What We’re Reading Now…

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.

Katia Hage, TLA Network board member:
La fin est mon commencement: Un père raconte à son fils le grand voyage de la vie, by Terzano Terziani.
A book about an Italian journalist’s journey and his observations through his many voyages to Maoist China, Vietnam, Cambodia before communism, India and more. A fascinating new perspective about world events lived through in those countries. 

Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
The book reminds me of the many faces of the divine feminine and the power of healing through storytelling in returning the bones to their own people. 

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!

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain.
Hot off of the presses, I couldn’t wait to read this book by the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a bedside favorite in my house! It’s as great as her previous book, combining research with personal narrative and is perfect for anyone going through a transition (basically all of us!).

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.

Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut.
An easy, summer read that includes comedy, drama, action, and heart-wrenching imagery from WWII.

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.

Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir, by Rebecca Solnit.
A literary feminist memoir in a powerful voice of poetic prose about the impact of the threat of sexual violence toward women in our culture.

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.

Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World, by Pema Chödrön.
Pema Chödrön shares necessary wisdom, guidance and practices to navigate and bring more compassion to our difficult world and all its inhabitants. She offers me hope as I face life’s challenges.

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:
Embroideries by 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.

I found a community: An interview with recent TLA Foundations Certificate graduate, Tracie Nichols

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.

2021 TLAF Certificate Graduate, Tracie Nichols

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.   

Learn more at tracienichols.com, or connect with her on Instagram at @tracietnichols (https://www.instagram.com/tracietnichols/).

*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.

Your Right Livelihood in the Arts — By Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

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.

New Scholarship Fund Supports Access to Conferences and Classes.

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 the Caryn 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.”

Spotlight on the Keynote: Lyla June Johnston

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.

Along with U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, poets Caits Meissner and Javier ZamoraLyla June will keynote the TLA Network’s Power of Words Conference, to be held online October 28-31, 2021. 

Spotlight on the Keynote: Javier Zamora

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.

Along with U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, spoken word artist Lyla June, and poet Caits MeissnerJavier Zamora will keynote the TLA Network’s Power of Words Conference, to be held online October 28-31, 2021. 

In Gratitude for Martin Swinger’s Life and Music, by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Martin Swinger, singer-songwriter

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.

Martin Swinger keeping the TLA Network volunteers company as they prepared for the 2014 Power of Words Conference.

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. 

Find more about Martin here: https://martinswinger.com/

With great gratitude and appreciation for the life of Martin Swinger, singer-songwriter.

Spotlight on the Board: Empowerment Coach Jade Eby

Writing coach, community builder and author Jade Eby is a TLAN Board member, and the chair of the 2021 Power of Words Conference Committee. We were excited to sit down with Jade to talk about her work as a creative empowerment advocate, her creative community, and what she hopes to bring to the TLA Network.

You call yourself a creative empowerment advocate, can you tell us a little more about what that means?

Yes! Ever since I was a little girl, creativity has been an instrumental part of my life. I’ve used creativity as part of my trauma recovery journey, and I’ve used creativity to help hundreds of other individuals find their voices and tell their stories.

I strongly believe that when a person can get in touch with their creative side and then lean into it — they are able to fully step into an empowered state of being. I feel like that’s my life’s purpose, actually. To help others realize the inherent power and creativity they already have inside of them. I empower individuals to become empowered.

This is the main reason I created my digital community.

Can you talk about your community a little more? What role does it play? Who is it for?

I like to say that my Creative Empowerment Community is really a sanctuary for creatives. It’s a small but mighty community that encourages, supports, and empowers creatives to create. But what’s really amazing about it is that we get to come together as our authentic and whole selves. Members come from many walks of life, but we share a common passion of being creative.

There are many wonderful online communities out there to learn how to be creative, but I haven’t found many communities that embrace the actual living as a creative. The trials and tribulations that come with that. There’s more to living a creative life than just creating and that’s really where the benefit of this community comes in.

We come together as a family and work through the highs and lows of this creative life we’re living, as a community. It’s really beautiful! And it fits in with my work at TLA network so well.

Mock-up description of Jade Eby’s Creative Empowerment Community .

How does supporting the TLA Network connect to the work you are doing?

