“Will create for love and money” could make for a perfect bumper sticker for many of our cars or a good sign on our front doors. We write, sing, facilitate, coach, collaborate, and work deeply in the arts with others and ourselves because it’s our calling and birthright. Yet what it takes to make a living, find even more of our purpose, or craft the next season of our lives isn’t something that easily fits on a car bumper or front door. Finding our way takes courage, guidance, clarity, and often, help along the way.
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That’s why, starting many years ago when I first developed TLA, I knew that Right Livelihood, the Buddhist tradition of work that builds our communities and betters our world, was essential. By holding brave spaces for people to share their truest words and name and claim their own visions of healing and transformation, we are doing the work of Tikkun Olam, the Hebrew term for helping repair the broken world. Yet we can only do this work if we find ways to sustain our livelihoods and respect our time and gifts.
The Your Right Livelihood classbegan as a TLA Network project, then grew from there, having helped dozens of people since 2018 discover their work (whether for livelihood, art, service, or purpose) and how to make that work come true. I’m delighted to be offering our comprehensive class with singer-songwriter and creativity and career transition coach Kathryn Lorenzen Feb. 19 – April 16. The class surrounds you with guidance, support, best resources for your work ahead, and good company for the journey, including:
Weekly Zoom discussions, many featuring luminary teachers, such as Gregg Levoy (author of Callings), Yvette-Hyater-Adams (facilitator, writer, consultant), Vi Tran (arts organizer and performer), and Alana Muller (networking expert) to explore the depths and breath of callings, personal strategic planning, networking tailored to you, and finding support and care.
Online exploration and writing about our emerging visions as well as the inspiration and nuts-and-bolts resources we need to put them into action, plus visiting podcast teachers sharing their wisdom, including creativity expert Eric Maisel, Oscar-winning filmmaker Kevin Willmott, singer-songwriter Kelley Hunt, poet and facilitator Marianela Medrano, and others.
One-on-one in-depth coaching on how to integrate our dream work into our lives through completing a pick-your-adventure portfolio guide so that you’ll have all you need (such as web copy, funding resources, proposals and descriptions of your work, outreach plans) when you complete the class.
As part of a generous partnership agreement, all TLAN members receive a discount on our class and retreat next October. Additionally, we invite any TLAN member to attend our Sun., Feb. 5 small group coaching session “Will Create for Love and Money” as our guest (7 p.m. CT/ 8 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. MT/ 5 p.m. PT on Sun., Feb. 5). Just email me and we’ll register you.
A number of TLA members have found great gifts and direction in Your Right Livelihood, and you can read their words directly here. We know through our experience how much a strong cohort group, excellent guides, and lots of good resources can help people make the leap into the work they love.
We come by this understanding naturally: Kathryn is a singer-songwriter who found her way into cross-country performing and having her music featured in films, along with her twin calling of coaching hundreds of people through career transition over the years. As a poet and writer, I discovered my twin calling in teaching and facilitation, which, along with writing are how I support my livelihood, do my service, and create my art.
As always, at this moment, we are reminded of the power of words, especially in this time of rising challenges to democracy, attacks on our beloved BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities, political turmoil, and war and the climate crisis.
We honor the poets, journalists, writers, novelists, songwriters, playwrights, and other wordsmiths who risk their very lives to speak truth to power around the world. Your voices matter, your words have power, and together, we can effect meaningful change by listening deeply to each other’s stories, and speaking our truths.
The power of words to wound is also a measure of the power of words to heal. – Pádraig Ó Tuama.
Irish poet, author, theologian, and activist Pádraig Ó Tuama has published six collections of work over the years. His most recent, Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World, was released this past October. Ó Tuama is also the host of a podcast, Poetry Unbound With On Being. The solo podcast explores the meanings, themes, and intricacies of poems written by his peers in beautiful fifteen-minute recordings that let his audience fall deep into the words of these brilliant artists.
