Book review: 'I am Compassionate Creativity'


GUILFORD >> "I Am Compassionate Creativity" is a compelling coming-of-age journey though a life in the arts, social activism, human encounter, and spiritual engagement. But it is more. For youth who grapple with the complexities of growing up in the 21st century, Kali Quinn's teaching memoir nurtures the hope that the search for love, friendship, work, and community can be an integrated adventure where concern for others is the guiding light. Millennials are encouraged to consider the possibility that formidable barriers to their aspirations might be lifted through creative perseverance. Even elders are offered ways to reinterpret their lives and inspiration to begin anew. A medley of engaging stories that illustrate universal truths, Quinn weaves a gentle mosaic for people of all ages in a troubled world.

One-hundred-and-eleven stories from Quinn's richly textured life illuminate the joyful symbiosis of artistic catharsis and play as well as the possibility of life changing renewal from debilitating injury and grief related to interrupted relationships and loss of loved ones. These often episodic stories also witness significant encounters with strangers who become life-long friends. Accounts of travel to distant lands capture the effervescence of other cultures along with the wrenching self-awareness of privilege amidst poverty. A panorama of life experience from toddler to mature woman that encompasses the human condition reveals Quinn's insight that life's excruciating diversity can heal and transform. In the same way that great ethnography embodies promising theoretical concepts, Quinn's odyssey portrays the multifaceted potential of Compassionate Creativity.

The stories cannot be summarized. They need to be read and digested. Only a taste of this sumptuous feast can be offered here. Perhaps it will serve as an appetizer:

A 9-year-old girl befriends an elderly neighbor who in" glorious happiness" effortlessly plays the organ songs from her time at the roller-skating rink. This first encounter with Alzheimer's disease, along with her relationship with her grandmother would provide the basis for Quinn's first solo show, "Vamping."

A young woman, about to enter college, sensing that "something bad is about to happen," visits her father at crucial time in their reconciliation. As she departs, her dad who is not feeling well a parting "I love you" (spoken in Ukrainian, her grandmother's language) is followed by an " a lot" as she slips out the door. The next day she learns that her father has died — followed by a many-year period of grief that brings a flowering of Compassionate Creativity.

A frightened college girl, escaping from a bat in her apartment, frantically knocks on a neighbor's door at 2 am. The man rescues her from the bat. "Tree sitters" who camp in Californian Redwoods to protect them from harvest convince a courageous young woman to climb up the tree and join them. Studying physical theater, she falls from a tree, breaks her wrist and is informed by doctors that she will never play the violin again. Four months later she is performing. Years later, touring the U.S. doing as a performer, she rips the ligaments in her knee. The operation and recovery provide an opportunity to slow down, redirect her life, and feed her Compassionate Creativity. Not getting the full-time, tenure-track position at a prestigious university and losing her part-time work there becomes an impetus to embark on an extended retreat at her family's cabin on Lake Erie and write this book.

Such is the logic of Quinn's 111 stories — stories that explore innumerable ways of finding compassion for others and for one's self. Quinn's teachings, while deeply personal and revealing, are free of gratuitous self-absorption and serve the larger purpose of suggesting how we might respond more creatively to the inevitable disappointment and suffering that constitute the human condition. Through her stories, poetry, and gentle prompts at the end of each chapter, Quinn encourages others to explore what she has learned about making the best from what comes her way. In all of this she succeeds admirably. A litany of joyful, hilarious, and extraordinary experiences — the stuff of what is possible in life. In these "111 Stories from Pre-school to Providence" we learn that wisdom is possible at any age.

Several of the stories take place in our area of Vermont as Quinn is a former resident of Saxtons River, who taught at Vermont Academy, Putney School Summer Programs, New England Youth Theater and served as the events coordinator for the Bellows Falls Opera House. For the last five years she has taught at Brown University and, after the recent completion her 10,000-mile cross-country book tour, she has decided to return to the area and make a permanent home in Guilford.

To hear music and stories from, "I am Compassionate Creativity," join Quinn at Everyone's Books in Brattleboro (where the book is now available) on Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. Quinn will also be hosting a 111-Day International Community Read and Share starting Sept. 11. For more information or to purchase the book online, visit

Jerry Levy is a local author, actor, playwright, and musician who recently retired from teaching Sociology at Marlboro College.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions