Putting the “active” in activism: An interview with activist writer and blogger Kella Hanna-Wayne

The longest running peace vigil in U.S. history, started  in 1981. White House Peace Vigil, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. The peace vigil was started by activists Thomas and Concepcion Picciotto.  / Photo courtesy of moi 84 under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”  Elie Wiesel



Toward the end of June this year I was introduced to Kella Hanna-Wayne’s (Yopp) work via a Facebook link shared by my colleague and friend, Michael Dickel, which he in turn received from his daughter. I subsequently included info on Kella and her post HERE. That’s the way the world moves these days. Though technology and social networking are mixed blessings in some respects, they’re effective tools for people like Kella and I who have work to which we are committed but deal everyday with serious physical disabilities that constrain (in my case prohibit) activity outside the home.

The link of which I speak was to a  post in which Kella provided some well-considered guidelines and resources for protesting the migrant travesties on the U.S. Southern Border. As I investigated Kella’s site, I was impressed with her thoroughness and clarity. I wrote to her about doing an interview on The Poet by Day for our activist poets, writers, and friends. She agreed. Here it is. Read on. / J.D.


JAMIE: Kella, you have taken on such a range of causes, all of them important, critical. Not everyone can do that. I hear people talk about “compassion burnout,” which is understandable but irritating. It’s a luxury oppressed people don’t have. I usually respond with “pick a cause. Pick one cause and focus on that.” What’s your advice?

KELLA: I think all of us, including activists, can agree that social justice is simply overwhelming. There are so many causes, there’s so much to learn about every cause, and to make things even more complicated, the needs of each cause are constantly progressing and changing. It’s a lot to keep up with.

But one of the fundamental ideas behind my blog is that there are a basic set of guidelines that you can follow that will help you understand any source of oppression. Instead of learning about male privilege, and then white privilege, and then financial privilege, why not learn how the concept of privilege works so that you can apply it to any new cause you learn about? There are so many challenges marginalized groups face that they have in common with one another: microaggressions, oppressive language, policing of their emotions/bodies, even difficulty accessing medical care. I think that if you learn the functionality of the oppressive systems that are at work and all the basic components of social justice, it enables you to support these groups of people much more effectively and thoroughly than if you were trying to learn one cause at a time from scratch.

I also think that even if you do choose to focus primarily on one cause, it’s important to be aware of the basics of the other ones because social justice issues are all inextricably connected to each other and ignoring the way intersectionality impacts the problems that we’re tackling tends to leave holes in our solutions.

JAMIE: What then are the steps activists can take to minimize burnout?

KELLA: No matter how narrow your focus, social justice issues are far bigger than any one person can solve. Because activism has to be a collective effort, I think it’s really important to recognize that completely fixing the problem is an impossible standard to hold yourself to. You are one piece in a much larger effort to create change. Even when you are focusing on what is within your personal power, you have to be realistic about what you can actually accomplish. If there are 20 different tasks that you could do as an activist and each one is individually within your ability to do, it’s likely doing all 20 of them is not. You have to choose what it is that you are going to do.

To make that choice, I recommend focusing on forms of activism that…

  • Are sustainable so that you can continue to do them over time
  • Are empowering to you so that you feel motivated to continue
  • Aren’t deeply upsetting or draining in such a way that the cost of the task is greater than the positive impact the action has
  • Feel right to you.

Which forms of activism meet those criteria is going to be different for everyone. For example, I believe that calling your representatives is an effective way to impact the future of our country but I find making phone calls incredibly anxiety-inducing and I have to spend a lot of energy to get myself to make one. That’s not a good use of my resources. On the other hand, writing comes easily to me, I find it rewarding, and it’s something that a lot of other people can’t contribute. I can accomplish way more by writing on behalf of activism than I could if I were using the same amount of resources to make phone calls. Whenever I feel the push to do more for a cause, I re-center on the importance of my writing and how much I’m offering in the work I already do.

A philosophy I carry around with me wherever I go is that everyone has something of value to offer. You have to find what your offering is.

JAMIE:  Tell us about Yopp Academy.

KELLA: Yopp Academy is a section of my blog that focuses on educational material. It’s where I’m outlining that basic set of social justice guidelines I mentioned earlier.

To distinguish the amount of prior knowledge that’s needed to understand a given article, I used a college-style course numbering system, so articles are sorted into 100 level, 200 level, 300 level, etc. If you’re brand new to social justice, you start with the 100 level articles and work your way up. It really does function like a set of college courses in that articles of higher levels directly reference ideas from the level 100 articles, so the more of them you read together, the better your understanding will be of the subject as a whole.

