“The Joy Is In The Journey”: A Biography of Sunnylyn Thibodeaux

The future holds . . . the sun rising despite the moon or the fog, those big blue eyes wide when the world says hello. The future is the poem and the poem, the future. There isn’t one without the other in my view. I am a poet; I see everything as the poem.(Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 11 Feb. 2011 sec. 6)

Alfonse Femino

Brittany Foley

Francesca Richardson

Malden High School AP Literature

Ryan Gallagher

15 February 2011

An Introduction

Brittany Foley

          Sunnylyn Thibodeaux, American-born poet and publisher, was born on August 17, 1975. Thibodeaux grew up in Louisiana and later moved to San Francisco, California, where she lives with her husband, fellow poet and publisher, Micah Ballard. Thibodeaux developed an interest in writing and poetry young, and by age fifteen had placed in a contest at her high school for her work. Today, she runs a publishing company, Auguste Press, with her husband, and is a mother and published author, with her next book, Palm to Pine, soon to be released.

1. Early Life

Alfonse Femino

         Thibodeaux grew up in a suburb called River Ridge, located in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 4 Feb. 2011 sec. 7), attending Our Lady of Perpetual Help School from 1980 to 1989, and the Archbishop Chapelle High School ("Sunnylyn Thibodeaux."). She ponders whether her desire to print books began in high school when she was the copy editor for the yearbook (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 4 Feb. 2011 sec. 9).  

         During high school, Thibodeaux developed an interest in both history and language, which she chose to study while attending The University of Southern Louisiana from 1995 to 1998 (Thibodeaux, Email to Jessica Lucas). While at The University of Southern Louisiana, she majored in History, and minored in English, taking a workshop with the poet Luis Alberto Urrea (Thobodeaux, Email to Jessica Lucas).

2. Romantic Life

Francesca Richardson

        While attending The University of Southern Louisiana, Thibodeaux met her husband, Micah Ballard.  According to Thibodeaux, “[Ballard] sat behind [her] in Spanish class” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Jessica Lucas).  In August of 1999, the two were separated when Ballard moved to San Francisco to attend The New College of California. After being away from each other for a year, Ballard proposed to Thibodeaux and she moved to San Francisco in January of 2000. She too began to attend classes at The New College of California.  And on September 22, 2000, the two were married “barefoot and high on life” on a beach in Maui (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Jessica Lucas).

Ballard has been Thibodeaux’s “best friend and collaborator in life” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Jessica Lucas) along with being one of her greatest influences. The two have worked on many projects together, publishing over twenty books and several magazines together (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley). Sharing this affection for poetry, they often introduce new poets and texts to each other, and even have some similar references in their individual poetry. Being so influenced by each other, Thibodeaux refers to moments where she catches herself recognizing a phrase from a poem of his as being something she has once said, or vice-versa (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Jessica Lucas).  

          When asking Thibodeaux of some significant influences to her poetry, she made it clear that her husband, Micah Ballard was one of her greatest influences. Her move to San Francisco is what made her grow in her poetic life, but without her husband this would have never been possible. She explains how “Without him and this life [they] live in verse, [she] wouldn’t be the writer [she is] today” (E-mail to Brittany Foley).

3. Louisiana to San Francisco

Alfonse Femino

Thibodeaux mentioned that her work was naturally influenced after the move to San Francisco, because she was surrounded by “like-minded people,” admitting that she could no longer “stray from the poetic thought process as quickly as [she] could back home,” though it lacked a certain “southern hospitality” that was present in Louisiana, which has recurring images for her “from the neutral grounds to the Crepe Myrtle,” and the “humidity of the storm clouds”  (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley).  After time and transition, however, the people she met in San Francisco turned out to be genuine and interesting. Thibodeaux explains that she feels a sense of “freedom” because every person seems to have some kind of interest in the arts, so she does not feel isolated as an artist (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley).

4. Auguste Press  

Brittany Foley

          In August of the year 2000, Auguste Press, an independent publishing company, was founded by Thibodeaux and Ballard, who wedded only a month after.  Thibodeaux was stirred to start Auguste Press by Blue Books, a bookstore that she believes offered its customers the “best small press poetry collection in San Francisco” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley). Captivated by the idea of “all those poets with their small books out there in the world waiting for someone to read them,” Thibodeaux took it upon herself to publish her own works, and so came the birth of Auguste Press, a dream brought to life by her and Ballard upon the inspiring existence of Blue Books: the “treasure chest full of the creative endeavors of poets young and old” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley).

          Thibodeaux’s and Ballard’s productivity as a publishing team is notable, particularly for its independent nature of function: “Over 10 years we’ve published 13 books and just at the end of 2008 we started an offshoot called Lew Gallery Editions, with those we’ve printed 14 and plan to do a good handful more” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 4 Feb. 2011 sec 4).  Some poets that they have published include Jason Morris and Kevin Opstedal, whose poems, “Ozone in the Winter” and “Shimmer,” strongly reflect Thibodeaux’s own style of writing with their unconventional layouts and references to specific individuals such as “the Flower Lady” (Opstedal, line 1). In addition to publishing books of individual poets’ works, Auguste Press has also published two magazines: “The Night Palace” and “Morning Train” (Auguste Press).

          While the styles of the works of the other poets they publish all seem to reflect those of Thibodeaux and Ballard, the imaginative viewpoints of the Auguste Press’s editors are embedded elsewhere in the cooperation. On the very homepage of the Auguste Press website exists a link to a list pairing their and their clients’ poems with certain spirits, only emphasizing the influence of food and drink on Thibodeaux’s work (Auguste Press). The website’s homepage also features an audio clip from the 1971 film, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” starring the acclaimed Gene Wilder; upon entering the site, it plays several lines sung by Wilder at one point in the movie:

There's no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There's no knowing where we're rowing
Or which way the river's flowing
Is it raining? Is it snowing?
Is a hurricane a-blowing?
Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of hell a-glowing?
Is the grisly reaper mowing?
Yes, the danger must be growing
'Cause the rowers keep on rowing
And they're certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing!

