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 

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“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



 

Wednesday Writing Prompts to Return on March 21; Meanwhile, Introducing Deborah Alma, Emergency Poet; “Ramingo’s Porch” and Poetry Radio

The Spirit of the House, Still Life with Cat by German Expressionist Painter, August Macke (1887-1914)



The Spirit of the House

from the painting by August Macke 1910

A smug cat, a cosy cat, a passing cat,
a blue striped jug, with the light catching

the glaze, its dazzle closes the eyes
of the cat -it is a jug of cream.

A scented geranium, red and jaunty
in a terracotta pot.

Three small oranges and a blue dish
to hold the finger rubs of friends around its rim

always, always when they come, they reach out
to stroke the leaves, to rub the dish,

to add to the stroked smug of the cat,
to peel an orange.

There they are my friends, their backs
to the wall as they bend and bow

to half heard music, from the times we danced
to the times we laughed.

A smug cat, a cosy cat, a passing cat.

© 2018, Deborah Alma (The Emergency Poet), All rights reserved


THE HEALING ADVENTURES OF POEMEDIC

An Interview

Originally published in the December 2016 issue of The BeZine

by

Mendes Biondo and Deborah Alma

If I have a headache, I generally take a pill. But are we really sure that only medicines are able to heal our illnesses? Deborah Alma, poet and poemedic, said no. Poetry can give us a great hand to face our problems, in particular those that are hidden in our deepness. We had a brief chat about Deborah’s wonderful work and this is what came out.

Mendes: The theme of this issue of The BeZine is the healing power of art. Before asking you about The Emergency Poet, I would like to know your personal experience with art self-healing.

Deborah: That’s an interesting question and quite a difficult one to answer briefly. I think my own experience is like most people’s: extremely varied, very common and often very unconscious.

The moments that stand out for me I suppose were in the compulsion I felt to write myself through and out of an abusive and damaging relationship, watching my own grandmother’s solace in reading poetry after the death of her husband and as she was dying. I remember also being overwhelmed by an exhibition in London of the works of Frieda Kahlo and how bravely she painted her pain. I have worked for a few years with people with dementia and at the end of their lives using poetry.

For me, there is no doubt that art is where we can best connect with each other in ways that are intimate, empathetic and authentic.

MENDES: Now it’s the time of the Poemedic as you like to call yourself. A white coat, a stethoscope and a poetry book are the main objects you need when you ask your patients to open themselves up and then you suggest to them the right poem. What happens when patient and poem match each other?

Deborah: Ah this has been the most amazing thing for me! I had no idea when I started prescribing poetry just how much this process can work. People love to have a poem hand-picked for them after some careful listening. They see the gift and make it their own. It seems to bring a lot of joy and sometimes relief and comfort.

Mendes: Why people are frightened about reading poems and how can people involved in culture help readers to start loving poetry?

Deborah: I think that something happens, at least in the UK in secondary school where often pupils are asked to examine texts as though they were a forensic scientist, pulling out the meaning and the poet’s intention, leaving the student with a sense that somehow poems are difficult, like a puzzle to be decoded rather than being asked to respond emotionally and intuitively. They also seem to stop writing creatively themselves and being a writer yourself is the easiest way into loving poetry.

I think that there is a certain amount of snobbery in the poetry world, that asserts that poetry is not for everyone, that likes to encourage this perception of difficulty. Certainly some poetry is ‘difficult’ and the reader is rewarded and flattered by understanding it, its clever tricks, its craft, its vocabulary; but instead of saying it is just for us few, I believe we can help others in. This comes from reading widely, from a developing confidence in approaching a poem and through being invited in. This is what I aim to do with Emergency Poet, invite them in.

Mendes: You worked also with people with dementia. How can it help, in this case, reading poetry?

Deborah: I have worked using poetry with people with dementia and also with people in care homes and in hospice care for the last five years. As a poet I do know something about what it is to be intimate and honest and authentic. The thread joining poetry and these areas of work for me is this intimacy and honesty. Poetry I believe, more than any other art, with the exception perhaps of music (and they have much in common), speaks as though directly from one human being to another. It is about connection and empathy.

Most of the people that I’ve worked with who have some degree of dementia, are from the generation that learnt poetry by heart at school. As a poet working with a small group of people in a care home or day care centre I have often had the experience described so beautifully in Gillian Clarke’s poem Miracle on St David’s Day that describes the poet reading Wordsworth’s much-loved poem Daffodils in a care setting somewhere, where the words of the poem long ago learnt by heart ignite something deep inside the mind of a long mute man:

“He is suddenly standing, silently,
huge and mild, but I feel afraid. Like slow
movement of spring water or the first bird
of the year in the breaking darkness,
the labourer’s voice recites The Daffodils.”

