The 12th annual Power of Words conference, held Sept 17-21 at Unity Village in Kansas City, MO., brought together over 110 writers, storytellers, artists, activists, educators, change-makers, health professionals and visionaries to explore how writing, storytelling, performance, and other arts can change our world, our communities, our lives for the better. The conference, founded at Goddard College, is now a project of the Transformative Language Arts Network, which has a partnership with Goddard that grants scholarships for any Goddard program to people who complete the TLA Network’s certification program.
The conference featured over 50 presenters, including one of the world’s most beloved poets, Jimmy Santiago Baca, who himself found the power of words when many years ago, in the middle of a botched robbery and about to kill someone, he heard a voice that told him not to or he would never be a poet (read TLA founder and coordinator Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s account of his story and other such turning point stories in the Huffington Post).
Other highlights included a mesmerizing performance by Sha Cage and E.G. Bailey, founders of the Minnesota Spoken Word Association, actors, producers, writers, activists, and musicians who presented not only their stunningly-embodied spoken word work but a mosaic of projects in their community, particularly with young people. Darren Canady, an award-winning playwright, acted out scenes from his work, bringing us powerful portraits of what it means to be African-American in rural America as well as how issues of race and power effect gay and trans people in various situations. Xanath Caraza performed her poetry in three languages: English, Spanish, and her native Aztec, and even led the audience in calling out Aztec goddesses in a particularly musical poem.
The conference kicked off with “Songs and Stories from the Heartland: Take Five,” featuring a combination of seasoned and young performers sharing their work. Michael Murphree and Natanyael each shared their original music, a combination of rock, folk, and jazz. Jazz singer-songwriter Stephanie Moore dazzled us all with her off-the-charts scatting and wide vocal range. Storytellers Priscilla Howe and Laura Packer performed original stories of great wit, creativity, humor, and surprise. On the other end of the conference, the closing performance featured poet Annette Billings and her life-giving, passionate and vivid poetry as well as singer-songwriter Joy Zimmerman, who brought many of us to our dancing feet with her powerful and lyrical music. In between, there were dozens of workshops and
performances that explored topics such as how to make a new life in song, dance and writing after a debilitating and catastrophic health issue (Amy Oestreicher in her one-woman show); re-envisioning democracy (Diane Silver in a thoughtful workshop); grief, ritual and improvisation as a creative and political tool (mia susan amir and Freddy Guiterrez in an interactive performance), and hidden storytelling skills for right livelihood and community (Doug Lipman). See all the workshops here.
Held in a stunning location featuring many fountains (Kansas City is known for its fountaions), rose gardens, and trails, conference attendees also found moments of replenishment and beauty. Goddard College was proud to underwrite a reception and meet with alumni, prospective and current students thanks to admissions counselor superb Chip Cummings, and the TLA coordinator and Goddard Graduate Institute faculty member Katt Lissard.
Information on the next conference, on the coast of Maine, can be found here.