Once a pregnant sixteen-year-old incarcerated in the Minnesota juvenile justice system, Carolyn Holbrook went on to found SASE: The Write Place, and now leads More Than a Single Story, a series of panel discussions and community conversations for people of color, indigenous writers, and art activists. In a series of essays both heartrending and inspiring, TELL ME YOUR NAMES AND I WILL TESTIFY traces her path from her troubled youth to her leadership positions in the Twin Cities literary community.
Throughout these essays, Carolyn’s indomitable spirit shines through, lighting the way for others to follow. As the executive director of SASE, Carolyn made space for others to discover the incredibly healing power of a life lived in the arts; a place for remembering and telling stories that might have been lost; a place for acknowledging how important our stories are to who and how we become; a place to learn that stories can serve as both a bridge and a ladder.
As a young mother of five, Holbrook found the courage to flee an abusive relationship and raise her children on her own. Living in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis, she found community and a sense of purpose. She rented a typewriter, put an ad in the Minnesota Daily, and started a secretarial service. She taught her two oldest children, only in elementary school at the time, how to answer her business line and proofread. From this humble starting place, she went on to establish writer’s workshops, earned a PhD at the age of fifty-eight, and became a college professor and art activist.
Confronted by racism, both subtle and audacious, she persevered. She inspired students, regardless of their race, class, or age to write their own stories. As a mother, she helped her daughter leave an abusive relationship, stood by her son through his own years of incarceration, and as a grandmother envisioned a world where her granddaughters could develop a strong sense of self and personal freedom.
In her prologue, Holbrook tells of her early forays into writing her story. As is often the case, she faced the critic and the muse. They are the voices of her maternal aunts, she writes. One sitting on her left shoulder, shaking her finger and saying, “Now don’t you go stirring things up,” and the other on her right shoulder, who says, “Don’t hold back, child. Someone out there needs to hear what you have to say.” Fortunately for us, she listened to her muse.
TELL ME YOUR NAMES AND I WILL TESTIFY will be released in August by University of Minnesota Press and is available now for preorders. It is a timely read as we examine systemic racism and work for change. The book is available to read for free online through August 31 as part of University of Minnesota Press’s just released Reading for Racial Justice Collection. More information about that collection and how to access it can be found here: https://manifold.umn.edu/projects/project-collection/racial-justice.
Carolyn will host a virtual launch on August 12, register at https://www.eventbrite.com/o/university-of-minnesota-press-10685993984. She can be found at www.carolynleeholbrook.com.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interview with Carolyn on Thursday, July 23 at 7:00 pm on www.wtip.org.