The articles I have published currently only go up to level 300 because I’ve been putting my focus on establishing all the basic concepts before adding more advanced stuff. I’m currently working on a lesson plan of over 40 educational articles to serve as a foundation of knowledge which you can use regardless of your level of involvement with activism, which will include higher-level articles in the future.

JAMIE: Tell us about your Facebook debates.

KELLA: I’ve always had a lot of friends on facebook who are into social justice and some of them have such large friends list that anytime they posted something controversial, it would spark a discussion/debate. I started jumping into these discussions and offering my opinion and I got a reputation for being good at explaining basic social justice concepts to people who weren’t familiar with them and for clearly outlining the problems in someone else’s argument.

I used Facebook debates to practice my writing, increase my own understanding of social justice, it introduced me to a bunch of other amazing people that cared about the same things, and because managing my disability/mental illnesses made traditional activism prohibitive, it gave me a way to be involved in causes I cared about. Spending so much time arguing with people who I disagreed with also gave me a lot of insight into the places people were most likely to have holes in their understanding of our social systems which in turn has really informed the content and the structure of my blog. I often say the reason I started a blog in the first place was that I got tired of writing out the same explanations/arguments over and over again, and just wanted to write out the article once to link to every time I came across the same issue again.

I know I differ from a lot of people in that I believe debates on social media, even the “unproductive” ones, are an important branch of activism. Not only do they spread information to larger audiences of people (while only 10 people might be commenting, 1,000 could be reading the comments) but they serve as a means of socializing bigots to understand that their bigotry will be met with hassle and frustration rather than easy acceptance like they’re used to. I think that practice has a lot more power than people think it does.

JAMIE:  So many people – like you and me – live with chronic, even catastrophic, illness. What can these illnesses teach us about social justice and advocacy?

KELLA: If you hold a conference for activism regarding chronic illness but you organize it in a similar way that you would any other business conference, your collection of speakers, organizers, and attendants are likely to be mostly healthy people rather than chronically ill people. If it’s energy-intensive to leave your house/travel, if you need frequent breaks or a special housing set up, if you have extensive food restrictions or you need to hire a carer to accompany you, it’s going to be very difficult, resource costly, and risky to go to a conference that healthy people can attend with ease. Even in attempting to center the chronically ill, if you organize from the perspective of a healthy person, you will leave chronically ill out of their own activism. That’s because the default systems that we have in place for most aspects of society make it very difficult for chronically ill people to participate let alone succeed.

Anytime you design a solution for the social issues chronically ill people face, you have to start by adapting your mindset and prioritizing accommodation of an experience that you’re not familiar with, or you’ll fail at your advocacy from the beginning.

And this idea is not at all exclusive to chronic illness. You see the same problem with white people organizing on behalf of people of color, cis people organizing for trans people, abled people organizing for disabled people, etc. You have to go in understanding that in order for your advocacy to be successful, you have to dismantle the relevant oppressive systems that are within your scope of power and create new systems, a new foundation before you attempt to build any kind of structure on top.

JAMIE: Your site is about eighteen months old as we work on this post. What are the goals for the next couple of years?

KELLA: I’m still very much working out what my ideal version of Yopp would be or what I want it to accomplish but so far, my concrete plans are:

  • Switch over to a new, more modern and accessible website
  • Finish writing the basic building blocks for Yopp Academy (all 40 of them!!)
  • Build up my Patreon supporter base– my first goal is $800 a month
  • Acquire enough sponsorships that I can publish up to 4 times a month

© 2019, Kella Hanna-Wayne

Kella Hanna-Wayne

KELLA HANNA-WAYNE (Yopp) is a disabled, chronically/mentally ill freelance writer who is the editor, publisher, and main writer for Yopp, a social justice blog dedicated to civil rights education, elevating voices of marginalized people, and reducing oppression; and for GlutenFreeNom.Com, a resource for learning the basics of gluten-free cooking and baking. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, Multiamory, Architrave Press and is forthcoming in a chapter of the book Twice Exceptional (2e) Beyond Learning Disabilities: Gifted Persons with Physical Disabilities. For fun, Kella organizes and DJ’s an argentine tango dancing event, bakes gluten-free masterpieces, sings loudly along with pop music, and makes cat noises. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, Medium, and Instagram.