          Thibodeaux admits that while she understands the lyrics are “grim,” she still finds them “hilarious,” elaborating that “the joy is in [one’s] journey” through life and that she believes the piece ironically encourages an optimistic view of the world with its “total mockery of…woe” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 4 Feb. 2011 sec 4). Her incorporation of this track on the Auguste Press website represents the very essence of her work and of so much of the works those affiliated with Auguste Press, “nonetheless exploring the poetic journey of life” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 4 Feb. 2011 sec 4).

5. Thibodeaux and Culinary Influence

Brittany Foley

          In addition to poetry, Thibodeaux also boasts experience with the culinary world. According to her book, Palm to Pine, Thibodeaux has “managed a handful of restaurants” in San Francisco (87).  Just as Thibodeaux has a “fondness for pairing food and wine” with each other (Palm to Pine 87), she enjoys pairing poetry with food and wine. While managing one restaurant, Thibodeaux taught food and wine pairing (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 11 Feb. 2011 sec. 4). The website for her and her husband’s publishing company, Auguste Press, even features on its homepage a link to a list pairing countless poems with various spirits.

          Thibodeaux credits food as both “a curse… and a blessing at the same time” in regards to her artistic productivity (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 11 Feb. 2011 sec. 4). The poet sometimes turns to cooking “when the poem isn’t coming to form,” viewing it as an alternate outlet for creativity, which she evidently values too much to even consider wasting (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 11 Feb. 2011 sec. 4). On the other hand, Thibodeaux considers the practice a “curse,” as it can just as easily drain her of “creative energy” that could be focused elsewhere (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 11 Feb. 2011 sec. 4). Thibodeaux says she “actually wrote less” due to her diverted attentions (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 11 Feb. 2011 sec. 4).  In fact, Thibodeaux believes food and drink to have such high artistic demand that she considers it “impossible” for the senses and language that surround it to not exist in the poem: “Think about it, with food you are using all of your senses and poetry is all about capturing that… there is the thing about food that always warrants company and what better company than a pen and paper” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 11 Feb. 2011 sec. 4).

          Thibodeaux claims that her responsibilities as a poet include “capturing moments and trying to nail down all that is particular about that moment in its happening” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 11 Feb. 2011 sec. 4). She views food and drink as details that help form stronger connections to these moments just as she views “a person in the room or a song playing in background” as potential moment-markers for her works (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 11 Feb. 2011 sec. 4). Thibodeaux uses her experiences in the culinary field as tools to enhance her reinventions of these moments in her poems.

6. Inspirations

Francesca Richardson

          Thibodeaux’s husband is not the only poet in her life that has great influence on her poetry and has inspired her. Living in San Francisco, Thibodeaux has been fortunate to be surrounded by other great poets. In many of her poems, especially the titles, she quotes lines that she has read or heard that she was mesmerized by (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley). Sometimes, she uses these lines as the titles of her poems and “put[s] them in quotes.” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley). John Coletti is a particular poet who is mentioned numerous times in her poetry; he is also a dear friend to Thibodeaux. In an email, she explains how Coletti is a “sentimental beast” and is “like a brother to [her].” Another poet that Thibodeaux holds very dear to her heart is Duncan McNaughton; he taught her many things, both in life and in poetry. Thibodeaux addresses how McNaughton knows her better than anyone else, and as a friend and fellow poet, he is always pushing her to go deeper into her writing(Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley).


7. Current Life

Francesca Richardson

         At this time in her life, Thibodeaux and her husband have been blessed with their first child, a baby girl, Lorca Manale Ballard, who was ”named after Federico Garcia Lorca” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley). Also in the same year, Thibodeaux’s first full length book Palm To Pine is being released. Now a mother, Thibodeaux admits it has been a great change to her “tuning” and promises “the pen is still gliding, and that’s all that matters” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 4 Feb. 2011 sec 6).  Her latest project is with Ballard, “a little collaborative book… a short little run for [their] friends” including poems and collages, evidence of this still-burning passion for poetics, as is her only definite goal to “wake up every day and be grateful... that [she has] found poetry” (Thibodeaux, E-mail to Brittany Foley 4 Feb. 2011 sec 6). Thibodeaux claims, “The future is the poem and the poem, the future. There isn’t one without the other in my view. I am a poet; I see everything as the poem.”


Works Cited

"ABHS." Archbishop Chapelle High School - Quality Catholic Education for Girls in the Metro New Orleans Area of Louisiana. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.

Ballard, Micah, and Thibodeaux, Sunnylyn. "Auguste Press." Index. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.

Du, Hillary, Samantha Johnson, Jessica Lucas, and Samantha Power. The Poetic Life of Micah         Ballard. Ryan Gallagher Presents: Malden High AP Literature Students and             Research on     Contemporary American Poets You Should Know. 26 Feb. 2010. Web.         8 Jan. 2011.

"Sunnylyn Thibodeaux." Www.classmates.com. Web.

Thibodeaux, Sunnylyn. “English Research Project.” E-mail to Jessica Lucas. 9 Sep. 2010.

----- Palm to Pine. Lowell: Bootstrap, 2011. Print.

-----"Research Project." E-mail to Brittany Foley. 12 Jan. 2011.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Dir. Mel Stuart. Perf. Gene Wilder. Paramount Pictures,  1971.  Film.

Picture citation:

Ballard, Micah. "Thibodeaux at Greenwood Cemetary in New Orleans, 2005."
Courtesy of Sunnylyn Thibodeaux.