In Poetry Unboand’s May 30th, 2022 episode, Ó Tuama discusses poet Andy Jackson’s, The Changing Room, a delicate and alluring eight-stanza prose poem that discusses the themes of self-consciousness. Ó Tuama eloquently unpacks the verses during the thirteen-minute listen. He explains, “It’s a poem that pays attention to an experience of one [body], but really that’s a sleight of hand… Jackson is looking at the attention that [his body] gets and is refocusing it, extending it wider, looking at the deeper question, what does it mean for any of us to be in a body?“
Ó Tuama’s work expands beyond the written page and into his community. From 2014 to 2019, Ó Tuama led the Corrymeela Community, Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation group. During his tenure, he wrote Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community, a prayer book which draws on the organization’s spiritual practices. Ó Tuama formulated the collection based on decades of work addressing the personal and political conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and other global conflicts.
Under Ó Tuama’s leadership, the Corrymeela Community helped develop school and group curricula to discuss narrative practices, art and conflict, and interfaith dialogue, and his work advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights had impact throughout Ireland and beyond.
A beautiful example of Ó Tuama’s ability to see and understand a wide and wise variety of perspectives is in his 2020 poem, How To Belong Be Alone.
It all begins with knowing
nothing lasts forever,
so you might as well start packing now.
In the meantime,
practice being alive.
There will be a party
where you’ll feel like
nobody’s paying you attention.
And there will be a party
where attention’s all you’ll get.
What you need to do
is to remember
to talk to yourself
between these parties.
there will be a day,
— a decade —
where you won’t
fit in with your body
even though you’re in
the only body you’re in.
You need to control
your habit of forgetting
Remember when you were younger
and you practiced kissing on your arm?
You were on to something then.
Sometimes harm knows its own healing
Comfort knows its own intelligence.
It needs no reason.
There is a you
telling you another story of you.
Listen to her.
Where do you feel
anxiety in your body?
The chest? The fist? The dream before waking?
The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing
or the clutch of gut like falling
& falling & falling and falling
It knows something: you’re dying.
Try to stay alive.
For now, touch yourself.
Take your hand
and place your hand
upon your body.
to the community of madness
Ó Tuama articulates the sensation of anxiety so effortlessly, in a way that allows readers not only to identify this feeling but also experience what this character, whether us, Ó Tuama, or someone else, is feeling as well. The line, “Sometimes harm knows its own healing” encapsulates this fascinating idea of using our perceived weaknesses as new strengths – the idea of taking a part of ourselves that we avoid focusing on, and finding its strength, finding its power and durability, and ultimately, its vigor.
Pádraig Ó Tuama will be featured as one of three keynote speakers at the TLA Network’s upcoming Power of Words Conference, titled, Hope is a Discipline. The conference will be held online from October 13-16, 2022. Along with Camille T. Dungy and Katherine Adams, Ó Tuama will be speaking and presenting on the theme of hope being a discipline. We welcome you to join us!
Gabe Seplow is a Philadelphia native who is studying Contemporary Theatre at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. He went to high school at AIM Academy in Conshohocken, PA, where he was a founding member of the Student Diversity Leadership group, traveling the country to different conferences to study and learn to make school a more diverse and equitable place. Gabe has written and directed plays performed at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival addressing social justice, diversity, and equity issues, with the goal of shining a light on gun violence, racial biases, and white privilege. He is currently an Intern for the TLA Network, doing research, assisting with social media, and helping with conference programming.
Recently we asked our staff, board and founder what they are currently reading, and why. We thought you might enjoy getting a glimpse of our latest literary delights, listed below.
Share with us what YOU have been reading, and we might just feature you and your favorite book(s) in an upcoming newsletter, or as part of a Network book club! We would love to hear from you!
Kimberly Lee – TLA Network board member: The Happy Writing Book by Elise Valmorbida. Contains 100 bite-sized, spirited essays on writing inspiration and craft, for both aspiring and established authors who want to infuse energy into their work—and their lives.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. A Nigerian teen, married off by family for her dowry, is determined to change her destiny and find her voice by achieving the education her late mother dreamed of.
Finding Me by Viola Davis. An honest, revealing memoir that chronicles the rise of the Oscar award-winning actress from a disadvantaged childhood to international acclaim, and the emotional demons she slayed on the way.
