my day-to-day work at SBHS I definitely credit this experience with making me a skilled researcher. Plus, my knowledge of art just makes my life better! I love my job and really believe that being a school librarian is the best career in the world.
Q: How do you think young artists or writers can pursue their interests beyond the classroom?
I would encourage young artists and writers to read widely and to take in as many cultural opportunities as possible. Given the current restrictions placed on us by COVID-19, these experiences may look a bit different. Instead of visiting a gallery or museum, look for virtual opportunities to experience the arts. These might include livestreamed concerts, live talks with published authors and poets, as well as other online cultural events. There is so much out there to experience virtually that the arts have become a fantastic outlet for many during this difficult time.
Q: What advice would you give to young, aspiring artists/poets on pursuing their craft and magaging their mental health?
Don’t forget the power you have as art producers. Use this time when so much has been postponed and cancelled to dive deeper into your own creativity. The world will be a better place for it! By capturing your experiences and reactions to the pandemic you are doing the important work that artists have done for centuries, reacting to the times in which you live. Sharing your art with others, as you are doing with your online work, can offer you a supportive community in which to grow and thrive.
Saleena Davidson went to Kutztown University and got her B.S. in Education and went to Drexel University and got her M.S. in Information Science and Technology. She has worked for South Brunswick Public Library since June 1999, where she worked as a Children's Librarian for 3 years before moving into working with teens as of January 2003. She continue to work with teens, and as of 2015, her job officially expanded into also working with New Adults (ages 18-30). Though she had been working with college students & other alumni for years, the new job title made it official and has allowed for her to expand and budget for this group in addition to the teens. She has been President of the New Jersey Library Association Young Adult Section twice and served on the Executive Board in a number of capacities for almost 10 years, and now is simply an active member. She helped create and execute the New Jersey State Teen Advisory Board Council Summit, allowing teen councils from libraries to meet and learn from each other across the state.
Q: What was your undergrad major, and what were your motivations behind choosing your job?
I chose my job for two reasons; firstly because I am a reader and love books, so connecting readers to stories and encouraging them was exciting. Secondly, I wanted to be able to help create and maintain a safe space and to be the mentor many teens do not have but need, and also to help teens love the library as a fun place. When I began college, I actually was a music major, but after 2 years, I dropped out of college to figure out what I wanted for a career and spent a few years in the workforce before returning. My major for my undergraduate degree upon returning was Education, and I graduated able to teach grades K-12 as a school media specialist. I did not ever actively pursue a teaching career, but there are no undergraduate degrees for library work that aren't teaching degrees, so I took this degree as a step in the direction I wanted to go. My graduate degree enabled me to work in public libraries, which is what I was most interested in and that degree is in Information Science and Technology (the modern equivalent of a Library Science degree).
Q: How do you think young creators can pursue their craft outside of their classes?
I think anyone can pursue their interests by finding others who share their passion. For some, it is teaching what they love (we had a Teen Art Club, created & run by teens for about 4 years, and look forward to beginning it again after Covid). For others, it is finding others who care about similar subjects and sharing it (like a writing group, or sketch comedy acting group or really anything). Finding those connections for teens outside of school can be difficult for those who aren't able to join school clubs for whatever reasons, so having other options (like at a rec center or a public library) is a great way for teens to explore and discover the arts in a less stressful, non-competitive environment.
Q: Any advice for young, aspiring artists and writers on managing their mental health and pursuing their craft?
My advice to young artists, and indeed anyone is to find and feed your passions. Even if you cannot afford to be a full-time writer/singer/dancer/artist (etc. etc); you can make time to enjoy it. You can write stories and share them online or with friends. You can draw or dance or sing even if you aren't as good as a professional, you just need to enjoy it and make time for it. Sometimes, you CAN make a career at it; but regardless of whether you even wanted to, practice makes everyone better and you will see yourself improve and that growth will inspire you and feed your self confidence. The arts are a unique gift and that gift is better if shared. Find people to share it with and make time for yourself to practice it and you will see benefits in all areas of your life.