ABOUT 

Jamie Dedes. I’m a Lebanese-American freelance writer, poet, content editor, blogger and the mother of a world-class actor and mother-in-law of a stellar writer/photographer. No grandchildren, but my grandkitty, Dahlia, rocks big time. I am hopelessly in love with nature and all her creatures. In another lifetime, I was a columnist, a publicist, and an associate editor to a regional employment publication. I’ve had to reinvent myself to accommodate scarred lungs, pulmonary hypertension, right-sided heart failure, connective tissue disease, and a rare managed but incurable blood cancer. The gift in this is time for my primary love: literature. I study/read/write from a comfy bed where I’ve carved out a busy life writing feature articles, short stories, and poetry and managing The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook

Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Serrated Words, a poem

“In all societies, public rhetoric involves some measure of lying, and history — political history and art history — is made when someone effectively confronts the lie. But in really scary societies all public conversation is an exercise in using words to mean their opposites — in describing the brave as traitorous, the weak as frightening, and the good as bad — and confronting these lies is the most scary and lonely thing a person can do.” Masha Gessen, Words Will Break Cement



When did you set foot into this world of pain?
Delivered to us on the wings of serrated words
You stirred the storm, locked hope in a setting sun
The moon is burdened with our blood and tears

© 2019, Jamie Dedes

In a world where the public rhetoric is cruel and disruptive, the words of respect, gratitude and common sense expressed by the young man in the video below are salve. He lost his stepfather and his mother was wounded in the El Paso shooting. The interview is held outside the church where his stepfather’s funeral Mass is about to take place. His mother was brought to the service by ambulance and with a nurse. If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view this short video.


ABOUT

Recent in digital publications: 
* Five by Jamie Dedes, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019
* From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems)(July 2019)
* The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice (August 11, 2019) / This short story is dedicated to all refugees, that would be one in every 113 people.

A busy though bed-bound poet, writer, former columnist and the former associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Levure littéraireRamingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, HerStry, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander CoveI Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, Woven Tale PressThe Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers. I founded The Bardo Group / Beguines, pushers of The BeZine of which I am managing editor. Email me at thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions or commissions.

“The BeZine” open for submissions to September issue, our solidarity with Youth Climate Strike, and our Virtual 100TPC event

“This is a space where we hope you’ll delight in learning how much you have in common with “other” peoples. We hope that your visits here will help you to love (respect) not fear.

“We acknowledge that there are enormous theological differences and historical resentments that carve wedges among and within the traditions and ethnic or national groups, but we believe that ultimately self-preservation, common sense, and human solidarity will empower connections and collaboration and overcome division and disorder.” excerpt from The BeZine Mission Statement



CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR

Our Annual 100,000 Poets and Friends for Change Issue

September 2019

Calls for submissions of poems, feature articles, fiction, creative nonfiction, art and photography, music videos, and documentary videos on the themes of peace, sustainability and social justice is open now through September 10, 2019.

ART & PHOTOGRAPHY: Note we also are looking for something special to be the header for The Table of Contents Page.

Your original previously published work may be submitted as long as you own the copyright.

NO simultaneous submissions for September please.

Email submissions to bardogroup@gmail.com. Please note in your subject line: For Zine September 2019.

Among the guidelines: our core team, our guest contributors, and our readership are international and diverse. No works that advocate hate or violence, promote misunderstanding, or that demean others are acceptable.

The BeZine is an entirely volunteer effort. While we do not pay for content, neither do we charge submission or subscription fees.

The BeZine is featured by
pf poetry
Second Light Live newsletters, website, and magazine
Duotrope®


IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE GLOBAL YOUTH CLIMATE STRIKE

CALLING YOUTH & ADULTS

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS of poems, feature articles, fiction, creative nonfiction, art and photography, music videos, documentary videos on climate change for The BeZine blog is open through September 10, 2019. In solidarity with the world’s youth, we’ll post work on Climate Change throughout September. Your original previously published work may be submitted as long as you own the copyright. NO simultaneous submissions.  Please note in your subject line: For the climate change blog. Email submissions to bardogroup@gmail.com. All honors to Contributing Editor Michael Dickel for coming up with this idea.


artwork for The BeZine 100TPC 2019 is by the multitalented Corina Ravenscraft dragonkatet

THE BACK STORY:

100 Thousand Poets for Change, or 100TPC.org, is an international grassroots educational organization focusing on the arts, especially poetry, music, and the literary arts. It was founded in 2011 by poet/artist/musician Michael Rothenberg and poet/translator/artist Terri Carrion, and focuses on a worldwide event each September.

