Interview with Author Amy J. Schultz 

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author Amy J. Schultz, an author and award-winning photographer, about her writing and her recently released book, Mumentous, an intriguing guide to the world of homecoming mums that brings together history and fantastical stories to paint a vivid picture of the tradition. (Read the review here.)

Amy J. Schultz is an author and award-winning photographer who explores unique aspects of modern culture that hide in plain sight.

Amy and her husband Brian live in Texas with their gigantic golden retriever, Bentley. When she isn’t talking about homecoming mums, Amy is writing, taking photos, working with clients on creative projects, traveling, snort-laughing, or vacuuming up dog fur. MUMENTOUS is Amy’s first published book, which was nurtured during her tenure as Artist-in-Residence at the Arlington Museum of Art in Arlington, TX.

Twitter: N/A

Instagram: @txhocomum and @unplainjanestudio

Facebook: @txhocomum and @amy_unplainjane

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At what point did you know your interest in mums needed its own project, a full book, dedicated to their cultural impact?

The first time I took photographs of a group of women making mums together, I knew there was something there. This particular group was making mums to sell as a gigantic fundraiser for the local high school marching band. Several things struck me. First, not every woman was good at crafting, but everyone found a way to contribute to the cause (including me; I cut ribbon into equal lengths). Second, although the women were very different from one another, they all were there to support a student who meant a lot to them. Noteworthy (to me, anyway) was that not a single band member, student, or man was involved in the herculean effort, which instead fell entirely on moms, aunts, grandmothers, and other adult women.

Then there were the feelings I experienced, which I didn’t expect. The camaraderie was palpable as the group pulled together for a common goal. It had the vibes of a barn raising or quilting bee from generations past. Because the group was made up entirely of women, there was also something sorority-like about the scene, and it took me back to my own college years of staying up half the night in the chapter room with my sisters, getting decorations ready for bid day or Parents Weekend or the homecoming parade.

These loosely-connected impressions came together after I showed my photographs to a mentor. Her feedback was that I had something, but probably only 10% of something. In that moment I was clear I had a photography project on my hands. When I knew I had a full book came later when the scale of it all truly sunk in. Women, whether in groups or individually, were making mums for kids every single year, in every town, all over the state of Texas. Women, not kids, were—are—keeping the tradition alive, because that’s what women do. And Texas is a really, really big place.

Your background is in photography. What was it like to embark on a writing project, supported by your photography but fully fleshed-out in its own right? Did you enjoy the process?

I loved everything about the process.

One of my greatest joys in taking a photograph is that photography slows me down. It heightens my observation skills, and it connects me with the world in meaningful ways. Sometimes details become the center of attention, and other times something in the peripheral becomes unexpectedly substantial. Doesn’t this sound like the essence of character development? In this way, I find photography and writing to be similar.

It was incredible to work on a creative project with no deadline. I had time to take it slow, take it all in, and not jump over anything just to reach a conclusion. My mantra was to stay curious: look, listen, learn, and write until the whole story was told.

Starting with photography, therefore, was a natural first step for me, but because I had time to be curious, I found myself wanting to know more and more and more. I’d ask the girl (or boy) wearing the mum (or garter) to tell me about it. More often than not, the stories were surprisingly personal. My curiosity piqued further when I started meeting and talking with women who make and sell homecoming mums as well as entrepreneurs in the flower and mum supply business. After awhile, I realized I was taking fewer photos and more notes.

While there wasn’t a particular date on the calendar, I did creatively arrive to a point that all visual artists can relate to: I realized that I had a collection. Everyone’s definition is probably different, but to me, a collection is a body of work that is substantial enough to touch on both the big ideas as well as the useful nuances of a subject matter. As it was with my photographs, when I started to see the collections within my writing, I knew I was heading in the direction of a book.

How did you decide which anecdotes to use in the book, and which photographs to pair them with?

Throughout the book, I employ narrative, personal experience, and my own research to build a story arc based on the book’s major themes. I chose anecdotes based on their strength in illustrating the themes.

Still, I’ve heard a lot of great stories, and it was tough to know when to say when. That’s why I included the chapter called, “My Mum Story.” The chapter consists of three paragraphs and four blank pages. It’s my invitation to the reader to write in their own experiences, opinions, and memories about their homecoming mum (or lack thereof). If I’ve learned one thing throughout this experience, I’ve learned that no conversation about a tradition is complete until everyone gets a turn to share.

In 2019, the Arlington Museum of Art exhibited close to 60 of my “mumentous” photographs, and it was during that time that I gave each photo a name. The majority of my writing happened after that exhibition. When the manuscript became a book, the names I gave to the photographs (which you see as captions under each) in 2019 helped me pair them with the finished chapters in 2023.

Although you are not originally from Texas, Mumentous seems to be a testament to your commitment to and appreciation of the Lone Star State’s culture. What originally drew you to Texas, and once there, what convinced you to stay?

Like many Texas transplants, I moved to the Lone Star State because of work. In my case, my husband’s company was acquired by a Texas-based company, so we moved from St. Louis, MO to the Dallas area and he’s been working for them ever since. I’ve worked in several communications and marketing roles, which is where I did quite a bit of writing, but never for myself until now. There have been many practical reasons we’ve lived in Texas for over twenty years—interesting work, healthy economy, favorable cost of living—but the best gifts to us from the Lone Star State have been the opportunities to experience so much unique and diverse arts and culture, and the truly meaningful friendships we’ve made.

Do you have a favorite mum you’ve ever encountered? Or at least, a mum that stuck out to you more than the others?

So many. I adored the origami mum that a mom created out of maps from important places in her daughter’s life. I was moved by the Black Lives Matter mum made by an African-American student, and that she was permitted to wear it to school on homecoming day, and that her classmates chose her as Homecoming queen. I was amazed by a gigantic Pacific Islander-inspired mum that was made out of artificial leis and grass skirts instead of traditional flowers and ribbons. But maybe the most memorable was a “Baby’s First Mum,” created as a gift for a newborn, that included ribbons from moms, grandmas and great-grandmas mums which had all been kept for a special occasion.

Mumentous is a love story not only to mums but also to the mothers and mother figures who create them. If there’s one thing you could say to all those mum-making moms out there, what would it be?

Is it tacky to quote myself? As I say in Mumentous: “Hold tight to your glue gun, Mom. The mums may well be worth it.”

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Mumentous?

For readers who are familiar with homecoming mums, I hope they enjoy learning the history of the tradition and that the anecdotes resonate with their own experiences. For those same readers, as well as those who are not familiar with the tradition, I hope they will appreciate my broader societal observations, including how team sports have become platforms for self-expression, women’s roles as tradition-keepers, and women-owned small businesses as drivers of our pop culture economy.

Bottom line. If it weren’t for women, we wouldn’t even be talking about homecoming mums.

What’s next for you?

There is another book in my brain! It’s too early to talk about, but it will be another sojourn into a uniquely-American tradition through my original photography and mostly-true stories.


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