Jen Minotti– TLA Network board member: All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson. Super important, beautiful, honest memoir by a Black, queer voice for the YA population. I loved this book before it was banned from libraries and schools in 15 states, but now I am making sure to read all of the books on these banned-book-lists as my personal form of protest.
All about Love: New Visions by bell hooks. After bell hooks’ passing earlier this past Winter, I revisited her work. Although written over 20 years ago, this book is as relevant today as it was two decades ago, maybe even more so. My yellow highlighter practically dried out from all of the use it got while reading this book! And I now use the word “love” as a verb, as bell hooks instructed us to do!
Renu Thomas, TLA Network board member: The Girl with the Suitcase, by Angela Hart Angela Hart has fostered many children over the years. This is a true story about the joys, doubts and challenges in raising Grace who has had a difficult upbringing before coming to Angela’s home. It offers a fresh look at parenting and the nature vs nurture debate. Inspiring.
Hanne Weedon, TLA managing director: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken. I’ve been reading this incredible book with my 14-year-old daughter over the course of the past year – a few pages every week, and we are slowly turning our time, focus, and attention to how we navigate the climate crisis as a family. Each section is engaging and accessible, addressing the 100 most substantive solutions to reversing global warming, all based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world.
For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health, by Al Vernacchio. This is a fantastic, illuminating, funny read by a thoughtful, youth-empowering sex educator who really knows his stuff. An incredible resource for anyone who is parenting/close to/working with teens, this book helps bridge the gap between what we thought we knew and what we actually need to know to help our young people navigate this complex and rapidly-shifting issue in their lives.
Palmares, by Gayl Jones. A 2022 Pulitzer finalist, this incredible epic novel is at once a love story, a fugitive slave’s odyssey, and an investigation into the meaning of freedom. Set in 17th-century colonial Brazil, the novel is that perfect combination of mythology, history, and magical realism – plus, Jones’ mastery of language and voice are a delight. This is the perfect read you will not want to put down.
Gabe Seplow, TLA Network intern: The Sentence is Death, by Anthony Horowitz. A fascinating murder mystery that has you on the edge of your seat, wanting more answers the further you get into the novel.
Kelly DuMar, TLA Network board member: The Rainbow, by D.H. Lawrence. Exquisite prose in this classic novel by a master about three generations of a British family who live in the east Midlands of England spanning 1840’s-1905, focusing on love, coming of age, marriage, family. Lawrence’s descriptions of nature are gorgeous and precise.
There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century, by Fiona Hill. Really smart and thoughtful memoir of a brilliant British woman who rose to a powerful government position in the US from her working class, disadvantaged roots in County Durham, England as the coal industry failed. She does a superb job of exploring the role of privilege in the US and British educational systems. She stood up to Trump by testifying against him at his first impeachment from her role of serving in the Trump administration. Courageous and honest and authentic––and funny.
Liz Burke, TLA Network board member: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong. Ocean Vuong’s novel is one of the most beautiful I have ever read. It’s a coming of age story and an intimate letter to his mother written by a poet whose language stings as forcefully as it soars.
Postcolonial Love Poem, by Natalie Diaz. There have only been a handful of poets whose work, upon reading it, causes me to gasp in awe at the beauty. This is one of them. I feel Diaz’s work in my bones.
Jade Eby, Manager, TLA Network Classes: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland. I’m a huge fan of family drama stories… especially where there are hidden secrets just waiting to be exposed. I love that the backdrop of this novel is Australian land and culture.
I Heard You Scream by Emerald O’Brien — My favorite summer reads are fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thrillers. And I Heard You Scream fits the bill! This is a binge-able read with satisfying twists and turns.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, TLA Network founder: Embroideriesby Marjane Satari I fell in love with this graphic novel about the inner lives of Iranian women, written and drawn by the author of the astonishing Persepolis, a historical and deeply personal memoir in what Satari calls comic-book style.
frank: sonnets by Diane Seuss Here is an astonishing collection of poetry that’s a combination of fierce memoir, experimental language, and pure poetry, and hey, it’s by a TLAer at heart, and she just won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry!