What drew me to the TLA Network to begin with was that same sense of community and connection that I felt was missing from my life. When I understood the mission and goal of the TLA Network, I knew I wanted to be a part of the organization on a deeper level because the work is so important. Connecting creativity to our social justice activism and making change is one of the most beautiful ways to use the gifts we’ve been given.

When I was asked to chair the conference for the 2021 Power of Words Conference, I was elated because it puts everything I stand for to work!

How amazing to be able to help spearhead a conference where we lift up diverse voices and stories. How amazing to be able to show other creatives that we can build a safe and supportive community that will honor what everyone has to say. Being part of this conference is another form of empowerment to me, and as you know, I’m all about empowerment!

Jade Eby has dedicated her career to empowering others to find their voice. As a creative empowerment advocate, Jade specializes in expressive writing + journaling, writing fiction, and creative writing as a healing modality. She is certified in trauma recovery coaching, group facilitation, and workshops for journaling. She earned her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. You can find more information about her and her programs at www.jadeeby.com

Spotlight on the Volunteer: Fiber Artist and Poet Cindy Rinne

As part of our Spotlight series, we have been focusing on some of the transformative artists who make up the TLA Network.

This month, we asked TLAN member and volunteer Cindy Rinne to share some about her work as a poet and an artist, and about her connection to the transformative language arts.

TLA Network: It’s wonderful to get to learn more about your work. Tell us about your process, and how you combine fiber arts, poetry and performance.

CR: I am an ecofeminist artist creating mixed-media fiber works as process art – these are collages layering fabrics from around the world to tell stories. There is not always a plan when I begin.

I work in collaboration with the materials. Sometimes text from my poetry comes alongside the imagery. Nature is the inspiration in both animal, tree, and plant voices. People may appear. I work on several projects at once to allow ideas to percolate.

In my work, textiles hang like tapestries to form a sculpture or are quilted. Sculptures explore dimension on the body and are a narrative from my poems or a play. The wearable fabric sculptures are also meant to come alive in performance art. Body holding space in movement, pattern, and sound.

TLA Network: You are fairly new to this community – how did you happen to find the TLA Network?

CR: I like to check out the residencies and conferences in writing magazines. The TLA Network’s 2019 Power of Word conference, in Scottsdale, AZ caught my eye. Not too far away and at a retreat center sounded great. Annually, I attend a huge writers conference and liked the idea of a more intimate, creative event – no huge book fairs or thousands of people.

The POW conference…was a place for talks, experiential workshops, storytelling, ecological and social justice, and spirituality to expand my practice. ~ Cindy Rinne

The POW conference description was a mix of who I am as a fiber artist, poet, and performance artist. Here was a place for talks, experiential workshops, storytelling, ecological and social justice, and spirituality to expand my practice. While attending, I was able to have early morning discussions and meals with the workshop leaders and some presenters. I could walk the labyrinth. This was a safe place to try new, creative things with other attendees.

TLA Network: You’ve written two chapbooks of poetry while participating in the TLAN conference and a Caits Meissner class for the Network – what in particular inspired you to create these works?

CR: My latest chapbook, Knife Me Split Memories (Cholla Needles Press), contains poems about my amazing Power of Words conference roommate, actor and playwright Valerie David – I describe her as a “three-time cancer survivor [who] has pelican bones and feathers of broken glass who sings a water spirit song.”

During the pandemic, I decided to take the TLAN workshop “& They Call Us Crazy” by Caits Meissner. The concept of the outsider appealed to me. A class combining art, writing, and social justice was a unique offering. I also liked that she creates ‘zines and thinks outside the box with her own work. Caits brought enthusiasm and great energy to the class as she presented us with artists and writers both known and unknown to me. She gave several prompts to choose from. The online class was easy to navigate, allowing me to see the richness in what other students created from the same prompts. I tried various poetic forms including erasure, canto, and collage.

I wrote silence between drumbeats (Four Feathers Press & Written by Veterans), as part of Caits’ class. In the process of writing, sometimes I combined art and poetry. The social justice poems and cover fiber art for this book were birthed in that class. “I alone / tread the red circle.” 

Cover artwork from silence between drumbeats, by Cindy Rinne.

