Saturday night began with Improvilooza! TLA’s executive director Teri Lynn Grunthaner warmed up an assembled group of improv volunteers with a game of Radio, which had everyone in stitches. To play it, you improvise the feed from a radio station when the mike comes to you. These players broadcast everything from preaching to traffic reports to classical music to static.
A surprise addition to the program was a video and gift presentation thanking Caryn Merriam-Goldberg for her many years of dedication contributing to the founding and growth of the TLA Network and the Power of Words Conference. Here Caryn is modeling a beautiful shawl, which was one of the gifts presented to her.
Saturday night’s keynote speaker was Abenaki storyteller (and small press publisher and writer) Joseph Bruchac, who held us spellbound with his telling of “Trickster’s Truth and Lies.” Joe accompanied his storytelling with hand drum and wooden flute, transporting us to a different time and place.
As we thought about leaving the conference and going back to our own communities, this panel, moderated by Seema Reza, explored “What’s Next? Taking TLA into Tomorrow.” Panelists differed in their emphasis but agreed on the need for TLA practitioners to reach out to empower those whose voices are not being heard in America. From second on the left: Lovella Calica of Warrior Writers spoke of her work with military veterans and their families; Susan Bennett-Armistead, University of Maine professor, told of the need for early literacy training for all children and for adults who lack literacy; and Joseph Bruchac, native American author and storyteller, told of his work with incarcerated individuals, including bringing his Skidmore College students into prisons to work with prisoners.
It was clear by the end of the conference that there is indeed great power in words — written, drawn, spoken, sung, danced — and in this time of division in our country, giving more people more power through telling their stories is one way to bridge differences. We have a duty as artists to express and create, but perhaps we also have a duty as citizens to create space for understanding. Transformative Language Arts can do that.
Many thanks to all the workshop presenters who generously shared their wisdom and experience with all of us. I’m already looking forward to Power of Words 2018 — October 11 – 14 in beautiful Vermont!