In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Peter Vertacnik

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Peter Vertacnik

Your poem “The Book” in Volume 23 includes one repetitious line in each stanza that threads the narrative together. What does it say about this man that he refuses to accept separating from his former spouse? What was your intention in writing about divorce and loss?

The two refrains in the villanelle form often lend themselves to obsessive subjects, and the speaker’s refusal (or inability) to put this part of his past behind him certainly participates in that. I started this poem only with the intention to write something about books as physical presences and how people experience them as such, not just for the language they contain. I was genuinely surprised by the narrative that developed as I composed and revised it. 

We chose to publish “The Book” right as the pandemic hit the US, but you didn’t write it with Covid-19 in mind, and yet it’s interesting to me how much more painful this separation would be for your speaker if this were set in the real world. How does separation from loved ones take on a new meaning for you now after having this poem published when we’re all secluding ourselves?

At the time I began writing the present version of this poem (Sept 2018), I was living in West Texas, far from my family and friends, and quite often felt lonely. Now, at the end of 2020, though I’m living in a different part of the country, I’m still separated from the people I love. So while the circumstances of the separation have changed, the feeling strikes me as remarkably similar. I don’t know if the previous isolation has helped me to better handle the current one, but it seems familiar in some ways. One thing that this poem has kept clear in my mind is that even during times of public crisis, people continue to suffer in their own individual ways just as before. I worry that our private suffering has been even more painful this year because of the increased separateness; it often feels that way to me. 

It feels rarer and rarer to me to read contemporary poems that include a rhyme scheme. Was it difficult to stick with the form? Did you envision that from the beginning, or did it just begin to appear naturally?

While I didn’t begin with the definite idea of writing “The Book” as a villanelle in iambic pentameter, my drafts show that it proceeded in this direction fairly quickly. When I have only a vague idea or random set of observations that I want to try to make into a poem (as was the case here), I often choose a strict form to begin drafting in and let the rhyme and meter help me make connections I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. And that’s pretty much how this poem developed; the rhymes showed me what it was about.

This issue was birthed during this pandemic and the political and social unrest that’s been spilling over on the streets in cities nationwide. It feels like day after day we witness more violence and division, and we felt that the title “hunger for tiny things” took on a multi-faceted poignance for this issue. I’m curious—what tiny things do you hunger for these days?

Simple things that seem trivial until they’re scarce: lazily eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations, the smell of my favorite restaurants, hugging my friends, meeting new people in person. 

What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?

This list would be far too long to record here, or even for me to remember properly. Recently, however, W.H. Auden’s and Anthony Hecht’s work–both poetry and prose–has meant a great deal to me, especially in terms of how to write clear and engaging sentences. Both of these writers can do this so well in both their poems and essays. I’ve also been learning a lot from translating Rilke’s poetry and the kind of intensive close reading that translation requires. Without dropping any names, I’m extremely grateful for my writing mentors, past and present. Some of them have been my teachers, some I’ve met at conferences, others I’ve never met but have learned from through correspondence. 

Do you practice any other art forms? If so, how do these influence your writing and/or creative process?

I don’t. Both my aunt and cousin are professional visual artists, though; and several other family members have painted or carved as hobbies. This has meant a lot to me, especially when I was younger–being around people I loved and respected who were engaged in creating art in various ways. It helped me understand art as a process early on, not just as a product.

What projects are you working on right now?

In addition to all that’s involved with being a graduate student–taking classes, teaching etc.–I spend most of my writing time trying to revise and expand what I hope will be my first book of poems. I’m also slowly working on translating Rilke’s Das Buch der Bilder into English, as well as helping my friend Yifan Zhang translate some essays and poems by a contemporary Taiwanese writer whose work we both love. 


Peter Vertacnik holds degrees from Penn State and Texas Tech. His poems and translations appear or are forthcoming in Alabama Literary Review, The American Journal of Poetry, The Hopkins Review, Literary Matters, The MacGuffin, Poet Lore, and Valparaiso Poetry Review, among others. He is currently an MFA student at the University of Florida in Gainesville. You can learn more about him and his work at his website, or follow him at his Twitter (@PeterVertacnik) and his Instagram (vertacnik_writing).

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributor–Dan Malakoff

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributor–Dan Malakoff

Your short story “Bear No Relation” in Volume 23 involves a lot of tension simmering in the narrative. I felt so anxious watching Jane spiral! Can you tell us why you chose a political meet-and-greet cocktail party as the setting for this story? 