Both the in-person POW conference and the online TLAN class expanded who I am and how I impact the world for social / ecological justice. I am now volunteering as part of the Power of Words conference committee team.

TLA Network: What are your hopes for the 2021 Power of Words conference?

CR: As we tread the new world of a virtual conference, my goal is to create a container where others stretch their wings. The presenters are all boundary pushers who will help me see the world through a new lens as I take my creative practice to new heights as a part of community.

Cindy is a San Bernardino artist and poet who has created fine art for over 40 years. She participated in “Lydia Takeshita Legacy Exhibit Series: 3” at LA Artcore, and has been in several online group exhibitions through LAAA/825. Cindy had tapestries in “Woven Stories” at MOAH (Lancaster Museum of Art and History) and at RAFFMA at Cal State San Bernardino for “Voices of Ancient Palmyra Resounded.” She participated in “50/50, FIFTY/FIFTY, The Creative Magic of Collaboration” at the Progress Gallery, Pomona, CA. In 2020, Cindy was selected for “Hobson’s Choice” at the Torrance Art Museum. She has exhibited at the Beatnik Lounge and La Matadora Gallery in Joshua Tree and is represented by Desert Peach Gallery in Yucca Valley, CA. You can see more of her work at www.fiberverse.com

Spotlight on the Board: Jennifer Minotti

Jennifer Minotti is The Network’s newest Board member. We were excited to sit down with Jen to talk about her new Journal of Expressive Writing, her Women’s Writing Circles, and what she hopes to bring to the TLA Network.

You created the Journal of Expressive Writing amid a global pandemic. Tell us about the journal and why you felt called to create it in this moment. 

Long before the pandemic, I spent hours conceptualizing this journal. The idea first came to me while facilitating my Women’s Writing Circles, which I have been teaching since 2015 as a Writer-in-Residence at Suffolk University’s Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights in Boston. For years, I have had the privilege of listening to hundreds of women’s stories. These stories are so amazing! I am always astounded at what women produce in just 5 or 10 minutes from a single writing prompt.

My goal is to provide a sacred writing space that supports the personal and collective wellness, self-expression, and health of my participants. For most women, this meets their needs. But for others, there is a strong desire to also have their voices heard more widely. Many women have asked me for publishing advice over the years. As you know, the publishing industry is not an easy one to navigate, especially for new writers. In addition, facing rejection can be counterproductive to women who were just supported, many for whom this is not a regular occurrence. I wanted to facilitate a publishing process for my participants, as well as others, that would be more uplifting and gratifying and that would move their voices out of the circle and into the world where they could be heard more widely! 

Amidst COVID-19, I realized that there was no better time to create this journal than right now. Many of us not on the front lines were asking ourselves how we could best be in service to others. Many felt helpless and didn’t know how to help. I’m not a seamstress, as an example, so making masks was totally out of the question! One day last Spring I realized that creating this online journal was the best way I could use my strengths and passion to make a difference in the world. I immediately started working on the website. I put out a Call for Submissions. I told myself that if I didn’t receive any submissions, it wasn’t meant to be. I’m not on social media, so that made things more difficult. But by the time I launched the Journal of Expressive Writing on May 15, 2021, I had received expressive writing from 31 people. I was shocked! It could have been a non-starter, but fortunately, I think people understood what I was trying to achieve, or at least I hoped they did. I then realized that I had to write a piece introducing the journal to the world as Editor-in-Chief. That was scary, but I figured if others could put themselves out there, so could I. If you’re interested in reading more, it’s called Belly Flopping in my Evening Gown.

 You said that you thought people understood what you were trying to achieve with the new journal. What was that?  

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt that many of our most basic social and emotional needs have been replaced by desires that accompany the dominant cultural norms that permeate our technology-driven, capitalistic, and boisterous modern-day world. Before the pandemic, many people were already anxious, scared, lonely, and unsure of their place in the world. For the millions of people who were struggling with recent losses—lost jobs, deaths, illness, stay at home orders, children learning remotely, lack of stability—those feelings of loneliness, separateness, and fear were intensified.

