Actress, poet and Venice native Amber Tamblyn amplifies the female experience

By Christina Campodonico

Tamblyn’s “Dark Sparkler” explored the underbelly of fame through the eyes of women it destroyed
Photo by Katie Jacobs

If you came of age during the early 2000s, it’s hard not to feel like you grew up with Amber Tamblyn.

Playing the titular heroine of CBS’s short-lived but critically-acclaimed “Joan of Arcadia,” her character — a spirited teen who can talk to God — asked big questions of the Almighty, at the same time adolescents of the early ’00s were also questioning their places in a post-9/11 world.

As Tibby in “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” film franchise, she not only brought heart and soul to the messy life of an outcast teenager, but also shined a light on the anxiety of an unplanned pregnancy in the new millennium, where choice and ambition may weigh on a young woman’s mind more than social stigma.

Politically and artistically, Tamblyn continues tackling women’s issues. A vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, the 34-year-old actress, poet and new mom marched on Washington (while pregnant) during January’s global Women’s March and is currently working on a novel addressing rape culture.

Her latest book of poetry, 2015’s “Dark Sparkler,” explores the underbelly of fame through the eyes of actresses (including Marilyn Monroe) whose stars faded too soon — their lives snuffed out by tragedy, suicide or overexposure.

“I’m always interested — in any art that I do — in shedding light on the female experience, on any type of woman-identifying experience,” says Tamblyn, who grew up in Venice and counts the former poet laureate of San Francisco Jack Hirschman and the late L.A. poet Wanda Coleman among her writing mentors.

Tamblyn talks with journalist and music producer Pat Thomas at a Beyond Baroque-sponsored salon in the Venice Canals on Saturday.

 

What was it like growing up in Venice, and what attracted you to poetry? 

I was very fortunate to grow up around a lot of poets. My dad [Russ Tamblyn] is an actor, but also an artist. My mom’s a singer-songwriter and a teacher. And I really did sort of grow up in a very bohemian household with just a lot of artists around all the time. There was always somebody in my living room reading or singing or something like that.

I was influenced by Jack [Hirschman’s] writing and his ability to access his rage and his anger and really write about that. So my first poems when I was really young — when I was like 12, 13, 14 — were almost homages to Jack’s writing.

Some of the first readings I ever did were at Beyond Baroque. I’d read with Wanda [Coleman] all the time. My 21st birthday was at Beyond Baroque. So I go way, way back with them.

 

How did you get under the skin of iconic actresses for “Dark Sparkler”?

It wasn’t difficult for me as a poet to combine my experience [as an actress] with some sort of understanding of their experience, even though a lot of the women that I researched had some really, really terrible stories, obviously because they all died young. … I identified with their sense of ending. I kind of glamorized it from the outside looking in — like how  wonderful would that be ‘to cease’? And I don’t mean literally die. But meaning: wanting to cease, wanting to start over.

I just felt like the more I humanized [the actresses] and the women’s experience — especially in this business of being an actress — the more it might give some deeper understanding into what it’s like, and that’s all I was really looking for.

 

Was there a particular actress whose story stuck with you? 

I think Dana Plato’s was sort of a breaking point for me. Her story is, I think, the most painful. After I researched her, I took a break. I took a year break from the book.

When I wrote “Dark Sparkler,” I didn’t have a kid. I had always had … every single actress I know has had fears about having children because it can be career ending. That was my perception of it.

… And here’s an example of a woman who had a baby and then was fired from “Diff’rent Strokes,” back in the day before you could sue a network for doing something like that. And then she kind of went on this drug downward spiral …

How has motherhood changed your perspective? 

I don’t believe in God, and I also don’t not believe in God. I prefer to let it live in a place of not understanding it, knowing that there is a greater something, but not giving a name to it. I think it’s a very narcissistic human thing to do, to say that we know how the universe works.

That being said, having a child is as close to understanding what God is that I’ve ever come. And I think just having a kid — especially having a daughter — has made me even more of a feminist, but also more vindicated in knowing that my need to talk about women’s experiences and support other women and make sure that women’s art is seen is more vital to me now than it ever was before.

 

What’s inspiring you now?

I can’t possibly imagine something that inspires me more than this baby of mine. She’s pretty inspiring, I would say that. I look to her daily and I’m taught by her daily. … She’s a poem. She’s a literal, breathing, farting, pooping poem!

 

“Bohemia: A Venice Salon with Amber Tamblyn” happens at 7 p.m. Saturday at a private home in Venice (address provided to ticketholders). Tickets are $30 to $60, with proceeds benefitting Beyond Baroque. Search “Bohemia” at eventbrite.com to purchase.

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