Yelena Brysenkova

Politics involve a lot of performance; politicians are constantly trying to create an impression. Parties can be that way, too, for many of us. The expectation is for Jane to perform for her once-friends. The stakes for her are higher since her husband is angling to work for the candidate. Jane understands these dynamics. She pushes back but can’t transcend them.

One of my favorite parts of this story is that you included a passage from The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I’m curious—what made you think of this text when you were writing?

With the idea for this story, I looked to see how other writers depicted parties in their fiction. Virginia Woolf wrote a series of stories called Mrs. Dalloway’s Party. I read that and from there my mind drifted to The Hours. The themes and style of these books ended up influencing me a lot here.

This issue was birthed during this pandemic and the political and social unrest that’s been spilling over on the streets in cities nationwide. It feels like day after day we witness more violence and division, and we felt that the title “hunger for tiny things” took on a multi-faceted poignance for this issue. I’m curious—what tiny things do you hunger for these days?

I miss going to the movies, though given the setup to the question perhaps I should say something more… Let me add: Like Jane, anyone who has experienced personal tragedy understands how abruptly the rug can get pulled out from under you. I sort of feel like we’re experiencing this, or some new sense of fragility, collectively. But then life, however it reconstitutes, starts pretty quickly to feel normal again, for better or worse.

Writers tend to write what haunts or obsesses them. What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing, or tend to show up a lot in your work?

Relationships that purport to be loving, that’s a big one. I’m also interested in how we come to believe what we believe about ourselves.

What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?

I love the work of so many writers—Edwidge Danticat, Michael Ondaatje, Dave Eggers, Jesse Ball, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison. My teachers in Pitt’s MFA program—Allison Amend, Irina Reyn, the late Chuck Kinder—they’re angels on my shoulder while I write.

What projects are you working on right now?

During lockdown, I finished the first draft of a novel. It’s actually four, linked “detective” novellas that take place in my hometown, Pittsburgh. (The main character is a law student, then family-man lawyer, then deadbeat lawyer, then retiree/part-time notary.) Each novella takes place in a different decade.


Dan Malakoff’s short stories have appeared in Pleiades, Wigleaf, River Styx, Best Microfiction 2019, and other publications. Comet Press published his novella, Steel City Cold

Accompanying artwork for this post is from a 2014 Spanish translation of Mrs. Dalloway by Yelena Brysenkova

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Joanna Manning

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Joanna Manning

Your flash essay “Sweet Just Yesterday” in Volume 23 is a burst of imagery and sensory details. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you kept this essay so compressed?

I write for a living, so I don’t always have the energy to explore the intellectual potential of an idea in a formal essay, but I’m finding a great deal of satisfaction in writing vignettes like this one. Writing them forces me to pay attention to the world. I’m always mining for details—images, characters—that have some inherent meaning or beauty that I can capture. A poet can take an image and make meaning out of it. I’ve never been able to do that. At best I can simply bear witness to the things that tell their own story. A rejuvenating fire is one of those images that can largely speak for itself, I think. The Phoenix myth is already deeply embedded in our collective psyche.

There were a number of things percolating in my mind when I wrote this. It was September 11th, so I was in a reflective mood to begin with, and I think I might have told you at the time that this piece was elegiac, a lament for everything that we lost that day and in the ensuing years. And I was half right—it was an elegy of sorts. But it was one for my father, who had died by suicide several months before. Reading it now, a few years later, I can really see myself struggling to let go of what once was. I hadn’t yet entered the acceptance phase of my grief. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote that this kind of thinking is mere foolishness, like “wishing for a fig in winter.” But there are threads of hope in the piece as well. I always find it interesting to see how my own interpretation of my work can change over time.      

This issue was birthed during this pandemic and the political and social unrest that’s been spilling over on the streets in cities nationwide. It feels like day after day we witness more violence and division, and we felt that the title “hunger for tiny things” took on a multi-faceted poignance for this issue. I’m curious—what tiny things do you hunger for these days?

You’re probably hoping for something more profound, and this might sound more salacious than it actually is, but I miss touching people. Not just hugs and handshakes among friends but that surprise intimacy of a stranger’s touch—a hand on your shoulder as you pass by each other, that kind of thing. I must not have been hugged enough as a child.

Writers tend to write what haunts or obsesses them. What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing, or tend to show up a lot in your work?

