The Healing Power of the Creative Arts: an interview with Deborah Tobola

He writes because it is the only thing he can do

when all around him others do too much or too little.

He writes because, whether he knows it or not,

he is in dialogue with God, translating the aching world,

making sense of things too terrible or beautiful

to believe, serving them up for others to take in,

word by word.

— Deborah Tobola, from To a Poet in Prison
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I’ve been making sense of the world through story ever since I was a child, first through the books I read, and then through the poetry and the stories I wrote.

All through my adolescent years and the betrayals and growing pains of high school, during the harsh realities of life and death I first encountered in nursing school, and especially in the wake of my father’s early death and the tragic death of my first husband, writing was my salvation and my lifeline.

Deborah Tobola has lived her life around this belief, taking poetry and drama and music into the dark space of a men’s prison. As we discussed during our interview, art gave these men a voice where they had been silenced. It humanized them in a system built to punish and dehumanize.

Her memoir, Hummingbird in Underworld, recounts the life events that led to her work in prisons, intermingled with stories of the work that she did there and the men whose lives she touched.

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Alternating between tales of creating drama in prison and Tobola’s own story, Hummingbird in Underworld takes readers on an unforgettable literary journey—one that is frank, funny, and fascinating.

Listen to the podcast below, at the following links, or find it on your favorite podcast app.


Apple podcast

Anchor FM