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CU Boulder alum and retired director of HR pens best-selling poetry book

Zaneta Varnado Johns started writing poetry in the 1970s as a freshman at CU

Former CU Director of Human Resources Zaneta Varnado Johns, of Westminster, Colo., pictured in March 2021. Johns released her best-selling debut book “Poetic Forecast: Reflections on Life’s Promises, Storms, and Triumphs” in November 2020. (Jim Johns/ Courtesy photo)
Former CU Director of Human Resources Zaneta Varnado Johns, of Westminster, Colo., pictured in March 2021. Johns released her best-selling debut book “Poetic Forecast: Reflections on Life’s Promises, Storms, and Triumphs” in November 2020. (Jim Johns/ Courtesy photo)

Zaneta Varnado Johns had a long-lasting career at University of Colorado Boulder. During her nearly 30-year run as the senior assistant to the vice chancellor for administration and the director of human resources, she kept notebooks packed with personal writings.

Zaneta Varnado Johns, author of best-selling book “Poetic Forecast: Reflections on Life’s Promises, Storms, and Triumphs.” (Leif Elsmo/ Courtesy photo)

In November 2020, her debut book “Poetic Forecast: Reflections on Life’s Promises, Storms, and Triumphs” was released and by December it had reached the coveted status of No. 1 best-seller in a slew of Amazon categories including “Contemporary Poetry” and “Black and African American Poetry.”

Some pieces — such as the declaration of ambition “I Want to Make It” — date back to the 1970s when Johns was an undergrad at CU. She credits seeing poet and activist Nikki Giovanni speak on campus as the aha moment that sparked her interest in pursuing the art form.

The collection of emotion-filled poems — recounting trials and tribulations — is just as much an offering meant to inspire, comfort and encourage readers as it is an intimate look back at the people and places that shaped the author.

The varied collection that’s separated into nine different sections named after a corresponding weather prediction such as “Partly Cloudy” or “Isolated Showers,” is, in a sense, a lyrical journal that shows the poet at various stages of her life, disperses wisdom and evokes empathy for fellow humans.

In “Spiritual Reset,” she examines the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic and calls on others to practice a self-examination of sorts and reach out to their neighbors.

In “What Matters,” she elegantly addresses the importance of respecting and supporting each other regardless of differences in race, background, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.

She is also one of 40 female writers included in the No. 1 international best-selling book “Voices of the 21st Century: Resilient Women Who Rise and Make a Difference.”

While many in-person readings have been halted due to the pandemic, Johns is staying busy with virtual events.

On March 27, Johns will lead a discussion and workshop as part of The Poet’s Connection Zoom event “See Yourself in Others: Celebrate Them, Celebrate You.”

April 3, she will participate in the Black Authors Virtual Expo via Instagram. April 12, she will be a panelist as part of Coffee Table Talk that will be uploaded to YouTube.

On May 15, from 1 to 3 p.m., Johns will do a presentation and book signing at Treasures Upscale Consignment in Lafayette.

We caught up with the Westminster-based poet to find out more about her debut release, upcoming projects and what she hopes readers take away from her powerful words.

The cover of “Poetic Forecast: Reflections on Life’s Promises, Storms, and Triumphs” by Zaneta Varnado Johns. (WSA Publishing/ Courtesy photo)

Daily Camera: Congrats on “Poetic Forecast” becoming an Amazon Best Seller. How does it feel to have your debut book reach this status?

Zaneta Varnado Johns: Having “Poetic Forecast” achieve its bestseller ranking feels wonderful and validating. When I published the book, my intention was to simply put light into the world, especially as we experienced fear and uncertainty. When the book reached the top 100 Hot New Release in several categories, I couldn’t sit still. Then to see it rise to No. 1 best-seller and No. 1 Hot New Release on Amazon felt like God was saying, “Trust me . . . I told you.” I’m glad I was obedient in publishing my book. I’m humbled and thankful that my obedience paid off.

DC: I understand “Poetic Forecast” includes your writings from 1976 up until present day. Throughout your years working at CU in Human Resources did you write daily on the side? I’m curious to know more about your process.