Inheritance comes up a lot. I also wrestle with absurdity in the philosophical sense, that there’s a fundamental tension to our tendency to seek out answers to the Big Questions about the meaning and purpose of life when there are no answers to those questions. This is probably a typical preoccupation of middle age though.

What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?

The late Judith Kitchen had an enormous influence on me, both as a writer and a mentor. Her enthusiasm for creative nonfiction and its possibilities turned me on to the genre in the first place. I originally set out to be a fiction writer, which was a terrible idea because I had no real talent for it, but as Judith and I got to know each other and she began to understand how I viewed the world, she encouraged me to give essays a try. The first essay I wrote wound up being a finalist for a national prize, and when I told her the news she just said, “What did I tell you?” She was an incredibly generous person and the best cheerleader to have in my corner.

Do you practice any other art forms? If so, how do these influence your writing and/or creative process?

I don’t think this qualifies as an art form, but I’ve always loved stand-up comedy and just this year—before all live performances were banned in Washington—I was able to try my hand at it for the first time. It went surprisingly well, and it taught me one important thing that I have been able to apply to my writing life.

In stand-up, the performance is the editing process. Yes, you write and rehearse your set beforehand, but in the end, you don’t know how the jokes are going to land until you tell them to an audience. The feedback is instant, so you know right away what needs to be tweaked. This was the part that terrified me. I really thought that I would take it personally if the audience didn’t laugh at one of my jokes. After all, I’m the one on the stage, so there’s no one else to blame if the set’s not going well.

I can’t speak for all writers, but I know I tend to view my work as an extension of myself, so any critique of the work can easily seem like a personal critique as well. There’s a lot of vulnerability in creative fields. Stand-up showed me, in this really raw and intense way, that the work and the artist are, in fact, separate entities. That’s been freeing for me. Also, even the jokes that got a big laugh certainly didn’t connect with every person in the room. You can hit the mark and still not please everyone. That was an important lesson as well.

What projects are you working on right now?

I just finished a long essay that was an investigation into my paternal grandfather’s life. He walked out on my father and his brothers when they were very young and seemed to just disappear. I was able to find out what became of him, and the essay was my effort at offering him some redemption. It helped me to soften my heart toward him anyway. I think that’s an important part of ending generational pain, don’t you think?

Now that that is finished and being shopped around, I’m at work on a collection of humorous essays. This might seem like a departure from the work that I currently have out in the world, but humor was my first love and is probably my strongest form. I was hesitant to pursue it when I was younger because it wasn’t “serious” enough, whatever that means. Those of us who feel compelled to create things want to create things that will endure. Humor can seem so frivolous. But when I was on stage making people laugh, it almost felt sacred, like I was ministering to them, and I know that joy will endure in some way. Humor no longer seems frivolous at all. I’m able to see the value in it now.


Joanna Manning is a graduate of Syracuse University and the Rainier Writing Workshop. Her columns have appeared in the Tacoma News Tribune and Thrive Global, and her essays have been featured or are forthcoming in Collateral, Creative Colloquy, and The Other Journal: The Intersection of Theology and Culture. She blogs about life and other absurdities at 

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Michael Kleber-Diggs

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Michael Kleber-Diggs

Your poem “EGGSHELLS” in Volume 23 has an interesting origin story? Can you tell us about that? 

I have been working from home and spending a lot of time with our two dogs (miniature GoldenDoodles Jasper and Ziggy) who enjoy going outside 5 or 6 times a day. When “EGGSHELLS” arrived as an idea, I was out with them feeling grateful that they forced me to leave my desk and walk around our neighborhood. I was in the posture of converting what I could see as the annoyance of responding to their imperatives as a blessing of time with them, outside, in fresh air. I was reflecting on the effort to stay positive and to see the good in things that are not ideal, a mindset I felt would be beneficial during the pandemic, when I happened upon a blue egg shattered on the sidewalk. 

I also wanted to do something positive for people I love. I wanted to reach out to them as part of what I call my Pandemic Resiliency Project. So, I printed “EGGSHELLS” on postcards and mailed them to family and friends. 

One of my favorite craft techniques of this poem is its distinct visual form. I’m curious, how did you come up with the dimension of two layers of text? Did you envision “EGGSHELLS” to look like this when you began drafting it?

I’ve taken to calling this visual form a “mantra,” and I’ve written a few more.  