But I knew how much expressive writing could help. Expressing our emotions through writing can help ground us. It can help us manage our emotions. It can help us make sense of our lives. The more we free write and journal, the more empathy, gratitude, forgiveness, and joy show up in our lives. I know this through personal experience and also through years of research and studying this. Expressive writing helps support healing processes and illuminates un-awakened parts of ourselves. It opens us to new perspectives and narratives. It’s so easy to do and totally free, and yet it can shift our mindset, help us feel more connected to others, and is essentially a total game changer! Expressive writing is something we can do anywhere, at anytime, even during a global pandemic and lock-down.  

In addition, I’m an activist at my core. At a fundamental level, I have this very strong belief that sharing our stories is a radical act of self-love and love for others. I couldn’t stop thinking that if we could just share our stories—in a raw, truthful and very real way—at this moment in time when we needed connection more than ever, it just might be one of the most valuable gifts we gave to ourselves and others. It just might help bridge the political, class, and racial divides that were simultaneously exploding and perhaps help in some small way. 

That’s really interesting, Jen. Tell me more about the journal’s connection to social justice for you. 

The easiest way to explain the connection for me is to borrow from what I have learned from Thich Nhat Hanh, who most of us know. He has this great way of explaining how, when groups listen deeply to one another—and this is similar to how women listen to other women within my Women’s Writing Circles—they start to recognize that the other group’s suffering is similar to their own, even when their specific situations may differ. I’ve studied mindfulness and mindful communications quite a bit and I love this concept of deep listening. But it’s not just about our voices. Our energies and actions spread energetically as well. I have witnessed first hand how generous commitment to sharing our stories can be a deeply healing and transformational process, and how pausing to write (and read) can yield reverence for other people and the moment we’re living in together. I can actually feel it energetically in my body.

So I guess you could say that the Journal of Expressive Writing calls on all of us to share what matters most as a form of individual and collective activism. It’s a platform to express who you are in a particular moment and to read who others are. I think too often, we hold ourselves back when we feel our writing has to be “finished” or “perfect” or any of the conditioned belief systems we carry with us.  When we can write (and operate) from our authentic selves, when we no longer feel the need to hide from our feelings or the feelings of others, tenderness starts to take shape. People’s inclination to judge softens. It’s amazing to watch and experience. Clinging and attachment to any preconception or assumption about others starts to diminish. Love emerges and so does healing, not only for the writer, but for the readers, too! Eventually, it’s a ripple effect. This is ultimately what I hope to achieve with the journal.

Do you have other goals for the journal and your Women’s Writing Circles?

Yes, I do have a vision that I have been manifesting for a while. I view the Journal of Expressive Writing and the Women’s Writing Circles working in tandem. They both serve as spaces to share, honor and bear witness to personal stories. My goal is to have Women’s Writing Circle outposts around the world, where any women wanting to facilitate these circles can replicate its design. In doing this, not only do I hope to expand the field of expressive writing and its many benefits, it’s also my goal to support marginalized women who may be able to earn a salary for the first time by bringing the Women’s Writing Circle model to their community. In this way, women can experience being both a participant, as well as a global organizer of empowerment, peace and individual independence. This “train the trainer” model is something I’d like to teach within the TLA Network, as well as elsewhere. 

The Journal of Expressive Writing then becomes the place where, as Women’s Writing Circles expand, so too does the journal. Next week, I will be celebrating the one-year anniversary of the journal (I can hardly believe it!) and the publishing of over 150 pieces of unbelievably beautiful writing from around the world! What would happen if, one day thousands of pieces of writing were published? How many voices would we hear? That’s exciting to think about!

That is exciting! And we’re excited that you will be joining the Network’s Board. Can you tell us how you view your work supporting the TLA Network?

As a writer, educator, and social justice activist, I’ve come to see myself as someone who is continually trying to uncover the truth. As women, we worry and care. As human beings, we scrutinize and explain. But when we arrive in spaces like the Network— which brings together writers and artists who share a willingness to be open, honest, trusting, attentive, caring, and receptive to others’ words and experiences—we are transformed as individuals and we are elevated as a group. I am so honored and humbled to be joining the Board. The work TLAN practitioners are engaged in continues to inspire me every day. It is my sincere hope that my background, as well as my experience advancing DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice) efforts within organizations can help support the TLA Network’s mission and goals.    

Jennifer A. Minotti
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Journal of Expressive Writing
journalofexpressivewriting.com