Transformative Language Arts in Action

Transformative Language Arts in Action, edited by Ruth A. Farmer & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Series: It’s Easy to W.R.I.T.E. Expressive Writing, Paperback: 200 pages

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (December 21, 2014), ISBN-10: 1475810601 & ISBN-13: 978-1475810608. Get your copy here.

Transformative Language Arts, an emerging field and profession, calls on us to use writing, storytelling, theater, music, expressive and other arts for social change, personal growth, and culture shift. In this landmark anthology, Transformative Language Artists share their stories, scholarship and practices for a more just and peaceful world, from a Hmong storyteller and spoken word artist weaving traditions with contemporary immigrant challenges in Philadelphia, to a playwright raising awareness of AIDS/HIV prevention.

Read the stories, consider the questions raised, and find inspiration and tools in using words as a vehicle for transformation through essays on the challenge of dominant stories, public housing women writing for their lives, histories and communities at the margins, singing as political action, the convergence of theology and poetics, women’s self-leadership, embodied writing, and healing the self, others, and nature through TLA.

The anthology also includes “snapshots,” short features on transformative language artists who make their livings and lives working with people of all ages and backgrounds to speak their truths, and change their communities.

Caryn with Co-editor Ruth Farmer


When you take writers and poets into areas where real people are dealing with real life problems and traumas, with humble joys, renewing their hope in life, having expressive breakthroughs—that is the gift to all of us. This allows real people to tell their stories, to share their grief and gratitude, to untwist the dark silence that wraps their hearts and lengthen it out into a sonnet, a narrative poem, a celebratory lyric—that is essentially what language and words are for.  What these writers have done is nothing short of challenging the stale models of writing to and for other writers, other poets entrenched in the moldy hallways of academia. When writing breaks down the doors, when writing is used to really reach across the dark chasm and speak out, call by name the ghosts that lurk there and invoke one’s own power with fearless defiance, well, then, that is truly writing from the heart, writing that is mapped and charted to define and explore our human experience. That is what this book does, and I applaud the editors, the writers and poets. So impressive is this volume that every high school child and every citizen should have it in their backpacks and book shelves.  ~ Jimmy Santiago Baca, poet and author, A Glass of Water and Singing at the Gates; founder, Cedar Tree, Inc.

This is as much a testimonial to the resilience and creativity of the human spirit as it is an informative exploration of an emerging field, Transformative Language Arts. A collection of reflections, stories, reports on the work of change agents whose medium is language (whether spoken, written, sung, enacted, or remembered), it shares with us the many ways people are successfully being moved to write, to be heard into speech, and to be liberated into action through the work of these caring professionals. ~ Elizabeth Minnich, professor, Queens University (moral philosophy); author, Transforming Knowledge

A transformation awaits each reader in this volume’s wealth of language, heart, scholarship, and stories within stories to inspire action in whatever small way we can to affect our large, troubled yet beautiful world. Each contributor is a “change agent” who creatively points the way to a higher level of understanding of our varied fellow human beings through language’s many avenues leading to hope and survival. ~ Perie Longo, poet laureate emerita, Santa Barbara, CA; registered poetry therapist; author, Baggage Claim

This new anthology of Transformative Language Arts essays highlights the excitement of this emerging field. Founded as a Master of Arts program at Goddard College, TLA has spread across the country as a cutting edge practice in the arts, ecology, business, activism, and health. Farmer and Mirriam-Goldberg bring together leading voices to demonstrate how words have power to change individual lives as well as communities. Join with them to help catalyze social change. ~ Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-09

This book is about how words can change lives, and in so doing, change the world. From stories of homeless women finding their voice to the power of song to transform inner life, this is a book that revives the ancient awareness of the dynamic energy of language. What an antidote this book is to the popular media’s silence and silliness in the face of injustice. ~ Barbara Kerr, distinguished professor of counseling psychology and director, CLEOS (Counseling Laboratory for the Exploration of Optimal States), University of Kansas

Having already been familiar with Farmer and Mirriam-Goldberg’s teaching and work, I am thrilled to see this book actualize the remarkable teaching and pedagogy they both advocate. This collection not only moves you to rethink your teaching practices with its understanding of “communities of congruence,” but invites you to investigate methodologies that alter the stale modes of workshop and creative writing teaching and the possibilities of teaching outside the classroom—the rest of the world and its places of nurture, hardship and recovery. ~ Prageeta Sharma, professor, University of Montana; author, Undergloom and Infamous Landscapes.