I don’t have a daily discipline around actual mantras or daily affirmations, but, as I was thinking about the poem – what’s positive in negative things and how bad things or difficulties can call us away from our efforts to stay positive – I thought of how to present that in a poem. I might have also been thinking about integrating the repetition of a compelling or calming or positive idea into my efforts to stay sane in these maddening times.

Separately and not, I was thinking of ways to do more with the page and the idea of the page. The overwhelming majority of my poems have a hard left margin and shy away from fractured lines, distributed presentation on the page, or atypical spacing. The pandemic has allowed me more time to play at my writing desk. While playing with ideas, I wondered what would happen if the page could go in or if text could exist underneath or behind text.

So, yes. I envisioned it would look like this when I started drafting it. I even drafted it in Excel. 

This issue was birthed during this pandemic and the political and social unrest that’s been spilling over on the streets in cities nationwide. It feels like day after day we witness more violence and division, and we felt that the title “hunger for tiny things” took on a multi-faceted poignance for this issue. I’m curious—what tiny things do you hunger for these days?

Tiny moments the most – typically involving people. I’ve met a lot more neighbors because I’m home more and out and about with our dogs more. There’s a neighbor along our most popular morning route who we’ve lived about eight houses away from for 11 years. We first met in April. He works from home at his front window, and as we go by every morning, I make a point to wave hello to him. He always waves back. Once every two months or so, he’ll come out to speak, but we usually just wave to each other. It’s so small. We’re separated by his window. He is white, and I am Black. We almost never speak, but moments like that mean a tremendous amount to me within the challenges of this time and the physical and social limitations the pandemic requires. 

Writers tend to write what haunts or obsesses them. What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing, or tend to show up a lot in your work?

I am obsessed with community and promoting humanity. Lately, I’m particularly interested in intimacy as expressed by men as a way to disrupt antiquated notions of masculinity. One of the things I wanted to do in “EGGSHELLS” was be candid and intentional and bold about telling people I love that my body yearns for their body. I wanted to avoid qualifying that or explaining that. 

What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?

I would not be a poet at all without the poet Juliet Patterson who was my official mentor for many years and taught me so much about art, craft, theory and practice in poetry. She will always be the most important poet to me as a poet. 

I gravitate toward poets who are narrative and confessional – poets who tell stories based on their lived experience. To varying degrees, I’ve consulted Natasha Trethewey, Sharon Olds, Hieu Minh Nguyen and Laura Kasischke. But I read widely in poetry, and admire so many writers who are lyrical or language poets or who represent different traditions. In general, I spend a lot of time with the American greats – Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton

Outside of poetry, I’ve been listening to lots and lots of Vladimir Horowitz. I’ve had Horowitz in heavy rotation for a few months now. He appeared in a recent poem. 

Also, owing to his recent appearance on SNL, I’ve been listening to lots of Jack White too – there’s something about his song “Sixteen Saltines” that inspires me to be bold and take chances. 

Do you practice any other art forms? If so, how do these influence your writing and/or creative process?  

I play the cello every once in a while. I am not good at it, but I really enjoy it.  When I was younger, I was better but didn’t enjoy it as much. When I tune it up to play, I can lose an hour just having a blast missing notes and bowing poorly and trying to keep the tempo steady while dragging and rushing, dragging and rushing, typically based on how hard or easy a passage is for me. 

What craft element challenges you the most in your writing? How do you approach it? What is your quirk as a writer?

I have a hard time seeing visual possibilities for the poem on the page. When I try to use the page differently, it feels and looks fake to me. I’m also shy sometimes about my devotion to plain language and commonplace ideas.

My quirk: I am way too focused on poetic lines that are balanced for length. Most of my poems are visual rectangles, and I sometimes get frustrated with myself for my reluctance to let the occasional line run longer or shorter than the average line because that’s what the line requires sometimes!  

What projects are you working on right now?

I’m writing more mantras and contemplating a chapbook of mantra poems. I’ve been exploring ideas for the background text. For example, what if it isn’t a line or two that repeats? I hope to collaborate with a print maker and visual artist I admire a great deal and have worked with a few times. Ideally she’ll use her skill to play even more with what’s possible when text engages with text and when text exists behind or underneath the poem.