The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich I’m re-listening to this novel by the unparalleled Erdrich about a powerful legacy, haunting questions of identity and home, and brave forays into real love in many forms.
Beth Turner, TLA Network board member: The Diné Reader/An Anthology of Navajo Literature, edited by Esther G. Belin et al. Powerful testimony to keeping culture, faith, family, land connections alive via the written, spoken or danced word. This is a peaceful and powerful read, a rarity for me to experience both within so many different poems and essays. I found the works to be awakening and stirring – there is no shame or blame, but facts and truth.
Liminal Thinking: Create the Change You Want by Changing the Way You Think, by Dave Gray. This book is about the power of thresholds. Liminal space sits between you and me when we meet, when teams meet, when people groups gather – it is a rich land. I think this space as one filled with low-hanging, ripe fruit. Anyone can reach up and pick the idea, solution, opportunity, revelation, wisdom and share. I look to cultivate this sort of atmosphere in classes, retreats and within small groups. It is an activating read. I am pondering what action may be required/explored personally and communally.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.
Walking with people through writing experiences isn’t simply a responsibility, it’s a calling, and a sacred one.
Tracie Nichols, M.A. writes poetry and facilitates writing groups from her small desk under the wide reach of two venerable Sycamore trees in southeastern Pennsylvania. She’s a Transformative Language Artist in process, fascinated by the potential of language to heal and transform people and communities. Putting her master’s degree in Transformative Learning and Change to good use over the past two decades, Tracie has designed and facilitated many virtual and in-person lifelong learning experiences on a truly wide range of topics. She’s just beginning her foray into submitting poetry for publication and has already accumulated a healthy pile of rejections to her few joyfully celebrated acceptances.
Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?
Tracie Nichols: One ordinary Tuesday in January 2020 a writer friend mentioned an organization with great writing classes called the Transformative Language Arts Network. Being a perpetually curious lover of words, I found the website and started excavating. As I explored, I realized that the Transformative Language Arts bring together two foundational foci of my life: my master’s degree in Transformative Learning and Change, and my deep love of writing—especially its power to cultivate understanding and catalyze change. Within days I registered for “Changing the World With Words” and within the first few weeks recognized that I’d found a community of practice where I fit.
The timing of this recognition collided with my 58th birthday and the milestone of having been in practice as a life and business coach for nearly a decade. Through the preceding winter, I’d had a sense that a pivot was coming in both my life and work. The TLA Foundations certificate process offered me a way to continue exploring both the intersections between Transformative Learning and Transformative Language Arts and the possibilities for making language the focus of this next piece of my body of work. It also connected me with an extraordinary community of artists and facilitators who continue to influence and inspire me.
What TLAN courses did you find most useful and why?
I have found every TLAN course helpful in its own way. Among the courses specific to earning the certificate, I found “Changing the World With Words” the most useful because it grounded me so well into the concepts and the community. I felt oriented and able to navigate ensuing courses with ease. I loved “The Art of Facilitation” and only found it marginally less useful because, by the time I took the course, I had nearly 20 years of experience with facilitating formal and informal group learning experiences. The course that changed me, that radically shifted my perception of myself and my capacities as a word artist and change maker, was “& They Call Us Crazy” [with Caits Meissner]. I almost didn’t enroll because it felt like such a giant step outside my comfort zone. That stretch was what taught me the most, of course.
What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?
I learned – viscerally, not just theoretically – that people in all kinds of struggle can use language arts to plant their staff, push outward, and redraw the terrain that is their birthright. They can take up the space that was denied them by terror, trauma, social and cultural oppression, becoming creative forces for change in their own lives and communities.
Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?
Two experiences stand out:
During “& They Call Us Crazy” I learned that I had wrapped my poetic self in a very tiny, tidy package, afraid if I tested my edges, I’d lose the voice I’d spent a decade excavating. I spent the next five weeks repeatedly testing and disproving that assumption, surprising myself with the intensity and candor of my own writing. This was an incredibly affirming experience.