This initiative crossed my radar in 2011 when it was founded. I fell in love with the idea of it, the world in solidarity for peace, sustainability and social justice. What could be more wonderful? Since I am disabled and homebound I couldn’t host an event or even attend one. I decided that there were probably others who would like to participate but for one reason or another could not do so. Thus, The BeZine Virtual 100,000 Poets and Others for Change was born. This makes it possible for anyone, no matter where they live or what their circumstance, to join in 100TPC as long as they have access to a computer. People can do a local or regional event and join with our virtual event as well should they care to do so.

About two years after we started doing Virtual 100TPC, I “met”  Michael Dickel and invited him to join The Bardo Group Beguines, our core team, and he soon volunteered to be our virtual 100TPC master of ceremonies. This has become one of our more delightful yearly traditions. Michael will also take the lead on the September issue of the Zine, which honors 100TPC themes.

Your Invitation

On Saturday, September 28, you are invited to visit The BeZine Blog and share your work on Peace, Sustainability, and Social Justice via Mr. Linky or in the Comments section.  Clear and detailed direction will be provided that day, but truly it’s an easy thing. You will, of course, also be able to read the work of others, which we hope you will do.  Michael and I will keep the event going for 24 hours or so beginning at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time on September 28. If you are unsure when that would be in your time zone, check The Time Zone Converter.

On behalf of The Bardo Group Beguines
and in the spirit of love (respect) and community,
Jamie Dedes
Founding and Managing Editor

Our Core Team:
John Anstie
Naomi Baltuck
Cloaked Monk (Terri Stewart)
James R. Cowles
Jamie Dedes
Michael Dickel
dragonkatet (Corina Ravenscraft)
Chrysty Darby Hendrick
Joseph Hesch
Ruth Jewel
Lana Phillips
Charles W. Martin
scillagrace (Priscilla Gallaso)
Michael Watson


The BeZine: Be Inspired, Be Creative, Be Peace, Be

Daily Spiritual Practice: Beguine Again, sister site to The BeZine and a community of Like-Minded People

Facebook, The Bardo Group Beguines

Twitter, The Bardo Group Beguines

Facebook: The BeZine 100TPC social justice discussion group

Facebook: The BeZine Arts and Humanities Page (not just for poetry), a place to share your work


An Interview with Julia Nusbaum; Empowering women through storytelling.

logo © Julia Nusbaum, creator and curator of HerStry, empowering women through storytelling

“Writing women back into history: For too long women have been left out of the history books. Their stories muddled or left untold. It’s time to change that. HerStry invites all women, from every walk of life, to tell their stories. We all have something worth saying.” Julia Nusbaum 

******

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus


A number of years ago, Julia Nusbaum founded a brave and safe space for women to share their stories. It’s called HerStry. I’ve been watching it evolve. Julia’s values and intentions are born of experience in social services and of a keen awareness of the healing power of words and stories. Thanks to her, the stories shared by women from all walks of life correct the historic record, let others know they’re not alone in their experiences and perceptions, and provide inspiration for joy and healing, for overcoming trauma and depression.

Christmas, late ’80s, San Francisco, California

About a week or so ago, I dusted off Remembering Mom, a 2012 piece I wrote at the request of an editor at Connotation Press. It was well received, but at the time I had mixed feelings about delivering it for publication. If my mother was alive, she wouldn’t be happy with me. At this point, I had no reservations about asking Julia to consider it for publication on her site. The emerging tone of public discussion on privacy issues, race and gender issues, and women’s rights over their own bodies demands that we are open about our experiences and observations, both as a reminder and as a warning. We’re being thrown back into the second wave of feminism. I am old enough to remember when we first began sharing our stories, blue-penciling history, and fighting anti-woman, anti-race animus with Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker at the helm.

Remembering Mom is on HerStry. You can read it there. The subtext of my mother’s story is a culture that saw women as third class citizens and perennial children, consigned them to poverty with pay rates 40% lower than men working the same jobs, provided no privacy protection for medical records, and sanctioned an employment norm that allowed people to be fired or not hired due to illnesses like cancer.


AN INTERVIEW WITH 

Julia Nusbaum
*

©  Julia Nusbaum

JAMIE: What are the influences that brought you to founding a safe space for women to tell their stories and why is it important for women to share them?