Michael Kleber-Diggs is a poet and essayist. He is the recent recipient of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize. His  manuscript Worldly Things is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2021. His writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Poetry City, North Dakota Quarterly, Pollen Midwest, Paper Darts, Water~Stone Review, The Midway Review, and a few anthologies. Kleber-Diggs is husband to Karen Kleber-Diggs. They live in St. Paul, Minnesota, and have a daughter who is pursuing a BFA in dance performance at State University of New York at Purchase. You can learn more about Kleber-Diggs at his website


A Conversation With Carolyn Holbrook: WSR Contributing CNF Editor

A Conversation With Carolyn Holbrook: WSR Contributing CNF Editor

Water~Stone Review has always been a collaborative project of students, faculty, and staff at Hamline University Creative Writing. In addition to working with our faculty, and to fulfill a larger initiative of providing a place for new/emerging and underrepresented voices at Water~Stone Review, we now have rotating contributing editor positions. 

This has been a beautiful opportunity for our students (select graduate student assistant editors working with these great writers), the guest editors to expand their reach and experience, and for the new voices whose work comes to us through the invitation of these editors. Past Contributing Editors include, Sun Yung Shin (poetry, V. 22) and Keith Lesmeister (fiction. V. 23).

 In this post we introduce Vol. 24 Contributing CNF Editor, Carolyn Holbrook through her conversation with Assistant Managing Editor, Robyn Earhart. 

Hi Carolyn, thanks for making the time to talk to me! We’re excited to welcome you back to Water~Stone Review (Carolyn’s essay “Natalie’s Birthday” was published in Volume 4). I really like how you’re so centered in writing and community building and activism. In your essay collection Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify, you wrote that you started organizing writing classes because you wanted to take them yourself. What made you interested in creative nonfiction or memoir? Why did you pursue writing in that genre?

I think I’ve always been interested in hearing people’s stories. I’m nosy! I’ve always just been curious about people’s real, lived stories. I heard an MPR interview years ago with Isabel Allende. She wrote a memoir about losing a daughter named Paula who died from a horrific illness. I don’t remember the exact question, but it had something to do with ‘how do you meld your true story with politics?’ and her response just blew me away. She said ‘I don’t think about the politics, I just tell my story.’ And for me, it was like, oh that’s how you do it. You just tell your damn story! Whatever is in your heart and your being and your life comes through if you’re willing to let it. 

You know a lot of writers in the community. I’m always surprised when I see the connections you have. Who are some writers you admire? Who are some writers that you return to their work over and over again?

Are you familiar with John Edgar Wideman? He’s primarily someone who blends fiction and nonfiction. He has this memoir called Brothers and Keepers. He’s a professor and he has a brother who is in prison, and in the book he was trying to explore how these two people who grew up in the same house, one went this way and one went that way. I read that book over and over while my son and I were writing together the essay “The Bank Robbery” while he was in prison. In some ways, Wideman’s book gave me permission to do that. 

Also Maya Angelou’s autobiography series which began with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, or The Color Purple. Reading these stories gave me some of what I needed to be ok with telling the stories I wanted to tell. And even more recently Kiese Laymon’s book Heavy. He’s telling his story. And these stories give me healing, as difficult as it is to tell hard stories while you’re also trying to live your life. But these stories have to be told. You cannot pretend that bad things don’t happen. I think it’s good for us to stretch because our lives, our books, are not just about us. Our stories are not just about us. 

I love that you said there are stories that need to be told, and I was curious while reading the essay “The Bank Robbery” in your book, how writers collaborate on a single project. Can you explain this writing process between you and your son?

It started with him asking me a question after he had been sentenced to a ten-year term in a federal penitentiary. He wrote me a letter that simply said ‘Mom, why did my life turn out like this?’ That’s all the letter said and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I have some choices here. I can write him back and say because you messed up, or I can engage with him here.’ So I chose the latter. And I suggested that we just start writing letters back and forth to each other based on themes or based on whatever we were feeling in the moment. We wrote letters and then we would talk about them and the more these letters came, the more I was seeing how he saw his life, as opposed to how I saw his life, or even how he saw my life as opposed to how I saw my life. It just occurred to me one day that this could be an interesting, powerful, and useful piece of writing, so I asked his permission to put it together. A friend of mine published it and it’s been published three times now (my book is the third time). I was actually invited to do a workshop with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop out at the Stillwater prison. They had given the students a copy of this essay. I’ll never forget this one student. He just could not look at me. I wasn’t sure if it was shyness or something else, but he wasn’t able to look at me, but he kept asking questions like ‘How were you able to do that?’ or “I wish my mom would do that with me.’ It turns out his mom was a member of the drug business and got him into it and he said ‘I wish I could just talk to her and ask her questions.’ I encouraged him to ask her, and I’ll never know if he did it or not, but I just saw from his reaction and from some of the other students that this writing work really was useful for them. And it was for my son who has told me many times that that was one of the things that helped heal him. 

