What We Do in the Hollows

poetry by Renée K. Nicholson
illustrations by Sally Jane Brown

Launching in Fall, 2024


Still: The Journal asked the collaborators of the forthcoming cryptid-themed, illustrated poetry book to tell us more about their project and their processes.

Renée K. Nicholson:   What We Do In the Hollows originally began as a way to keep writing while managing a complex convergence of circumstances: a work situation that was becoming less and less sustainable, the COVID pandemic, and the polarizing political situation. I was influenced by my friends at Barrelhouse, who put out a cryptid-themed version of their literary journal. I started the title poem, cribbing the idea from the television show, What We Do in the Shadows, which follows the un-lives of a group of vampires. I started imagining what many of West Virginia’s cryptids might do in our current situations.

Because I didn’t have a lot of time for writing, these poems represented the writing I could fit in, and even the rough drafts felt satisfying in a creative sense. I write in multiple genres, but poetry is often where I take the most creative risks. I didn’t really have big ideas for the poems until collaborating with Sally Jane Brown on projects for work. Being a working artist, Sally and I often talked about our creative pursuits, and sharing the poems with her felt really natural—an extension of our ongoing work together. I’d never really seen my work come to life through illustration, except for book covers, and seeing the representations alongside the text really opened up what the poems could be. I’m excited to see what other projects we might collaborate on in the future.

Sally and I decided to make a small book—we like to think of it as a small batch original—to share our work together. The Hollows project might open up to some other ideas, or even expand. We don’t know yet, but we’re open to how this project might lead us to others. 

Sally Jane Brown:   
I was so excited to read Renée’s poetry and then get to illustrate it!!

My artistic process with illustrating this book was to hone in on the objects and environment and consider them with contemporary and pop culture, then imagine a scene with those references. I might look up the monster's image in the process, and/or other images for inspiration. Then I'll decide if I want to paint it or purely draw it. My process is pretty raw because I love the tradition of pen to paper. Once I saw the images with the poems, I added some little illustrations and moved around a few things thanks to the designer. It was a truly fun project!

High resolution gallery
(all images used with permission of the authors)
Renée K. Nicholson is the author of Fierce and Delicate: Essays on Dance and Illness, co-editor of the award-winning anthology Bodies of Truth: Personal Narratives of Illness, Disability, and Medicine, and the poetry collection Roundabout Directions to Lincoln Center. She directed the Humanities Center at West Virginia University until 2024, and is a creative partner in Healthcare Is Human, a nonprofit dedicated to authentic storytelling in healthcare.  Renée is a contributing writer for Synapsis: a Journal of Health Humanities, and the author of many creative pieces and scholarly articles. Renée was a past Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State-Altoona, the recipient of the 2018 Susan S. Landis Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts from the West Virginia Division of Arts, Culture, and History, and the 2022 Prize for Prose from The Nassau Review. 

Sally Jane Brown is an artist, curator, and writer. Her award-winning drawing, painting and performance, explores womanhood, motherhood, and the body. She has exhibited and curated nationally and in England. She has participated in artist residencies in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Argentina. Her work is featured in public art and collections. She won two Nebraska Book Awards for illustrating Leaves of Absence and Intimates and Fools. Her writing has been published in Hyperallergic and Artslant, among others. She holds a bachelor's in studio art and two master’s in public administration and art history. She currently serves as Curator for West Virginia University Libraries.


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