It is a gift and a privilege to be the one who brings this to a group of people. I worked with a group of people with sight-loss last year and as I started to read Masefield’s ‘I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky…’ and to have at least twenty voices take it up with me, one woman reciting it word perfect all the way to the end was a joy to all present and it brings a tear to my eye even now as I write this and remember it.

Mendes: Best and the worst experience you have had with the Emergency Poet?

I think the best experiences I have had with Emergency Poet, and I have had so many, was when taking the ambulance to Bristol Southmead Hospital for a few days and parking near the other ambulances and prescribing poetry to patients, stressed staff and visitors . There was something very uplifting for people , (one woman still attached to her drip and in slippers) answering questions that were gentle, uplifting and being given the gift of a poem. It worked really well there. I’m starting to work in hospices prescribing poetry, which is wonderful and intense and extremely rewarding.

Bad experiences are usually to do with bad weather, wind, rain and cold. The hardest thing for me is to prescribe poetry to people who have never really read at all, not even as children.

Mendes: We always need a box of aspirin in our pockets. Who is, for you, the poetical aspirin? Can you suggest any “everyday” poems?

Deborah: I have a few poems that I use very often; the poem I am prescribing a lot these days ( it has been a difficult year), is the beautiful poem Try to Praise the Mutilated World by Adam Zagajewski

Mendes: The ambulance is riding down the street. What and when is the next stop?

Deborah: It’s quiet over the winter because of the weather, but the next stop is to set up an inside surgery and run a workshop on compassion at a conference in London for Psychology and Psychological Therapies which will be fascinating for me. I will have fun having psycotherapists on my couch.

To know more about Deborah Alma and her work, you can visit her website The Emergency Poet, The world’s first and only mobile poetic first aid service.

© 2016, text, Mendes Biondo and Deborah Alma; All rights reserved – Published here with permission The photographic origins of the Maché painting are unclear.  It may be in the public domain. At any rate, it does not belong to me./J.D.



POETRY ON RADIO

Ramingo’s Porch

To be aired on February 27th.

The second issue of The Ramingo’s Porch is out. This publication is cofounded and coedited by Mendes Biondo. Poems from both the first and second issues are to be read on February 27 on Ellen Sander’s Poetry Woodshed Radio (Belfast Community Radio) by the poets or other readers on their behalf. (Mine is read by actor Richard Lingua. He is based in Northern California where he works in multiple fields including theatre, the arts, and technology.)  Mendes’ partners are Catfish McDaris and Marc Pietrzykowski. Submission guidelines for Ramingo’s Porch are HERE. This is a print magazine available through Amazon. The URL for Poetry Woodshed Radio is in the illustration.


ABOUT THE POET BY DAY

Medicine and the Muse

Cover illustration by Jeffrey Fisher c Stanford Medicine

“In this biomedical revolution, we need the humanities now more than ever.” – Lloyd B. Minor, MD, Dean, Stanford University School of Medicine

Writing, poetry and art have been comforts to me throughout my work and personal life. I know their power as meditative processes that relieve physical and mental stress, enhance mental acuity and decision-making, and improve self-image. Artistic pursuits may not cure but they do heal.

When I recently transferred to Stanford Health Care I was delighted to find that there is a serious commitment at Stanford University and Stanford Health Care to incorporate the arts into care for patients and into physician training, going beyond the usual poetry and art classes for cancer victims that are offered by some health care organizations.  Stanford is even using dance with Parkinson’s Disease patients.

Stanford Magazine

The winter issue of Stanford Medicine featured articles on the intersection of medicine with the arts and humanities. You can read these articles online. The winter issue was produced in collaboration with Stanford’s Medicine and the Muse program.

The entire magazine is available online.

in the face of a rose, a poem

IMG_0688.JPGthey line the pebbled walkway like so many faithful, meditating
along the El Camino, earnest little faces catching the sunlight
or tossing Gregorian chant into the weather when it rains

their bright colors and blessed incense bare witness to the sacred,
soften the brittle longitudes and aching latitudes of the heart

© Jamie Dedes


2015, Kevin Young at Library of Congress National Book Festival September 5, 2015 Washington, DC, by fourandsixty, CC BY SA 2.0

2015, Kevin Young at Library of Congress National Book Festival September 5, 2015 Washington, DC, by fourandsixty, CC BY SA 2.0

The recommended read for this week is The Art of Losing by Kevin Young.  I find this to be an extraordinarily beautiful anthology about grief and recommend it for all those who work with living and dying, clergy of all faiths, hospice workers, physicians and nurses as well as those grieving a lost family member or friend. It was conceived and edited by Kevin Young, a poet in his own right and the editor of four poetry anthologies. His book Jelly Roll: A Blues was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It won the Paterson Poetry Prize.

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