How do you see your position as contributing creative nonfiction editor leaving an imprint on Vol. 24? What will you look for in submissions?

I can’t imagine Vol. 24 not having a lot to do with 2020. I want people to face 2020 head on. Obviously they need to be literary, but it’s important to me that submissions be very personal too, be it memoir or essays. I want to know what happened to you on May 26th. Where were you, what were you doing when you first heard about or saw that video about George Floyd? I’m hoping there are a fair number of people who are willing to really go there

What are some trends in creative nonfiction that you find exciting to read? What turns you away from reading? 

What turns me away is when I sense the author is skirting the truth. It really bugs me in a published piece when I feel a writer has gotten away with not telling the real subject. 

You’re a very busy woman right now! You’ve just published your essay collection, you’re teaching creative writing classes, you have your work with More Than a Single Story. What projects are you working on now?

More Than A Single Story is putting together an anthology of writings. Initially it was supposed to be on themes of writings that we did for the first five years of MTSS, but then George Floyd was murdered and Covid-19 happened, so we decided to open it up further and it’s an interesting mix of pieces that we’re working with. David Mura is my co-editor on that. In the third year we decided to include men but I wasn’t sure how to do that. I wasn’t sure what men were willing to talk about publicly, and the way I prefer to do things is to bring people together and figure it out, so I asked David if he would be willing to be “the guy” and help me figure it out. He and I are sort of the godparents in the POC literary community here in the Twin Cities! We’ve known each other forever and there’s nobody else I’d want to work with on this project. We brought together a group of men from all over in the communities of color, and we asked them ‘what do you want to talk about publicly?’ and David was all too happy to work with me on developing this anthology. That will come out from the University of Minnesota Press in September 2021. 

My friend Diane Wilson—she’s been a writing buddy of mine for forever— has a book coming out from Milkweed Editions, and we’re having a public conversation about our books through Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality on December 8th. I’ll be doing some writing for Wisdom Ways too that’s based on healing. 

Going back to More Than a Single Story, I’m really excited about our spring season that begins on January 27th and will feature healers from different modalities talking about what things their clients and patients have needed since George Floyd and Covid-19 happened. We’ll have a therapist, a Hmong shaman, an Ojibwe healer, Sun Yung Shin (who is both a writer/editor and a body worker), a young woman who does several different healing modalities and was one of the cofounders of Minnesota Healing Justice Network, and I have a medical doctor who happens to have an MFA from Hamline University. We also have two writing workshops a few weeks around the panel, and Sun Yung will be teaching one of the workshops. 

And in February for MTSS, David Mura, Bao Phi, Alex Pate, and Douglas Kearney are going to talk. In March we’re having a panel on being mixed race, and I think the timing is perfect with Kamala Harris being Vice President-elect! And in April we’re going to do a panel on financial trauma in the communities of color. We’ve done that a couple of times and people keep asking for that. And in May we have another panel that we’re calling “In the Eye of the Beholder” that will be on women of color dealing with white beauty standards. 

I still want to get back to my novel writing too! I’ve got a lot going on so I’ve only written a few pages but I plan to get back to that.


Carolyn Holbrook is a writer, educator, and longtime advocate for the healing power of the arts. She is the author of an essay collection, Tell Me Your Names and I will Testify, a chapbook, Earth Angels, and Ordinary People, Extraordinary Journeys, and is co-author with Arleta Little of MN civil rights icon, Dr. Josie R. Johnson’s memoir, Hope In the Struggle. Her personal essays have been published widely, most recently in A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota and Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota. She is the recipient of three Minnesota State Arts Board grants, a 50 over 50 award, and she was the first person of color to win the Minnesota Book Awards Kay Sexton Award. In addition to writing, Holbrook is founder and director of More Than a Single Story, an organization that produces panel discussions/public conversations where writers of color discuss issues of importance to them in their own voices and in their own words. She teaches creative writing at the Loft Literary Center and other community venues, and at Hamline University, where she won the Exemplary Teacher award in 2014. Learn more about Holbrook and her work at her website

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