ZVJ: I wrote my first poem after seeing Nikki Giovanni on campus in 1975 or 1976. Ms. Giovanni was my inspiration for capturing my poetic musings on paper. As a shy young girl from Hammond, La., I was excited to see a Black woman unapologetically owning her words. Her bold example led to my poetic contribution to our literary footprint. Most of the poems in “Poetic Forecast” were written while I worked at CU, from my days as assistant to the vice chancellor for administration, through my departure as the Human Resources director in March 2008. During my time in human resources, I believe I wrote more policy drafts than poems, but I did write poetry continually. Many of the tribute poems in the book were written while I was in human resources, an interesting fact given my occupational focus on people.

I write sporadically — whenever I need to process intense emotions or when my poetic thoughts are too loud to ignore. I often pray before writing, especially when I intentionally celebrate a person or event. When COVID-19 arrived in spring 2020, I specifically asked God to give me words to describe our grim situation. I woke up the next morning and wrote “Spiritual Reset.” After sharing an audio/video of that poem online, I received insistent feedback to share more of my writing. It was encouraging. The stillness of our mandatory shelter-in-place allowed me to hear my inner voice, which led to new poems and the ultimate publication of “Poetic Forecast.”

Westminster-based poet Zaneta Varnado Johns holds up her two books. (Zaneta Varnado Jones/ Courtesy photo)

DC: How did you get involved with the other literary project “Voices of the 21st Century: Resilient Women Who Rise and Make a Difference” and what’s the most rewarding aspect of being a part of this publication?

ZVJ: At the encouragement of my sister-in-law, Janet Sawyer, I joined the Women Speakers Association (WSA) in June 2020. WSA is a global platform with a myriad of resources to support women speakers. As a co-author in last year’s and the current “Voices of the 21st Century,” Janet also recruited me to contribute to this year’s fourth edition, given that poetry was not previously included. What is most rewarding about this project is that my poem, “What Matters,” is featured as the dedication page at the front of the book. I am honored that WSA CEO and founder Gail Watson introduced my poem: “Dedicated to resilient women everywhere, the following poem by Zaneta Varnado Johns captures the essence of this book.”

I am also pleased that my chapter, “Invisible No More,” shines light on my poetry and the compassion of an essential services worker at the Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando. A gravely ill COVID-19 patient credits Rosaura Quinteros with saving his life. As she cleaned his room, she spoke about faith and family, encouraging him not to give up. Ms. Quinteros knew what matters and is certainly not invisible.

DC: Are you currently working on other projects?

ZVJ: Now that I’m active with the poetry community, I have submitted poems for inclusion in poetry publications. “What Matters” and three other poems from “Poetic Forecast” will be featured in upcoming issues of “Fine Lines,” a quarterly international journal. I have also submitted new works for consideration in other literary projects.

I am working on an outline for my next book of poetry; I expect to publish this book toward the end of 2021. I also plan to contribute to the fifth edition of “Voices of the 21st Century,” publish date February 2022.

Deeply moved by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, I wrote a poem to honor her. My goal is to directly share this tribute with her, as these divine words from God are about her, not me. I will of course include this poem in my next book.

In 2000, I created the framework for a line of greeting cards that I will hopefully launch by 2022, whether as a solo artist or in partnership with a greeting card company.

The cover of “Voices of the 21st Century: Resilient Women Who Rise and Make a Difference.” Zaneta Varnado Johns is one of 40 women writers included in the collection. (WSA Publishing/ Courtesy photo)

DC: What do you hope readers take away from “Poetic Forecast?”

ZVJ: The first takeaway is for readers to see and hear how God works in my life. I share my heart and vulnerability in hopes that others will own their stories and experience the emotions triggered by mine. I believe that every word shared is an opportunity to love. If “Poetic Forecast” inspires others to show empathy and compassion, I believe we will be one step closer to helping and celebrating each other. We will be one step closer to realizing what matters.

I also want to encourage upcoming poets. Just as Nikki Giovanni inspired me, I want to be that inspiration for someone else. I want to inspire people to never give up on their dreams. At 63, I achieved No. 1 best-selling author and No. 1 international best-selling co-author within three months.

I received a personalized handwritten thank you note from Nikki Giovanni. I sent her a copy of “Poetic Forecast” to say thank you for inspiring me. I will forever treasure her response.


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