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What inspires the creative process?

In Julie Burstein’s Spark, she reflects on the interviews she’s done with artists, writers, photographers, actors and playwrights on her Public Radio International (PRI) show Studio 360. Burstein distills some of the high points of these interviews to illustrate what drives the creative process among artists overall.

Each chapter reflects a different human experience as seen through an artist’s lens. It’s easy to understand how Stanley Kunitz, one of the Poet Laureates of the United States, finds inspiration in the natural beauty of his garden, but there are also stories of how creativity comes from traumatic experiences that are both poignant and uncomfortable.

For example, poet Donald Hall writes poems about his wife’s illness and death. Hall explains “I needed to put down my own grief…it is necessary for me to deal with my own feelings, to put them out there, to try to preserve the things I remember with a special delight and tenderness.”

Compare this with the sheer delight that musicians Robert Plant and Allison Krauss took from mixing their disparate music styles together to form something completely different — a Grammy-winning musical mash-up called Raising Sands.

And then there is the discipline of cellist Yo Yo Ma and novelist Isabel Allende. Ma begins every day by playing a Bach cello suite, which he learned when he was four years old. In playing the same piece, he explains “You see something familiar and yet different every day.” Allende, the author of over 20 books, begins a new work on January 8 every year, because a past letter to her grandfather, started on January 8, grew into her first novel, The House of the Spirits.

In each of us, there is a creative spark that springs from within. Most people are unaware where that creativity comes from. With these stories, we get a glimpse into what inspires others, and in so doing, perhaps we can discover what inspires each of us.