Women of Charlottesville

Highlighting the unique and diverse amazing women of Charlottesville, VA.

Debby Prum

Allow me to introduce you to Debby. Her talent is multi-faceted, and she oozes creativity! She is an accomplished author and has many published books. She plays several instruments and has most recently begun painting! She has a huge passion for bringing people of all ages together to collaborate creatively. I’ve heard stories of her fantastic jam sessions held in her home–but have yet to experience one. Her energy is high and very contagious. Sitting down to interview her was such a treat! Enjoy her interview!

us: So, Debby, tell us a little bit about yourself . . .

her:  I’m a person who’s very interested in creativity and collaboration. I love to write. I love to work with other writers. I’m in a critique group with the group other writers–it’s more like a guild. I also do improv. It’s a fun collaboration because you have to work with people from all walks of life. You have to be on your feet and come up with something together to present to an audience. I also love to collaborate with people with music. I really enjoy bringing people together for concerts or to jam, in our house. I also enjoy having an outlet of painting because that’s kind of a solitary activity. It allows me to express myself in a different way that’s not words or music. I really just love creating!

us: What did you have for breakfast this morning?

her: Oatmeal

us: Does pineapple belong on pizza?

her: Never! Oh my gosh–no!

us: Do you sleep in your socks?

her: No–I’m an active sleeper. It would just be too much restraint!

us: What’s your go-to midnight snack?

her: If I have to eat something, I’ll eat a banana–but generally nothing. If I am still up at 3 am, I will have some hot chocolate or warm milk in the hopes that it will help me fall asleep.

Some of Debby’s published work.

us: Mountains or beach?

her: I love both! I love going to the beach with women friends. I love to go to the mountains with my family. Which is why I’m so glad we live in Virginia, because we have access to both!

us: Current favorite song?

her: I love the song “All About the Bass” by Meghan Trainor–I love the message it delivers.

Debby in her office playing her banjo.

us: Salty or sweet?

her: Both! I don’t like choosing. But, chocolate above all else!

us: Pet peeve?

her: I have a bunch, but the most current one is people not taking the time to figure out what’s true and what’s not true. That’s my biggest one right now.

us: Room entrance song:

her: The Rocky theme song: “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti.

us: Favorite place you’ve traveled to?

her: One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been–this may seem bizarre–it’s an in the industrial section of Paris, France. It’s a children’s museum. My son and I decided to go there because figured we’ve seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower, we wanted to see something that we’d never seen before and would never see again, so, we went to this museum. It was the most wonderful museum because it’s the French perspective of science–so a different perspective than what we were accustomed to. We walked in and everything was so different! For example we walked into one room, and you put on earphones and one of the things we listened to was the sound of rabbits dreaming. You know, it was just the most ethereal, gorgeous thing! The kind of science I love. They incorporated the beauty and the wonder of the world. So it was completely out of the blue decision to go there–we took a train all the way out and had a lovely day.

us: What’s your favorite room in your house?

her:  Boy, I love this room (family room) because it’s full of bookshelves and books. But then, I love my study because I can write in there. And sometimes, while I’m writing to put my brain in a different place, I’ll take out an instrument and play. I also love my art studio downstairs. I’m sorry it’s three rooms!

us: Who has been the most influential woman in your life?

her: Well, if it were a year ago, I would say watching Meryl Streep and all that she has done. Right now, I am so in awe of Fiona Hill and Marie Yovanovitch. The courage that they both have shown. The courage under fire and their persuasive and articulate response to threats and pressure. So, I think, those three women.

us: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

her:  Well, it was a collaborative thing–it wasn’t just me. I had another career in Health and Human Services and program planning. I was on the faculty at Dartmouth Med School after graduate school. One of my jobs was to track injuries and deaths nationwide and figure out ways to intervene. The state of New Hampshire asked us to study why their pediatric population had such a high rate of death and injury. So, I collaborated with a group of experts to set up a research program to identify the cause–which was car accidents, poisonings and fire. We were able to set up a three-part intervention–one was hazard modification. We were able to get car seat loan programs started all over New Hampshire. We also had public information education and helped people understand that they needed to restrain their kids and themselves. And, then the third thing we did was legislation. We helped get three laws passed–a seatbelt law, a car seat law and then another one having to do with fires. The thing I’m most proud of with all of this is that within a year or two–there were about 12 kids a year getting killed in car crashes, and we got it down to zero or one for five or six years in a row. It really made a difference–just putting your your child in a car seat or putting a seatbelt on.

