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#OTGYpsi: 'YpsiWrites' to host community reading with local authors


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Rylee Barnsdale's Feature Article: Ypsi event to spotlight local authors


Ypsilanti-Area Authors Reading

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon

"Lifting as They Climb: Black Women Buddhists and Collective Liberation"


Rylee Barnsdale: You're listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Riley Barnsdale, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. As part of their ongoing mission to support and uplift Ypsi's broad community of writers, local nonprofit YpsiWrites is hosting a local area authors' reading next week on May 22nd at the Ypsilanti District Library Whitaker Branch. This free-to-attend event will feature three authors from Ypsi and Ann Arbor across genres and subjects, who will read snippets from their most recently published works before participating in an open Q&A session with attendees. YpsiWrites hopes that events like these can not only expand an author's readership but foster a greater creative community between writers, readers, and beyond. Joining me today is author and educator Doctor Toni Pressley-Sanon, who will be reading from her book, "Lifting as They Climb: Black Women Buddhists and Collective Liberation" on May 22nd. Hi, Toni! How are you doing today?

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon: Hi, Rylee! I'm really well! Thank you!

Rylee Barnsdale: So, first and foremost, let's talk a little bit about your book. So, this is a look at the lives and writings of six different Black Buddhist women and how they fit into this broader idea of Black liberation but also how they've impacted you personally. So, what was that process of putting this book together like for you?

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon: Yeah. These women uplift Black liberation as part of a collective universal liberation. So, they're not just speaking to African American people. The work is inspiring for anybody, no matter where they are from. But it is also really significant that these are Black women who are practicing meditation, who are teaching meditation, who are talking about Black liberation as part and parcel of collective liberation. So, the impetus for it was reading these women's works and being in a very difficult position myself. I was suffering--I was absolutely suffering--and found their writing to be lifegiving in lots of ways. And so, I just wanted more people to know what these women were doing, what they were writing about and what they were advocating for. And so, that was the start of all of it, and it was quite a journey.

Rylee Barnsdale: I'm sure.

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon: That actually took me away from the traditional way of writing for me as an academic, in that it became a collective process, whereby I consulted with the women about what I was writing about them. It was revolutionary in lots of ways.

Rylee Barnsdale: And this is not your first book. You've written and have been featured in other works that examine African history, culture, memory, the way those kinds of things intersect. How does "Lifting as they Climb" fit in with the other works that you've done?

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon: It seems like it's very different from all the work that I've done prior to this. I've spent a good amount of my career writing about Haiti and liberation in Haiti and that struggle--historical and contemporary struggle. The throughline through all of it is spirituality, which is thinking about the relationship between Africa and the African diaspora. So, while it seems like it's very different, it is actually all related.

Rylee Barnsdale: And you mentioned this is a topic that can appeal and apply to everyone. Is that something you're also hoping from this event that folks can glean that from not only hearing you read from the book but also having that opportunity to speak with you directly?

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon: Yeah. I think it'll be really beautiful to speak with people who might be interested in Buddhism, people who might be interested in Black women's struggles, Black women's voices, Black women's cultural production, anybody who is interested in spiritual growth and community work. I think it'll appeal to a really diverse audience. And the hope is that people from different swaths of the community will come out and hear and learn and be inspired and lend their voices to the conversation.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, talking with local author Doctor Toni Pressley-Sanon. This event won't be the first time folks who are familiar with YpsiWrites will have seen you. Can you tell me a little bit about your history with the group?

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon: Sure. I've been at EMU since about 2016 and became familiar with YpsiWrites and, lately, shortly after, coming there I was really inspired by our commitment to the community and fostering a relationship between the community and EMU. We're right here in the middle of Ypsi, which I love. It just sort of made my way into her programming and found my little niche, which is, at this point, for the most part, poetry by women of color--Black women in particular. And one of my favorite things that I get to do every February is host a poetry writing workshop with people from the community. It's usually via Zoom, which is really nice, because people can be in their pajamas and come and get a little bit of a break from their Saturday morning and create and hear beautiful poetry. So, it's a really supportive community and leading the way in the cheers and the hearts on screen. And it's amazing what people come up with in just such a short period of time. So, I'm always really inspired by it!

Rylee Barnsdale: As I'm sure that you know YpsiWrites is built on these four pillars of community, advocacy, inclusivity and support. How do you feel that this local area authors reading falls in line with those goals that they have?

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon: I think it's very much in line with their pillars and with the mission of YpsiWrites. I think that it's a wonderful opportunity to actually be together in person and to see that there are people in the community who are doing this kind of work. There is something very much important to be said about seeing people who look like you, who are maybe your next door neighbors, who are doing something that you might want to do and to see them share and know that that could be you standing up there. You may already have the book in you already, right? So, I think it'll be a wonderful event!

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm talking with Doctor Toni Pressley-Sanon, who's newest book, "Lifting as They Climb," will be featured at this month's YpsiWrites local area authors reading. So, Toni, alongside you at this event will be fellow authors Patrick Flores Scott with his newest young adult novel, "No Going Back," and Caroline Huntoon with their middle grade book. "Linus and Etta Could Use a Win." Very different kinds of titles and different audiences. What does having that very wide array of offerings mean for an event like this? Why is that important for the folks that will be attending?

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon: I think it's a great opportunity to maybe tap into something that you didn't even know you were perhaps interested in. It's a wonderful opportunity for learning and for intellectual and spiritual and play growth, right? I'm really excited to hear what they've written and to share in their joy of having it published. And I firmly believe, because they are part of the EMU community, that they are also really excited for me. So, I think that also people who come to these kinds of events are curious. And so, hopefully, they will stay there for all three of us and get something out of the event. There's always something to get out of an event.

Rylee Barnsdale: And, as you mentioned, this event, as well as others that YpsiWrites has put on, is aiming to bring the community together as much as they are to getting folks more excited about writing or reading in this case as well. As a writer, what does an event like this mean to you personally?

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon: Yeah, I think, as I mentioned, it's a wonderful opportunity to see people who are in your community who have done something you might want to do who you see, perhaps, have a line of thought that you'd been thinking about. You can hear your own thoughts echoed in some of what you will hear from other people. You will also, in all likelihood, have your imagination sparked. So, it's a wonderful opportunity for exchange of ideas. There is that aspect of it. There is also this wonderful opportunity to actually interact with the author and other authors in your community that may be at the event that you may not have known about. So, there's a networking opportunity. There's a chance to ask those of us who have published how they went about it, right? So, there's also this very practical aspect of it. And just to be in the company of other like-minded people, I think, is invaluable.

Rylee Barnsdale: Toni, thank you so much for chatting with me today. It's really been a pleasure! Thank you so much!

Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon: Thanks for having me! It's been great talking with you!

Rylee Barnsdale: For more information on today's topic and links to the full article, visit our website at wemu.org. On the Ground Ypsi is brought to you in partnership with Concentrate Media. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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