During the pre-conference panel discussion at the 2021 Power of Words Conference, Joy Harjo invited us to “move with honor and integrity” and a bit later in the conversation said something like, the power doesn’t belong to us—it was given to us to take care of and share. She reminded me that walking with people through writing experiences isn’t simply a responsibility, it’s a calling, and a sacred one. My ears are still metaphorically ringing from that wake-up call.
What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certificate helpful?
The certificate process helped me define myself as an artist and as a facilitator by encouraging me to reclaim myself as a poet and as a midwife of words, both mine and other people’s. It reminded me that writing is an exquisitely powerful wayfinding tool in anyone’s hands.
I have pivoted my business and now offer classes and writing circles centered on personal transformation and cultivating resilience. Though I welcome anyone, an interesting mix of women counselors, coaches, wellness practitioners and artists seem to gravitate to my offerings these days.
Would you recommend the certification course to others?
Absolutely, yes. For all of the reasons I’ve mentioned above.
*TLA Foundations (TLAF) is an introduction to TLA in theory and practice with opportunities for reflecting and acting on ethical work, community networking, and TLA in action, completed on one’s own time over two years. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. More details can be found here.
When I developed TLA, I knew that Right Livelihood, the Buddhist tradition of work that builds our communities and betters our world, was essential. By holding brave spaces for people to share their truest words and name and claim their own visions of healing and transformation, we are doing the work of Tikkun Olam, the Hebrew term for helping repair the broken world. Yet we can only do this work if we find ways to sustain our livelihoods and respect our time and gifts.
Likewise, many of the qualities we cultivate for TLA—showing up fully, starting where we are, trusting our innate voices, and taking creative leaps into what wants to be written, said, or sung—are the keys to creating livelihoods that support you and grow the reach of our work. That’s what called me to create the Your Right Livelihood class and retreat, which began as a project of the TLA Network, then grew to be its own small business with new co-leader Kathryn Lorenzen. What’s more, thanks to a generous partnership agreement, all TLAN members receive a discount on our class and retreat.
Both Right Livelihood and TLA are actively revising some myths that don’t serve us, such as the myth of the damaged, starving, or invisible artist, or the myth (so popular in the writing world) that there’s only so many ways the pie can be sliced, leaving many of us with only the crumbs at best. Both Kathryn and I believe that writers, storytellers, and other word artists should be paid (or otherwise compensated) fairly for our time, effort, experience, and education.
We’re big advocates for bypassing the old only-so-much-pie storyline by baking more pies. After all, we’ve had the power all along to create our livelihoods to nourish ourselves and our communities. It’s important we get cooking because artists and facilitators of the arts are essential to this world, especially in times of polarization and uncertainty.
We come by this understanding naturally: Kathryn is a singer-songwriter who found her way into cross-country touring and having her music featured in films along with her twin calling of coaching hundreds of people in career transition over the years. As a poet and writer, I discovered my twin calling in teaching and facilitation, which, along with writing are how I support my livelihood, do my service, and create my art.
It’s no wonder that what we do in Your Right Livelihood is rooted in so much of what we’ve discovered as writers, performers, coaches, facilitators, and teachers is at the core of TLA: deep conversation, expansive writing, the power of the stories we live, the guidance we can glean from our creativity, and the importance of building a loving and wise community. Our annual class, Jan. 23 – Mar. 19, features a combination of all of this to help us grow our vision, plans, courage, clarity, and community, including:
Weekly Zoom discussions, many featuring luminary teachers (including Eric Maisel, Yvette Hyater-Adams, Gregg Levoy, Kevin Willmott, and others),
Online exploration and writing (and other arts) about our callings as well as the inspiration and nuts-and-bolts resources we need to put them into action,
One-on-one in-depth coaching on how to integrate our dream work into our lives,
A guided, personalized portfolio to create step-by-step sequences and priorities to make our next work happen.
To find out more, please contact us today for a Discovery Call (you can reach me here or directly set up a call with Kathryn here), and please consider joining us for our Jan. 4th Life & Livelihood Small Group Coaching session. Our super early bird rate ends Dec. 10th, so please contact us soon.