JULIA: I can’t talk about the beginning of HerStry without talking about my time as a graduate student at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. It shaped so much of what HerStry was and is.
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For the last year of my masters program I chose to spend a year working in a nonprofit rather than writing a thesis because my ultimate goal was to work in nonprofit rather than go on in academia.
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I ended up working for Thistle Farms, a Nashville-based social enterprise that works with women who have survived trafficking, addiction, and life in the street. As cliché as it is, that year changed my life.
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For one, Thistle Farms is an extraordinary place that operates under the assumption that love heals. Everything in that place is done with purpose and intention and love, including sharing stories and holding sacred space for every woman’s story and unique experience.
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While I was there I started a writing group. I was young and naive and thought we’d just do some fun short-story writing and be done, but it turned into a space where women wrote their true, raw, tender stories. And I wrote with them. I wrote about my life experiences. I discovered things about myself, and I realized that women don’t really get spaces to just talk about ourselves and share our experiences. I wanted to create some kind of brave space like that where we could open up. I started HerStry.
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I convinced a bunch of my friends to write for the first couple of weeks so I had content. Then I just started advertising. I created a Facebook page and Instagram and just built it through word of mouth. It was hard, but I wanted to do it so badly. So many women thanked me after they wrote for HerStry that I knew I was doing the right thing. I knew it could be something.
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That was long winded, but HerStry was created with so much love and born out of a place that wants to shake up the norms. I want women to talk about themselves, to take up space online and in the world, to own their stories and be proud of who they are and where they have come from and where they are going.
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JAMIE: I believe HerStry is about three years old now. Have there been any unexpected lessons along the way?
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JULIA: I’ve learned that I can’t please everyone. I’ll always do something someone doesn’t like. Whether it’s adding submission fees, not accepting a story (I’d love to accept every story we get but it would be so much), or being an unashamed feminist and voicing my views and opinions on things.
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JAMIE: In addition to hosting women’s storytelling, you have recently expanded your offerings to include workshops, journaling guidelines and other services.  So what’s the plan? How can you help women who have a story to tell but don’t yet have the skills to tell it?
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JULIA: So from the beginning I wanted HerStry to exist on and off the screen. But it takes money and work to make that happen, so it’s just been in the last few months that we started offering workshops. They have been a great success. We have two more on tap for late summer and early fall. I’m also planning our first writers’ group, which will be a five week online critique group. If the first one goes well, we will offer it at different levels. I think everyone deserves a chance to tell their story and if we can help them get there that’s what I want.
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I’m also in the process of planning our first writers retreat, hopefully coming summer 2020. Stay tuned. It’s going to be in the Midwest and full of Midwest summer goodness plus lots of healing and self care time … and writing time, of course!
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JAMIE: What is forthcoming from you as a writer?
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JULIA: I’m actually working on a novel. Well, my second novel. The first will never see the light of day and that’s okay. Everyone needs one novel that was trash. That’s how you learn.
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I went out to the Northern California Writers Retreat this spring and worked on it with a bunch of amazing writers. If you ever have the chance to do that retreat I highly suggest it. It changed my writing life.
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JAMIE: The readers and writers connected to The Poet by Day and The BeZine are multitalented.  Our writing community includes poets who also write fiction, creative nonfiction and drama. Some are performance artists, visual artists, actors and musicians. We even have a number of cartoonists. However, here our primary – not exclusive – focus is poetry. We can’t help but ask if HerStry will eventually expand to include women’s poetry?
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JULIA: We actually used to have a poetry section. If you look in our archives you can read the old ones. When we started getting a lot of submissions and started gaining popularity, we decided to only focus on personal essays.
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Our Facebook Group, Babes Who Write, as well as any of our critique groups are open to writers of all genres, but the literary website and our forthcoming anthology, Beginnings, are dedicated specifically to nonfiction prose.
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JAMIE: What is HerStry’s submissions process?
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JULIA: Click the Submit a story button on our website. It will give you all the details about how to submit. You can also find us on Submittable!
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Bravo, Julia!



© Julia Nusbaum

Julia Nusbaum is the creator of HerStry. She currently lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she works in nonprofit. When she’s not working she loves reading, sitting in sunny spots, and eating all the food and drinking all the tea.



ABOUT

Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poems in “I Am Not a Silent Poet”
* Remembering Mom in HerStry
* Three poems in Levure littéraire
Upcoming in digital publications:
“Over His Morning Coffee,” Front Porch Review

A homebound writer, poet, and former columnist and associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, an info hub for poets and writers and am the founding/managing editor of The BeZine.


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton