Features

Courage To Tell Your Story

The path to publication for three of The Bush School’s faculty and staff differs. It took Upper School English  Teacher Chelsea Jennings ten years to develop her collection of poems to submit for publication. Upper School  English Teacher Jasmine Smith had ideas simmering for years on poems she wanted to publish. That process took  a few years to come to fruition. For Director of Intercultural Affairs Kimberlee Williams, it was a year of back and-forth internal dialogue.  
  
Call it perseverance or define it as courage, all three possess their own unique story of why their work matters  and what it took to share it to the world. 
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The path to publication for three of The Bush School’s faculty and staff differs. It took Upper School English Teacher Chelsea Jennings ten years to finally string together her collection of poems to submit for publication. Upper School English Teacher Jasmine Smith had ideas simmering for years on poems she wanted to publish. That process took a few years to come to fruition. For Director of Intercultural Affairs Kimberlee Williams, it was a year of back-and-forth internal dialogue. 
 
“I decided at the beginning of one year that I would do it [write a book] and I was like, ‘No, Kim, you’re crazy! What is wrong with you?’ But I think at the end of that first year, after wrestling back and forth, I finally said, ‘I’m doing it. If I have to self-publish, I’m doing it,’” Kimberlee said. 
 
Call it perseverance or define it as courage, all three possess their own unique story of why their work matters and what it took to share it to the world.  
 
Q&A with Authors
 
Name: Chelsea Jennings
Role at Bush: Upper School English Teacher
Publication: Transmission Loss (2018)
Synopsis: Transmission Loss is a collection of poems that focus on the natural world, visual art, and sensory experience. The book is organized into four sections, each one connected to one of the seasons and related colors, beginning with winter/black and white and ending with fall/red and orange. 
 
Name: Jasmine Smith
Role at Bush: Upper School English Teacher
Publication: South Flight (2022)
Synopsis: South Flight is a collection of letters between two lovers in the year 1921 taking place in the all-Black town of Boley, Oklahoma, set against the historical backdrops of the Red Summer, the Tulsa Massacre, and the Great Northern Migration. In essence, Jasmine’s collection is a eulogy, a blues, an unabashed love letter, and a ragtime to the history of resistance, migration, and community in Black Oklahoma.
 
Name: Kimberlee Williams
Role at Bush: Director of Intercultural Affairs 
Publication: Dear White Woman, Please Come Home (2022)
Synopsis: Dear White Woman, Please Come Home is Kimberlee’s invitation to white women longing for authentic friendship with Black and brown women, the kind of friendship with no place for secrets, the kind of relationship where truth-telling is welcome, even when it hurts. As Kimberlee writes, “I know we’ve never gotten this relationship off the ground in a sustainable way, but I still believe in it. Can I trust you to come through for me? For us? For our sisterhood? Do you understand what keeps us apart? ’Cause I need you to know. If you’re reading this, you’ve taken the first step to renewing our sisterhood.”
 
Where did the courage and vulnerability come from to put your work out into the world? 
 
Chelsea: “I do think one of the nice things about writing a collection of poems is that a number of individual poems had been published already, so there’s a nice ability with poetry to kind of dip your toe in the water and have a sense of, ‘Oh, people are reading my poems and they are worth sharing with the world.’ But it’s still very vulnerable. I feel like it still takes me a lot of courage, even after publishing the book, to keep sending out poems. [But] the desire of, ‘I want to say this so badly,’ is there, so I can get over my fear of how vulnerable it is to put my work out there.”
 
Jasmine: “I was raised in Oklahoma by essentially three generations of remarkable Black women who were also very, very vocal, and who in various different capacities really stood up for what they believed in, whether it was through education—my sister is a civil rights lawyer; my other sister is a painter. I have these really remarkable role models who were very much authentically themselves. I think that the older I get, the need to be authentic to myself and really needing to show up to places as authentically as I am is there. It takes a lot of practice. I think we all like to be liked and enjoyed, but sometimes being vulnerable means saying things that people don’t like or agree with.”
 
Kimberlee: “I knew I would be putting my family in the spotlight, like, ‘Wait a minute; I didn’t know this happened to you or this was this.’ I knew that, and I had to get over wondering how I would be judged in my family first. And then two, not knowing how people would hold these stories. I had to be open to people saying, ‘This isn’t true,’ or, ‘You made this up, and you’re racist.’ And I did it anyway, because I felt like the world needed to hear this more than I cared about how people would judge me or perceive me. I had to be willing to lose something. ”
 
How do you instill courage and vulnerability in the students you work with? 
 
Chelsea: “When I teach creative writing, having students do workshops that emphasize an appreciation for what is working in the piece. It’s actually really useful to know what people love or admire and what is working in your writing. I think workshops are great, because everyone takes a turn being vulnerable. Whether it’s a small group or a large group, you’re reading the work of the people who are reading your work, and I think having that environment  where it’s reciprocal is really important. ”
 
Jasmine: “In teaching creative nonfiction you’re writing about yourself, and it is inherently very, very courageous. Some of the ways I teach students is by asking, ‘How do you grasp and scaffold very difficult subjects, and how are you able to say the things that you need to say that you know are pressing for your work, but also protecting yourself and other people too?’ There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being a writer and writing sometimes about difficult subjects. At the beginning of my classes, we do extensive writing surveys and workshops where we really get into how students write, the revision process, and ask the intimate questions. You feel courageous and you’re willing to take risks.”
 
Kimberlee: “My job is to make people talk about the things nobody wants to talk about. I’m nervous when I show up, and I think modeling that courage every time is to step in front of an audience at Bush, and to show up and to give your best in order to feel close to 100% comfortable doing it.” 
 
What does it mean to you to have a community of fellow published writers at Bush? 
 
Chelsea: One of the things I love about the community of writers at Bush is that it includes faculty and staff and students. I feel like there’s something really powerful about having people in different stages of their lives as writers, and we're all in that process together.”
 
Jasmine: “There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being a writer and writing sometimes about difficult subjects. It is reassuring to be amongst a community of other writers as we take these risks.”
 
Kimberlee: “I think we all think we know what someone who writes a book goes through and you don’t know it until you do it. Having someone who understands that and just knowing that there’s someone else who knows exactly what you’re going through, and reaches out and asks how they can support you,  it's really refreshing.”
 
How has the word “courage” transformed throughout your life?
 
Chelsea: “As a person I know better understand small-scope courage. Not all courage is big and ostentatious—a lot of courage is quiet or small, and the world needs both kinds of courage. As a writer, there’s the more public-facing courage—like putting your work out there, which is so real and important—but also the courage of sitting down and writing about something that really matters to you, or moves you, or even scares you.” 
 
Jasmine: “Being a poet is a lot about taking risks, messing up, and asking questions, and it’s not always this process where you have this refined, finished product. I think students who are told they are not good writers actually make quite effective poets. Being a writer doesn’t always have to look one way.”
 
Kimberlee: “Courage is showing up as your authentic self, and that is difficult. That is so hard. But that’s what courage is now. That’s what we’re daring people to try to model. Showing up with my big hair, and my loudness, and the D.C. twang in my voice—that’s showing my authentic self.”
 
What is next?
All three said they are in the works or have ideas for their next publications. 
 
“I’m working on two new collections, both archivals poetry collections, but very contemporary,” Jasmine said. “I feel like I am speaking for myself in this collection, which does feel very vulnerable and very raw.”
The Bush School is an independent, coeducational day school located in Seattle, WA enrolling 710 students in grades K–12. The mission of The Bush School is to spark in students of diverse backgrounds and talents a passion for learning, accomplishment, and contribution to their communities.

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