Just as arts leader Su Byron says there are people far more deserving of their stories being told — she leaps into a colorful anecdote about herself that proves contrary.
When she was 19 years old, Byron moved to New York City to pursue life as a punk-poet by way of Lou Reed and Patti Smith. She lived in a $250-a-month rental in the East Village with no heat or hot water; its only amenity being a crazy lady who banged on the walls. She says she kept her hard-earned money in her plastic cowboy boots, and she used some of that money to buy a $35 fake Stratocaster guitar to lead her band, The Young Hemorrhage.
“I was a very bad,” she says, and then pauses to chuckle and revise her first thought, “no, I was an extremely bad guitar player.”
Back then, Byron couldn’t imagine what she’d become a few decades later.
“I really wanted to be a rock star,” she says, then jokes: “There’s still time.”
Though she didn’t become the next Godmother of Rock (yet), she’s a capable arts leader, freelance writer/editor and self-proclaimed wannabe poet with a life chock-full of great stories.
Byron is responsible for the press and coverage of more than 10 arts organizations in town, from Artist Series Concerts to Art Center Sarasota. Before that, she supported the arts with the now-defunct Sarasota Arts Review, an arts tabloid that, after 10 years, ended with a monthly circulation of more than 25,000.
Finding her beat
Byron was born a wanderer. Until 1986 when she was 30 years old, she didn’t spend more than a few years living in a place.
She first came to Sarasota to live temporarily when she was 19. Her dying mother lived with Byron’s grandfather, who had a seasonal home here. Byron came to share her mother’s final days, and after she died, Byron moved to the East Village in Manhattan.
For six years, she dabbled in the punk scene doing readings that lasted till 5 a.m. She lived the starving artist’s life, back when it was still cheap enough to survive as an artist in a big city.
She always worked hard; it’s part of her character. Back then it was as a cook at a vegetarian restaurant. Semblances of that life are still apparent: She loves to cook and has an “almost vegetarian” diet, occasionally eating fish.
She moved to Paris to pursue a linguistics opportunity in an exchange program through Hunter College. Byron wound up staying for three years teaching English — a surprisingly lucrative job in France. She gives nods to those three years by occasionally addressing emails to “Ma Cherie.”
Of course, there are plenty of off-the-record, exciting stories associated with each wandering step her Chuck Taylor sneakers took. Some, you wouldn’t believe.
Like how she ended up back on the Gulf Coast to work the midnight shift as a fact-checker at the St. Pete Times. And how at that job, she flew through the back windshield of a new reporter’s car; he had accidentally hit her when reversing.
“I didn’t even think to sue them,” Byron says. She’s not the suing type (even though it’d make for a great pun).
She still blames forgetful notions or moments when the right word can’t come to mind on the head injury. To recoup from the trauma, she moved into her grandfather’s old home in Sarasota. After she healed, she took a job writing obituaries for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. She never got to write exciting obits, she says, but occasionally they’d let her write for other beats, such as weather.
“I had imagined working my way up to executive editor, and I had very romantic notions about it,” she says.
She even wrote a screenplay about an obit writer sitting in a newsroom imagining all the things she was going to do.
Her next chapter and step toward becoming that executive editor started when she met Marty Fugate through a mutual friend.
Both writers, Byron and Fugate had a knack for all things literary — he with sci-fi and she with poetry. The best friend-writing duo started “WHA?” — a literary magazine — in 1989. More than 100 people attended its launch party at the Historic Crocker Church. By 1990, it changed its name to “Sarasota Arts Review.”
Both of them were immersed and saturated in the arts scene. Both had a similar vision of what it could become. They saw the arts scene as having too much emphasis on what Byron calls “the h” — as in the aristocratically pronounced, blue-blooded “ah-rts.”
They hoped to take out the “h” and write about all arts — even the lowbrow blues-and-pub scene. They operated the approachable tabloid out of sculptor Jack Dowd’s building, the pink one adjacent to Bijou Café.
“We had 10 years of complete fun,” she says. “We were dedicated to it.”
Finding her home
They closed the magazine because other news formats started catering to the arts. But she stayed close to the scene doing marketing and PR for the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, then the Arts Council.
It’s appropriate that her office space today, where she operates Su Byron Enterprises, is within the Arts Alliance’s office space. The once punk-rock poet has finally settled somewhere, and she says it’s good to have a home.
She spends her daytime writing press releases for art venues such as Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art; editing Ringling College’s magazine, “Context”; writing articles for magazines; and doing other freelance writing.
It’s only during her evenings gorging on Netflix TV shows with her best friend and cohort for the past 25 years, Fugate, that she thinks about writing for herself again. She imagines writing scripts that can be shown on Sarasota stages; something new and different, something h-less.
And if the adage “write what you know” applies, her future words will be far from boring.
“I haven’t really stopped writing,” she says. But to get back to it, she says she needs a little cognac and space to fully submerge inside of it and lose herself.
“I’ll get back to it,” she says. “Mark my words.”
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