To consider whether the time is right for you, please take a look at Kathryn’s new blog post, “Waiting for the Perfect Time: Why?” Surely this is your time to shine, especially when the world needs your gifts so much, so please consider how to write and live your own Right Livelihood story in TLA.
P.S. Many wonderful people in the TLA Network (including a bunch of past and present board members) found the Your Right Livelihood class especially helpful in their work — see their testimonials here.
The Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg Fund was established in the fall of 2021 to honor the founder of the transformative language arts and the TLA Network. The Fund provides Power of Words Conference and TLA Network classes support for both BIPOC people and people who are living with serious illness and/or disabilities.
The following remarks by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg were made at the TLA Network’s online Power of Words Conference, on October 30, 2021.
I am so honored by this fund in my name, which will provide scholarships for people of color, people living with serious illness, and people with disabilities.
Why these communities, all of whom are negatively impacted in our problematic world:
As a survivor of both a very common cancer and a very rare cancer, and as someone who’s had the joy and education of facilitating writing workshops for 18 years for people living with serious illness – patients, survivors, caregivers, and community members, I know first-hand how essential is to to have supported spaces for big writing and witnessing.
I’ve also been involved with disabilities rights and communities through my husband’s work for 30 years as an occupational therapist and activist working with people living with disabilities.
Both people living with serious illness and disabilities, which sometimes go hand-in-hand, are so often limited in accessing workshops and conferences like what TLAN offers, and not just by a lack of wheelchair ramps. The isolation and pain, overwhelm and fear we face in such situations can make us feel so alone with our pain, dread, anxiety, difference.
We are missing such important voices at the table, ones that have so much to teach us about resilience in real-time, what it means to age and change, and how to grapple more directly with being humans who are mortal. Scholarships can help us bring life-giving creativity and community into people’s homes through their laptops.
Black, brown Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and other marginalized people of color have too often and so extensively, to the detriment of all of us, been silenced or had their voices abused. My more personal connection is that I live in the home of Haskell Indian Nations University and the ghosts land burial ground where so many children died when it was a boarding school. I’ve also witnessed many people’s stories through teaching at Haskell and facilitating workshops for many years with Indigenous women.
When we started the POW conference, we began with a commitment to continually work on undoing racism and inviting many more voices to the table, or even forgetting the old table and making a new one. From our first conference, we had scholarships for POC, a determination to bring in keynoters from unrepresented communities, and outreach to communities of color. Most arts-based organizations like ours are primarily white and although we’ve come a long way, we have so so so long to go.
Removing financial barriers where and when needed is part of this work, and it also helps foster new leadership and a more attuned vision to how TLA can bring voices previously ignored or debased into our civic conversations.
In 2014, we were able to bring close to a dozen people living with serious illness and disabilities to the POW conference to share their stories and truths. A year later, we brought 15 young people of color, all in the foster care system, to the conference. How wonderful it would be to have scholarship funds available for people who want to attend Angie Ebba’s superb upcoming TLAN class, “Not Enough Spoons: Writing About Disabilities and Chronic Illness” and to next year, have even more black and brown faces, people undergoing heavy cancer treatment or navigating disabilities in an ableist world at this conference.
Please consider giving what you can give to make our offerings more accessible to others. Please help create this new table where we can all come and speak our lives and visions.
Contribute to theCaryn Mirriam-Goldberg Fund here.
All funds will be processed through the TLA Network’s fiscal sponsor, The Foundation for Delaware County. When contributing via FDC, make sure to note your donation is made “in honor of Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.”
Lyla June Johnston is an Indigenous public speaker, artist, scholar and community organizer of Diné (Navajo), Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) and European lineages from Taos, New Mexico.
Her personal mission is to grow closer to Creator by learning how to love deeper and to support and empower indigenous youth. Her messages focus on Indigenous rights, supporting youth, traditional land stewardship practices and healing inter-generational and inter-cultural trauma.