Debby’s art studio.

us: If you could give your younger self a single piece of advice, what would it be?

her:  Pay attention to what you’re passionate about, and, believe in yourself. Listen to the positive voices–not the negative ones. I think I did that but I would definitely want to have done it more. For example, I thought I wanted to go into medicine–but I was also totally enamored with the written word. And, I kind of wish–I don’t regret the other stuff I did that was health and
medicine related– but, I wish I’d paid attention to writing, painting, and theater earlier on. I wish that I’d had the confidence to throw myself into that other stuff earlier on.

us: Can you tell us about a challenge that you’ve overcome?

her:  Improv. Improv is a terrifying thing, because you have to be prepared for anything. I have done a fair amount of public speaking in my life–I’ve given sermons and talks and also taught at writing conferences, and I teach classes–and I pretty much write every single word on a notecard. With improv, you go out with five other people and you stand in front of a group, and you don’t know what the next hour is going to be like. You have to make up the next hour on the basis of a word that someone shouts out at you. Initially, I didn’t want to do this; I had a friend who dragged me into it. She pestered me till I finally did it. And, it’s really been amazing because it helps you trust yourself and trust the people around you. To throw yourself into a creative endeavor that requires collaboration, and trust that the results are going to be good. Sometimes, the show is not great, but you roll with it and sometimes it’s magical! And the thing about improv is, “in theory”, nothing’s ever recorded–nothing ever happens again. So you can’t hang on to it, which is kind of a good thing, I think. The other thing is, it teaches you not to fear failure. I think we all struggle with fearing failure. For me, every time I paint something that I really love a lot, it takes me a while to paint again because I’m so wrapped up about wanting to pain something that I feel as happy about. Improv requires facing that fear of failure every time.

us: Where do you find your inspiration?

her: I find it in every day experiences–mostly with people. For example, I’ll walk into the gym, and I’ll see someone flexing their arms–and I’ll think (because I’m delusional)–“I know that person’s twice my size and has huge muscles, but, I bet if I tried to arm wrestle them, I might win.” So then all of a sudden, I’ll remember back when I was at Dartmouth. I actually challenged my very tall ,very strong housemate to arm wrestle. And she refused, but I insisted. And then I couldn’t lift my arm for maybe like a month. But, I just saw somebody with muscles and paid attention to that. So it’s paying attention to details and then mining your brain for the story. It’s all from the little details–details in everyday life that you can create stories and essays.

Debby playing her mandolin.

us: Any embarrassing or funny nicknames we should know about?

her:  In elementary school I was called Peanut. My maiden name was Mazzotta. So, in high school I was known as Mutza-Matter. The kids would say, “What’s the Matter Mutza Matter?” because I was the co-editor of the school paper. I would pester everybody trying to get stories. When moved south from the north, and I lived in Durham my friends called me Queen or QB. My name is Deborah, and it means “Queen of the Bees.” My friend still writes postcards and says “Dear QB.”

us: Any hidden talents we should know about?

her: Because I’m small I can get under things and behind things that a lot of people can’t. It can come in handy.

us: What are you most thankful for?

her:  I am very thankful for good friends. My mom just turned 90, and my friends really showed up. About thirty-five of them came and helped celebrate. My mother loves musicals. So they sang songs from musicals. My friends–who are very good sports and who are all different ages–some of whom love musicals and some who had never heard of them in their life, sang along and showed up and talk to her and brought her little cards and gifts. When my dad died two years ago, my friends all helped put together his funeral. We had people playing music. People brought
flowers, and a friend designed the program. Another friend let us use his church. I am so I’m very grateful for my friends.

us: What is your favorite thing about living in Charlottesville?

her: I love Charlottesville. I think, because, we have all of the many of the benefits of living in a big city, and not as many of the detriments–for example, so many great people/artists come to town. I also love that the writers and musicians in town are accessible, lovely people. For example, Terry Allard is such a spectacular musician and she’s so approachable. I find there’s a generosity among writers in town that’s lovely. I know a fair number of younger writers–when I say younger I mean 30 to 40 years old–there is a generosity and non pretentiousness. I just started painting, and the people at the watercolor guild in town, even though I’ve hardly made any meetings–are extremely welcoming and I feel like if you’re a person interested in any of these things, it’s an open door rather than closed doors. I am so happy to be here! I absolutely persuaded my husband to come to an interview. We had just started living somewhere else and he didn’t want to move so soon. But, when he hung up, I started jumping up and down–and begged him to call back. I had only visited the town once, but I immediately fell in love with the place and knew I wanted to live here.

Thank you so much for sharing with us Debby!