Hummingbird in Underworld: Teaching in a Men's Prison, a Memoir


Product Details

$16.95  $15.76
She Writes Press
Publish Date
5.5 X 8.4 X 0.8 inches | 0.6 pounds

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About the Author

Deborah Tobola is a poet, playwright, and coauthor of a children's book. Her work has earned four Pushcart Prize nominations, three Academy of American Poets awards, and a Children's Choice Book Award. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona in 1990 and has worked as a journalist, legislative aide, and adjunct English faculty member. After teaching creative writing in California prisons, she became the Institution Artist Facilitator at the California Men's Colony. Her students won writing awards, published their work, and appeared on local and national radio. Tobola retired at the end of 2008 to begin Poetic Justice Project, the country's first theatre company for formerly incarcerated actors. She teaches creative writing and theatre at the California Men's Colony and serves as artistic director of Poetic Justice Project. She likes reading, gardening, traveling and spending time with her family and friends.


2019 Bronze Medalist, Readers' Favorite Book Awards--Non-Fiction (Social Issues) "She doesn't romanticize the system, or her position . . . instead, she's frank and even wry about its myriad challenges. . . . Tobola's dedication to keeping these inmates attuned to their creative spark is what gives this humble memoir its powerful shine. There are people like Tobola who never give up on the forgotten." --The Los Angeles Times "Written in clear, occasionally lyrical prose . . . the book is a compelling portrayal of education in prison. . . . Tobola's chronicle of her years teaching poetry and directing plays in prison reveals that art also asks something of us. It demands that we make friends with ambiguity, with vulnerability. It calls on us to attend to the vital creative capacity of others. Art asks that we leave the door open for beauty, whatever its travels have been." --Los Angeles Review of Books "With Hummingbird in Underworld, Deborah Tobola has found what Rumi calls, 'the infinite moment when everything happens.' It is luminous and tender. The reader is given passage to poetry and humanity; to compassion and even to a bright proposal to change our prison system. Remarkable." --Gregory Boyle, Founder of Homeboy Industries, a non-profit organization rehabilitating previously incarcerated men and women ". . . a deeply moving reflection. . . beautifully wrought . . ." --The Indypendent "Deborah Tobola is a change agent, an authentic visionary pioneer in the field of arts in corrections in the United States, first as a prison arts practitioner for twelve years; then, post-retirement, as founder of Poetic Justice Project, a theatre company of formerly incarcerated actors. Deborah's stunning memoir skillfully weaves her family's personal story with her professional life experience, delivering a lucid, up close, and deeply personal view of bringing art a la carte into the belly of the beast of California Corrections. Deborah continues to be a lighthouse, shining a beacon of redemptive light in the reclamation of human souls once lost in the darkness of despair." --Curt L. Tofteland, Founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars "Riveting! Tobola moves between her maverick childhood and outlier life teaching art in prison with the eye of an anthropologist and the pen of a poet. Much more than a memoir." --Sheila Toomey, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist "Deborah Tobola has spent most of the last 30 years in California prisons, more time inside than the average bank robber. In Hummingbird in Underworld she takes us on an adventure most people would never imagine, from her rough-and-tumble childhood to her considerable artistic accomplishments. This beautifully written book shows us an inside view of daily life behind bars, and how Tobola changes lives by engaging prisoners in the artistic process. What a joy to read!" --Claire Braz-Valentine, poet and playwright "Like a hummingbird, Deborah Tobola's story flutters effortlessly from her bohemian upbringing to her work in prison. It is her poetry, and the poetry of her prison students, that 'knows no boundaries of geography or language.' Hummingbird in Underworld vividly depicts the life of an artist working in prison." --Leah Joki, author of Juilliard to Jail and Prison Boxing "In Hummingbird in Underworld, Deborah Tobola writes with lean precision, guiding us through prison like a kind scientist. This book is about attitude and inspiration: her passion for the arts is matched by empathy for the imprisoned. I was a student and employee of Ms. Tobola's in 2000. As an aspiring poet and novelist, she is my mentor once again." --"Opie," former student "In her fearless flight inside and outside the bars of prison, Tobola shows us that 'the emergency is beauty in harsh places.'" --J. H. Nuñez, poet "Tobola came to the California Men's Colony with a dream to make the arts program a lighthouse in the dreary sameness of prison life. With open-mindedness and empathy, Tobola explores how systemic issues play out in individuals' lives as they grasp for light in the darkness." --Booklist ". . . a treasure of a book in multiple ways." --Foreword Reviews "Tobola describes her early awareness that 'misery's persistent whisper' could 'turn into a collective groan.' It spurred her to develop a poetry program that encouraged her students to develop and express their talent. . . . The vivid style sustains a lively pace . . ." --San Francisco Book Review "On one level, Hummingbird in Underworld is a narrative of teaching art in prison. On another, the book is a memoir of vocation, that we are formed by our families is the subtext: for better, for harder, for good. . . . The lengths to which Tobola will go for her students are stirring, astonishing, heart-rending." --Angelus News