The Touching Lives Fellowship
The Touching Lives Fellowship was created by Marsha Pincus. This fellowship provided full Retreat funding for a public school teacher who nurtures her students in their writing and needs time and space to work on her own. Here, Marsha shares her profound intention for the fellowship:
What inspired you to create the Touching Lives Fellowship? What best defines the spirit of the fellowship? Can you share one story which illustrates this spirit?
When I first attended the summer writing retreat in 2007, I had been teaching high school English in an inner city public school for nearly thirty years. Teaching public school, particularly teaching English with 165 students daily and hundreds of papers to respond to each week, is all consuming work which leaves very little time for the teacher to focus on herself.
Coming to the retreat was a transformative experience and I was especially grateful that AROHO had taken a chance on accepting someone whose only publishing credits were academic ones. I had submitted some of my creative non- fiction in progress with my application and was overjoyed when I learned of my acceptance. My teaching schedule ( 5 classes a day with 165 students), graduate school at night and mothering two teenagers had left little time for me to concentrate on my own writing. At the retreat, I encountered a supportive community of women who took each other and their writing seriously and for the first time in my life I felt that I could become the writer I had been helping others become for decades. It was very empowering for me to have experienced women writers read and affirm my work and to stand before this same group of women, reading my writing aloud for the first time ever and hearing them cheer me on.
On the final night of the retreat, when women were coming forward to give testimony about what the retreat had meant to them, as I was speaking my truth about how AROHO had enabled me finally to claim my identity as a writer as well as a teacher, I was moved in that moment to create the Touching Lives Fellowship. I knew that I wanted to do everything in my power to give the gift of AROHO to other public school teachers.
What are some ways you have benefited from a community of supportive women writers and artists?
I have grown as a writer within the supportive community of women artists and writers I have met through AROHO. Getting to know them and learning the range of ways diverse women have created writing lives for themselves has inspired me to not only see myself as a writer but make the practice of writing central to my life. Knowing first hand the value and importance of this type of community, I have teamed up with another AROHO alumna, also a teacher, Liz Bedell, to create local AROHO sponsored and inspired writing retreats for women who teach. In this way, Liz and I have been able to use our knowledge and experience as teachers to create generative writing spaces specifically designed for other women teachers who write. In addition, I was emboldened to start sending my work out for publication, and create a blog, called “Her Own Terms: A Post Mid-Life Woman Writing for Her Life.”
Can you name some current women writers who inspire you and your work?
I am inspired by women writers who are brave, who break silences and who tell the truth about the things that have wounded them. I love women writers with big bold imaginations too – the kind of writers who can see entire worlds inside themselves and then have the guts and artistry to bring those worlds to life for us, their readers. I read everything that Maxine Hong Kingston, Louise Erdrich and Toni Morrison write and I have had the pleasure of introducing high school students to their novels.
Is there anything you hope the recipient of the next Touching Lives Fellowship will discover through their experience at the AROHO 2015 Retreat?
It is my hope that each recipient of the Touching Lives Fellowship discovers that there are others who are here to do for them that which they do so lovingly each day for others. The Touching Lives Fellowship is meant to touch a teacher’s life the same way she touches and transforms the lives of her students.
At the retreat, I encountered a supportive community of women who took each other and their writing seriously and for the first time in my life I felt that I could become the writer I had been helping others become for decades.