Lyla June blends undergraduate studies in human ecology at Stanford University, graduate work in Native American Pedagogy at the University of New Mexico, and the indigenous worldview she grew up with to inform her perspectives and solutions. Her internationally acclaimed presentations are conveyed through the medium of poetry, music and/or speech. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in Indigenous Studies with a focus on Indigenous Food Systems Revitalization.
Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States in 1999 when he was nine—traveling unaccompanied 4,000 miles, across multiple borders, from El Salvador to the US to be reunited with his parents. Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), his first poetry collection, explores how immigration and civil war have impacted his life and family. This collection won the 2018 North California Book Award, the 2018 Firecracker Award, and was a finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He is also the author of the chapbook Nueve Años Inmigrantes/Nine Immigrant Years, which won the 2011 Organic Weapon Arts contest.
In a 2014 interview for the National Endowment for the Arts Works Blog, Zamora states, “I think in the United States we forget that writing and carrying that banner of ‘being a poet’ is tied into a long history of people that have literally risked [their lives] and died to write those words.”
After selecting Javier as winner of the 2017 Narrative Prize, co-founder and editor Tom Jenks said: “In sinuous plainsong that evokes the combined strengths, the bright celebrations, and the dark sorrows of two Americas sharing and transcending borders, Javier Zamora’s verse affirms human commonality and aspiration.”
Zamora holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied and taught in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program and earned an MFA from New York University. His poems have been featured in Granta, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The New York Times, and many others. Zamora has received many honors, including a 2015 NEA fellowship, the 2016 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, a 2016-2018 Wallace Stegner Fellowship, the 2017 Lannan Literary Fellowship, and the 2017 Narrative Prize. In 2016, Barnes & Noble granted the Undocupoets, of which he’s a founding member, the Writer for Writers Award for working to promote undocumented or previously undocumented writers. Most recently he was a 2018-2019 Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University, where he was working on his memoir and second collection of poems. He lives in Harlem, NY.
Martin Swinger, a virtuoso singer and songwriter, died suddenly in early July, leaving behind his husband (and partner of 35 years) Brian and many broken hearts in his Asbury Park, N.J. home community, and prior to that, central Maine, where he was a mainstay of the music scene for years.
But when I think of Martin, I see him at my kitchen table, serenading the then-coordinator of the TLAN, Deb Hensley, volunteers Nancy Hubble and Laura Ramberg, and me as we stuffed folders for the 2014 Power of Words conference.
He was like this: always bringing joy, humor, and the power of music to wherever he landed. He was gifted at helping in multiple other ways too: for the conference, he coordinator participant transportation, helped Deb with many pieces of the conference coordination, and generally brought a sense of peace and homecoming to all of us.
Then again, Martin knew how vital hospitality and art are to this world. He grew up gay in the South, falling in love with music and books of all kinds. In recent years, he went on to be quite decorated as a songwriter, winning many notable big-time contests and performing across the country, even to the delight of the late Pete Seeger and very-much alive Vance Gilbert and John Waters. His seven CDs won lots of well-deserved awards, including from American Song Competition, SolarFest, Rosegarden Coffeehouse and more. Audiences have adored him for decades for his warm and vibrant voice and eclectic blend of Americana, swing and jazz, traditional music, show tune, Klezmer music, and improvisation. Deb and Martin sang together like angels from an enchanted land.
Deb says of Martin: Martin was a true prince, a friend to me and to so many others who knew and loved him. He had a heart the size of Mars and talent to match. Frost says, “Nothing gold can stay.” But Martin’s songs will stay. Oh yes they will. And so will his love.
His generosity extended in other ways: when one of our keynote performers for the conference didn’t show up, Martin graciously volunteered to perform on the spot and for free (although we did extend to him a small stipend anyway). When he performed, he lifted a full house of conference goers, who had been waiting a while for the keynote, to their feet with original songs such as “Betty Boop and Buddha,” “Consider the Oyster,” and my favorite, “Little Plastic Part.” That song, about how breaking a tiny part of a vacuum that “makes the whole thing work” speaks to having a little part of our heart broken so that it doesn’t work anymore.
I can’t help thinking about how Martin himself was a little vital part with a big impact himself.