Naomi Cohn is a writer and artist whose work explores reclamation. Her forthcoming book, The Braille Encyclopedia: Brief Essays on Altered Sight (Rose Metal Press, October 2024), explores midlife vision loss, learning braille, and re-learning to read and write as an adult. Her current work, involving both text and image, investigates and re-imagines her relationships with art-making and with the natural world. She’s also been the recipient of numerous other grants and artist residencies including a 2023 McKnight Artist Fellow in Writing and a Monson Arts Residency in April 2023. She now works as a creative guide and teaching artist in a variety of community settings through COMPASS (Community Programs in the Arts) and through her project, Known By Heart. A guest on unceded Dakota territory, she makes her home in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

What did being in Monson teach you about your own creative process? 

Being at Monson reminded me to embrace the totality of my creative process.  It affirmed that, for me, creativity involves embracing both solitude and creative company. Monson was the perfect setting to recognize it’s both a pleasure and a necessity to engage with others’ creativity. Also my time walking around interacting with the rest of the natural world is not just a break from my work, it’s inextricably entangled, in the best possible way, with my writing and art-making. Monson was an ideal context to reconnect with these creative truths.

While I miss the slate and the ravens and Lake Hebron in all its moods (not to mention Chef Lulu’s gingery congee on a raw day or the decadence of a General Store cream puff) my Monson residency continues to guide my work:

My writing space at home is full of bird sketches I did at Monson—pinned to homasote boards I installed after my residency. (What a revelation, that even as a writer, I might have things I want to pin to the wall.) Those birds call constantly to me to be true to my work, to show up for it, to follow the work where it needs to go. And my creative life continues to intertwine with several of the artists and writers I got to meet during my time at Monson. That kind of enduring connection feels like an extra gift.

What’s been your focus since you left Monson Arts?

Not long after my 2023 Monson residency, I got caught up in the whirlwind of rewriting my forthcoming book, The Braille Encyclopedia: Brief Essays on Altered Sight. The book is being published by Rose Metal Press in October 2024 and the inspiration of my time at Monson (coupled with the timely support of a 2023 McKnight Artist Fellowship in Writing, selected by judge Alexander Chee) emboldened me to engage in a radical rewrite, shifting a collection of linked prose poems into a memoir about adapting to vision loss and relearning to read and write as an adult, in a genre-fluid series of short prose pieces.  

I’m excited about this book coming out into the world…and looking forward, post-launch, to getting back to sketching and writing about the birds I got to obsess about during my time at Monson.

Name 3-5 writers, poets, artists, books, musicians, or visual works that continue to inspire you.

Lately, I’ve been very inspired by several books that explore our understanding, scientific and otherwise, of the natural world. In particular:

Zoe Schlanger-The Light Eaters: about plant behavior and intelligence

Ed Yong- An Immense World and his older book on the microbiome- I Contain Multitudes

Merlin Sheldrake- Entangled Life. About fungus and so much more.

On the visual art end:  I was bowled over by the visual artist Pacita Abad, whose work I experienced in a 2023 Walker retrospective here in Minnesota. Her creative exuberance was life-changing. Right now, there’s an exhibit of her work in New York City.  Don’t miss it if that happens to be in your geography.


Naomi Cohen’s studio