The essays in this groundbreaking anthology provide artists, educators, activists, scholars, community organizers, and spiritual leaders with a blueprint for applying the spoken, written, and/or sung word for initiating personal and social transformation. Leading artists, educators, and practitioners within the emerging field describe concrete ways to present workshops, performances, and other community activities that engage participants in the process of self-discovery, creative expression, and community building. Whether working with women subsisting in housing projects or people combating mental illness or cancer patients and caregivers living with the profound impact of the illness, the contributors share their experiences as testimonials to the life-changing power of these practices. ~ Michelle Myers, spoken word artist; founder of Yellow Rage; activist; professor

Table of Contents

A Snake in the Grass: Challenges of Dominant Stories - James Sparrell

Snapshot: Sherry Reiter, Poetry Therapy Pioneer, Educator, Clinical Social Worker, Writer, Storyteller

Snapshot: Seema Reza, Recreational Arts Program Coordinator at Military Hospitals, Poet and Writer

“Everyone's Life is a Book”: Public Housing Women Write For Their Lives - Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Snapshot: Heather Severson, Writer, Workshop Model Developer, and Facilitator

Snapshot: Joanna Tebbs Young, Writer, Columnist, Expressive Writing and Spirituality Workshop Facilitator, and Workshop Developer

Transformative Narratives: Women’s Self-Leadership Milieu as a Pathway for Social Change - Yyvette Angelique Hyater-Adams

Snapshot: Patricia Fontaine, Writer, and Facilitator of Workshops for People Living with Cancer

Snapshot: Nancy Morgan, Arts and Humanities Director at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center

Youth, Writing, and Identity: An Interview with Sarah W. Barlett - Ruth Farmer

Snapshot: Suzanne Adams, Workshop Facilitator for Adolescent Girls, and Writer

Snapshot: Minna Dubin, Workshop Facilitator for Women and Youth, and Writer

Snapshot: Ruth Gendler, Writer, Artist, and Facilitator of Workshops for Children and Adults

Zamlers, Tricksters, and Queers: Re-Mixing Histories in Yiddishland and Faerieland - Ezra Nepon

Snapshot: Miriam Gabriel, Blogger, and Spoken Word Artist

Snapshot: Doug Lipman, Storyteller, Coach, Mentor, and Facilitator

Performing for Social Change: Interviews with Kao Kue, Taina Asili, and Katt Lissard - Ruth Farmer

Snapshot: Kelley Hunt, Singer-Songwriter, International Teaching and Touring Artist

Snapshot: Deb Hensley, Singer-Songwriter, Writer, Consultant, Facilitator and TLA Network Coordinator

Theopoetics as a Spiritual Form of Transformative Language Arts - Callid Keefe-Perry

Snapshot: Larry Greer, Interfaith Minister and Pastoral Coordinator

Snapshot: Scott Youmans, Seminarian, Web Consultant, Writer and Facilitator

Holding Space: TLA As Pathway in Education - Ruth Farmer

Snapshot: Lisa McIvor, Home Health Nurse, Workshop Facilitator for People With Disabilities, Poet and Writer

Snapshot: Richard Hodgson, Writer, Storyteller, and Workshop Facilitator for Elders

Autobiography of a Social Body - Juliana Borrero

Snapshot: Jen Cross, Writer and Erotic Writer, Facilitator of Workshops for Survivors of Sexual Violence and for Erotic Writing

Snapshot: Angie River, Spoken Word and Burlesque Artist

Deep Connection: Healing Self, Others, and Nature Through Transformative Language Arts - Brian W. Sunset