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'Silence makes things so much more difficult': Anthology contains abuse survivors' creative output

"Survival and Beyond: A Survivor Anthology" is full of stories, poems and artwork told and created by abuse survivors.
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"Survival and Beyond: A Survivor Anthology" is full of stories, poems and artwork told and created by abuse survivors.

Safe Passage in Northampton, Massachusetts, is a nonprofit whose mission is to end domestic violence and help survivors. The organization has just released a collection of writing and artwork by the community on the same topic.

The volume is called “Survival and Beyond: A Survivor Anthology.” Safe Passage's volunteer coordinator, Alec Reitz, explains what inspired the work.

Alec Reitz, Safe Passage: Yeah, I would say that I'm the person who came up with the idea, but the actual work itself has been 100% collaborative. I manage the volunteer program at Safe Passage, but my undergraduate degree and my previous life in some ways, was focused on writing and art and book publishing.

Sometime last year, I was reflecting on my own experience as a survivor and thinking about this concept of — what comes next. Right? We think of surviving as this one point in time, but it's really more of a dynamic process than that.

And I had been thinking a lot about the great work "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner. That play is centered on the AIDS epidemic and [at] the end of it, the main character gives this speech about the experience of suffering, yet living through hope anyways and wanting more life. And that phrase "more life" just kind of played on repeat in my brain. And I was thinking about what does that mean, what that looks like?

I know that, for me, art has been so transformative, so generative and so healing. And so I had the thought of, I wonder if anyone else would be interested in this idea of really putting together the words and experiences of some of our survivors, and actually giving folks the chance to tell their own stories in ways that are usually not offered?

Carrie Healy, NEPM: And that clearly resonated with Kathleen Farris. How did that vision affect you and how did that inspire your volunteer anthology team, Kathleen?

Kathleen Farris, Anthology Team: So, for me personally, Alec’s idea really hit home in a very powerful way. I have been writing poetry since I was a little kid, and certainly have written pieces about my experiences. And the idea of offering this to our clientele just sat really well for me.

And I was excited to be a part of the team. I'm one small part, representing several people, both staff and volunteers, that have been really dedicating hundreds of hours over the last year to make this anthology come to life. And this vision, along with Alec’s leadership, has really led to a beautiful first volume.

The anthology, we should say, shares writing and artwork from abuse survivors, representing all kinds of backgrounds, and portrays a real diversity of lived experience. Alec, was it challenging to get these survivors, now authors or artists, to break the silence around their personal experience with domestic violence and share in this volume? 

Alec Reitz: That's a really good question. I mean, when we first started the project, we were kind of joking, we're building the ship as we're sailing it. [Laughs] Right? And we first set an entirely too ambitious goal. But we were so amped up, you know, we were like, "All right, let's do this and it'll be easy." And it wasn't.

We took a lot of steps to make sure that we were doing right by our community. We let folks know that they could publish anonymously, that they could publish under pseudonyms. We have a fully encrypted submission form. And we thought a lot about, if someone is looking to submit but they want support in that, we let them know that they could reach out to us.

I think the combination of that and just time and getting folks to understand what we were trying to do was really beneficial for us. And I think it's going to be not easier [in the future] … but it's a harder lift when you're trying something for the first time, versus, now we have this whole book to show them and be like, "Look, this is what you could be a part of."

I found the artist statements that accompany each piece to be tremendously insightful. As the volunteer anthology team that dealt with that, what was the process like to create those?

Alec Reitz: This first go-around, the publishing team was largely myself and my intern, Jo. I think it was a conversation between the two of us, where Jo had read someone's poem and was like, "I wonder what they were thinking when they wrote that? Because I feel like that would help me to understand." And I was just like, "Well, what if we asked them?" Offering the ability for folks to do an author’s note, like some sort of commentary, and a bio — or just one of them, just whichever one they preferred.

I was so moved by what I got to read from folks. It really drove the point home for me and spoke to the goals of this — that art represents life.

They were very powerful statements. Your anthology team also included a note, and it says, “Silence not only makes it harder to heal, but keeps others from understanding what abuse really is.” If this conversation, or the work that's in the anthology, resonates with someone's experience, Alec, what could they do?

Alec Reitz: There's a lot of different things, you know? And we write about this. The book has resources in the back.

Specifically, there's a section about relationship abuse. And the first thing that we acknowledge is that all relationships exist on a spectrum between healthy and unhealthy, right? And so, one of the things that we always recommend is, at Safe Passage with our helpline, you don't have to be 100% sure that you're experiencing abuse in order to call us. You can want to speak to someone to get more information, to try to feel out what the next steps would be for you.

And, like that passage says, silence causes a lot of these issues to remain prevalent. And so, one of the things that is the most important is just to reach out to people you trust to start talking about it.

This is only issue No. 1, and you have foreshadowed that there will be an issue No. 2. Kathleen, as a volunteer on the anthology team, what are you looking forward to in the production of the upcoming next release?

Kathleen Farris: Well, really, our goal is to allow people to have that voice. As you were just mentioning, the silence really makes things so much more difficult. And in that silence, often folks that are experiencing abuse are feeling a lot of shame and turmoil that they just don't have an opportunity to express.

This anthology gives folks an opportunity to express perhaps what they were going through while they were in that abusive situation, or perhaps things that led up to it, or how their life has evolved since that.

Where can people find a copy of the anthology?

Alec Reitz: So, we do have a limited number of the print versions right now. We printed about 100, and those are available on a sliding scale donation, through Safe Passage. And we're in contact with most of the local libraries in this area, and a lot of the college libraries as well. And in addition to that, there is an e-book version, so, even more access for folks.

You can find more information about domestic violence, the anthology and the services of Safe Passage at safepass.org.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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