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You could say Terry Farish is a story whisperer.
For Farish, a writer, poet, and author, life is about words and storytelling. But perhaps one of her greatest gifts is the ability to gently coax and nurture words and images from those who don’t know how to tell their story– or believe that their story even matters.
This fall, Terry leaves her post as our Connections book discussion coordinator to devote herself to her writing life and other projects. The ripple effects of her time here are profound.
From 2008-2013 Terry led the Connections book discussion program, working with Adult Basic Education and English language learner classes. Using children’s and adult books, New Hampshire Humanities facilitators enhanced literacy classes using writing, drama, cooking, art, music, and more to explore surprisingly sophisticated themes.
Across the state, Terry’s leadership and vision are admired by many, including Linda Graham, Connections facilitator and visual artist: “Terry helps make each session resonate, like the artist she is. She leads with deep determination and initiative but thoughtful appreciation for the individual skills of a facilitator,” said Graham. “Her focus stays on the importance of literature, art in our lives. I have benefited from my work with her as she values each program she works with and is generous with her support.”
After a four-year hiatus, Terry returned to New Hampshire Humanities in 2017 and while continuing to lead Connections, imagined a new trajectory for the program.
“When I came here originally, it was purely for the love of reading,” she says. “I just wanted to bring the stories to people. Since then, I’ve learned so much from teachers, facilitators, and the students. It has become much more about building community.”
She conceived of “A Year of New Voices,” an initiative that encompassed new ways of working with English learners. Gathering a team of ESL teachers, facilitators, artists, and writers, she created a handbook of essays called Tell Me More: Encouraging and Developing the Voices of English Learners. Published by New Hampshire Humanities last year, the guide is a resource for teachers that includes tips for helping students discover their stories and write with clarity.
A more community-oriented component, New Voices, was a program in which ELL students and local writers worked together and presented their poems and stories at public readings. “The idea I was imagining for New Voices,” she explained, “was small, casual readings in local venues where U.S. born people might also come to listen and read.”
New Voices invited new Americans to write, read, and hear reactions to stories. Writing gave refugees the chance to heal from unspeakable horrors and immigrants a way to adjust to a new home and a new language. They spoke of food, art, music, dance. About grandmothers, growing up, violence and death, and saying goodbye. An immigrant from China who participated in the Lebanon New Voices event marveled, “No one ever asked me to tell my story before.”
New Voices brought together new writers/storytellers with enthusiastic audiences this year at free public events in Manchester, Portsmouth, Lebanon, Keene, and Concord. Marianne Philbrick, Adult Education Director at Concord’s Second Start, shared: “Students, families, staff, and volunteers were thrilled to attend the New Voices poetry reading at Gibson’s Bookstore this spring. Audience members had a chance to realize the immigrant experience and they laughed and cried, both at the emotion and fun of the presentation.”
Farish believes the program’s success is because storytelling breaks down barriers and allows us to build empathy and understanding. “When you begin to write, you’re going places in your imagination you’ve never gone before,” she says. “Reading others' stories provides a safe space for people to meet one another, to cross into unfamiliar territory.”
We thank you, Terry, for living the work of New Hampshire Humanities in the deepest, most joyous sense of the word.
New Hampshire Humanities programs are made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this these programs do not necessarily represent those of the NEH or New Hampshire Humanities.