Saints Spotlight: Sherry Cook Stanforth

Sherry Cook Stanforth Saints Spotlight

TM: What initially brought you to Thomas More University?

SCS: My path to Thomas More reflects unusual circumstances.  I was hired by Dr. Ray Hebert (then the academic dean)  to perform as a folk musician at the Caden Blincoe Outloud Festival.  I knew Caden, and he requested that I come.  Another colleague and longtime friend, Julie Daoud, already had a teaching job with the English Department.  The day of the festival, I came in carrying a two-month-old daughter, an inquisitive toddler, and my instruments.  I left with a job interview in the works—oddly in my cherished areas of creative writing and ethnic literature. I have been here since 2000, and I continue to hold the deepest appreciation for my colleagues and the work of designing creative, reflective experiences for people.


TM: What inspired you to create the Creative Writing Vision program in 2004? What are some of the program’s signature events that you spearhead?

SCS: Honestly, I had a vision and followed it.  The name of the program reflects my belief that our quiet inner callings are often powerful invitations to invent new designs.  Since I was very young, I have always wanted to bring diverse groups together for the sake of creativity and meaningful reflection.  I used to “hold court” on the patio, play school, and produce talk/variety shows with my siblings and playmates.  My parents still tease me about trying to run everything!  When a grant opportunity arose with PNC’s Schroth Charitable Trust, I applied and gained three years of support that sustained a writer-in-residence, visiting artists, and a list of public arts programming opportunities.  The “vision” would not have happened without help from my friends at Thomas More and in the author-artist community.  Currently, the Creative Writing Vision design supports 30-40 program sessions a year, including two regionally awarded artists in residence (Pauletta Hansel and Dick Hague), community writing courses, a visiting authors series at Joseph-Beth, on-campus arts programs (e.g. Writer’s Table, Outloud Festival, Words Celebration and Craft Immersion Workshops), day-long and overnight retreats at our Biology Field station, teacher/pedagogy workshops, K-12 arts experiences such as “Adventure in the Humanities” and “Meet the Author” sessions, collaborative programming with some wonderful nonprofit organizations and experiential learning/internship opportunities for TMU students.  In recent years, Creative Writing Vision has expanded its reach toward young people in collaboration with the Cincinnati Arts Association (Aronoff), Cincy WordPlay, The Covington Center for Great Neighborhoods, and the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition (UACC).  A primary CWV goal is to pair creative young people with practicing professionals, from alumni to regional leaders.  At this year’s Outloud Festival, four talented TMU students shared the stage with four poet laureates; these students are also collaborating with me on UACC’s grant-based Urban Appalachian Leadership Project to design and implement educational programs. Well-known writers regularly share their writing with “Words.” Authors and artists sit at tables with our students and represent our institution in local K-12 classrooms because they believe in our mission.  As the vision widens, I am working to maintain TMU’s “home” value for long-term relationships as well as that genuine spirit of mentorship.  Bigger is only better if it is cultivated with local spirit.  Forgive my long reply but I am passionate about sharing CWV missions with everyone!


TM: What draws you to Appalachian music and culture?

SCS: I grew up in an Appalachian music tradition, performing around the region with my family.  In these busy times, my parents, children, and I are still trying to carry on this music through our band, Tellico.  I am proud of my Appalachian heritage, which includes connections to North Georgia, East Tennessee, the Snowbird band/Tellico Plains Cherokee, and good old Clermont County, Ohio.  I love okra, hominy, yellow crook neck squash dusted with cornmeal and fried in cast iron, mountains, old-time jam sessions, late night table talk, horses and dogs, grandparents, creeks, sycamores, ghost stories, metaphors and parables, wild healing plants, bees, and other critters.   That is not a full or ordered list.  I probably don’t need to say much more.  Appalachian people will recognize what I am trying to communicate. J


TM: There is a rumor going around that you collect black widow spiders—please explain yourself.

SCS: This is true, although I lost my land rights when friends with a south-facing rock wall moved away.  These days, it is not as easy for me to find specimens.  I love the natural world, and I have shared black widow spider viewings in my nature-based school programs and TMU courses.  The intent is not to worry people, but to show them the amazing beauty and value represented by a (slightly) toxic creature in the web of life.  Spiders, along with other feared species play a significant role.  As ecologist Barry Commoner has offered, “Everything is connected to everything else.”  Once people understand an “other” in their community, they may be able to appreciate what that life has to offer.  My most recent “friends” are my bees.  I am sharing hive viewings with people who are interested in suiting up to understand the intricate place they hold in our design. A worthy prayer—may bees also live, flourish, and inspire our respect.


TM: Imagine your future, what would you like to do following your career at TMU?

SCS: This question brought a smile to my face.  I would like to sit beneath the trees reading books and eating good dark chocolate with a hint of salt.  Really!  I also dream of spontaneous travel with my family and friends.  Finally, on a more complicated note, I have dreamed of founding a creative school for very young people that may exist without rigid walls and a matrix of red tape.  We shall see…


TM: What could TMU do to attract more students to explore the English major or participate in the Creative Writing Vision Program?

SCS: I am so appreciative of the TMU colleagues, administrators, alumni, and students who continue to support CWV and expand its reach.  Our department is working to demonstrate through alumni/internship examples how the English major opens doors across careers and pairs well with other majors/minors.  This, along with our goal to find innovative expansions in social media, will truly make a difference in communicating that message.  At its most ideal, CWV is an English Department effort that includes service to people in other disciplines and communities.  None of this could happen without overlapping rings of interest and dedication.  To emphasize this, and to sign off, I will take a chance here and name four longtime, dedicated staff members who inspire me on a regular basis—Judy Crist, Amy Flaugher, Lisa Scheper and Philippe Audax.   They represent some of the people who work very hard behind the scenes to promote a mission that connects people across diverse communities. I don’t believe it is cliché to state this truth—our most impactful creations rise from the labor of thoughtful, energetic collaborators, not from the dreams of individuals.