Annie Hough went to grad school to study horticulture and came out a playwright. She talks with Ladyboss about taking an unconventional route, why sometimes a good cry is the best way to handle rejection, and the importance of representation through visibility.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I write plays for children about ecosystems. It’s really fun. I love being outside, gardening, and celebrating nature. I love seeing kids get excited about nature and theater and make friends through that. When it comes to pampering myself, I especially love getting a massage or getting my hair done. I have a small dog named Elmer who I adore. I share my life with a friend named Richard who’s great to have around. He’s handy, which is really helpful for a roommate.
How did you get involved in your work?
I was going to graduate school for horticulture. It hadn’t crossed my mind to write a play. I loved writing short stories and really loved hearing them read out loud, so it did make sense that I’d be good at writing plays.
During my time at graduate school there was an agency for artists with disabilities called VFA Arts. I won a grant from them, and they offered a scholarship for artists with disabilities to take a playwriting class. I wrote my first play then, which was semi-autobiographical. It was about a young woman who was going to school and had a lot of crazy interactions with people. It was well-received and produced at a few festivals. That gave me the idea that I’d like to write a play for the final project at the University of Minnesota. I had to jump through some hoops to get it done, but it was really fun. The play was about an apple maggot, and it was eventually performed in Detroit Lakes at the Holmes Theatre. My first big break!
That’s a pretty big jump to go from horticulture to writing plays. Did you have any inkling that you would become a writer when you were a kid?
I was a huge bookworm and still am. I didn’t think I’d be a writer when I was a kid, but when I went to college I realized I had a talent for writing and creating characters. It was definitely an interest of mine.
People don’t always take writing seriously as a career path.
Two of my plays were done in Australia about ten years ago. I was interviewed on TV and found if you’re on TV then and only then do people take you seriously, haha! I went to the gym and people would say, “I saw you on the news!” It was just a two minute thing, but it made a big impression. My dad was especially impressed.
Is that the moment you began to take yourself seriously?
I still don’t take myself too seriously. I try to just have as much fun as I can when I’m writing. When I research I’m very serious, and I take myself seriously then. It’s a different part of the brain when I’m researching and when I’m writing, but I’m just having fun.
I won a fellowship just a few months ago through Springboard for the Arts. I’d applied for a lot of fellowships and never won, and so winning a fellowship gave my confidence a huge boost.
How do you handle the ups and downs of a creative career?
It’s heartbreaking when you put a lot of time and effort into a project and get rejected. Sometimes I cry or call a loved one or friend to just vent. Then I’ll move onto the next project.
What is it like to write for children? Do you enjoy working with young people?
It’s really fun! When I first started, I used a lot of big and scientific words and a few kids loved it, but that can really alienate some kids. I’ve tried to maintain a high level of interest and intelligence, but without using those [inaccessible] words. I try to have fun and write things that appeal to the kid that lives in my brain.
It’s got to be a fun audience to write for.
I had one experience with teenagers, and they were not into it! But I love working with the kids that are super enthusiastic and want to play butterflies and run around.
This career comes with a whole lot of rejection. How do you handle rejection?
Like I said earlier, sometimes I just have to cry. I’ll get upset, maybe unfollow the agency that rejected me. Sometimes you have to throw a tantrum. Then I can let it go and focus on the next project.
How do you get yourself to keep going when you do get rejected?
I’ve had six plays performed that all got good feedback. I think about that and focus on the successes that I have had. I also really enjoy what I do, and I stay focused on that.
You’re also an active disability advocate. How did you get involved in that work and why is it important to you?
I had a traumatic brain injury when I was a teenager. I’ve been disabled since then and at first it was really hard to accept it. I did not advocate or even want to talk about being disabled. Over the years a lot of people have said, “It’s nice to see you out and about.” It’s condescending, but I know they mean well. I just try to be active and do what I enjoy doing. I go to the gym. I see plays. I just try to advocate by being visible and trying to be successful. I stay positive and strong, and try to not be deterred by small obstacles.
I love the idea of advocacy through visibility. There are a lot of diverse people in the world, and it’s important to see all kinds of people living their lives in our community.
I don’t see a lot of people with disabilities around [Fargo-Moorhead]. I hope when people see me out, they feel like it’s okay to also be a part of society in the same way.
Do you write about disabled characters?
A play that I’m working on now has a character in a wheelchair. Other than the play I wrote in graduate school, that’s the first play I’ve written with a disabled character. I think that’s because it was just really painful for me to be a kid with disabilities and never see myself in movies or plays or even books. A friend of mine asked recently, “Why don’t you use disabled characters?” And it dawned on me, it was because it was so painful. I realized I could empower kids who are disabled by using characters that are disabled. I can’t believe it took me until my seventh play to realize that!