It all started on a red couch. “After a stressful divorce and an emotionally abusive marriage where I found myself at my highest weight of 337 pounds, alone, without a home, and devastated by grief. I needed something to help me recover,” Birmingham-based poet Salaam Green says.
She recovered by sitting on a red couch and writing. “At a time where I didn’t want to live and was too scared to die, I began to pen my pain,” Green says. “I found a writing class, Women Writing for a Change, and this is where I found healing through the power of words and community.”
At this class, held in the home of instructor Lucy Jaffe, Green sat on a red couch and began to write poetry. Green says poetry saved her life. “I wrote healing into my life on that red couch, and I decided that I wanted to take that red couch around the world to voices who go unheard, helping women and girls heal their lives through their story,” she says.
So Green started the Literary Healing Arts Foundation, a business idea she has brought to fruition in part through the guidance of Create Birmingham’s CO.STARTERS program. Through workshops, community gatherings, and one-on-one creativity coaching, Green shows others how they too can heal from the pain of the past through writing.
“In one of my latest sessions at Urban Ministries, I had the honor of sitting with a group of wonderful women who wrote out their assault stories and shared with one another,” Green says. “I create safe spaces and healing prompts; the participants do the work. It’s magic every time how a voice unveils itself when given room to speak.”
Green says that each Write to Heal session is unique and can be customized for groups or individuals. She’s led sessions on a variety of topics including divorce, body image, fat shaming, depression, and recovery. “Each session begins with a guided meditation that prompts participants to conjure up their stories,” she explains. After the meditation exercise, participants write their story and later are encouraged to share the story if they feel comfortable enough to do so.
At the end of each session, participants receive a customized journal with prompts to help them continue the process at home. Green also does assessments before and after the event to prepare for one-on-one coaching sessions should participants be interested in more assistance.
Green often seeks out spaces with a red couch to host events. “I am always in search of a red couch; however, they oftentimes just pop up,” she says. “At my last Writing to Heal workshop at Urban Ministries, there sat a perfect red couch for me to facilitate sessions. I also go to East 59 where they have the most perfect red couch—the writer’s couch. And, of course, I have two red couches in my apartment. I write there every day—and nap.”
There was a time when Green didn’t even think she could be a writer, let alone use writing to help others. “I voiced at 8 years old to my mother that I wanted to be a writer, and she said I couldn’t write—I wouldn’t be able to make a living,” Green says. “Writing to release brought me freedom to declare I am a poet and that writing is a tool of recovery.”
Today Green has seen her poetry and personal essays published on Bust.com, ElephantJournal.com, and a number of other national and local publications. This year she also won the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama’s poetry contest and was named Conference Poet Laureate for the group’s annual innovation conference.
Green read her winning poem, titled “Alabama: Where the World Comes to Create,” in front of over 700 of the state’s top business owners and entrepreneurs and Andrew Yang, founder of Venture America. “It was both frightening and exhilarating,” she says. “I felt at home on that stage, and I love public speaking and sharing my art. I also feel that the crowd agreed and left inspired, which is always my hope. To inspire others to think honestly or to be moved beyond their comfort zones is the reason I write and perform poetry.”
In addition to helping others use writing as a way to heal, Green hopes to help aspiring writers get published, too. “I particularly want to target 40 and over, second career, or first time writers who desire a place to submit and get support,” she says. “My mission is to give voice to those around the world who go unheard.”
And she wants to continue to pay homage to the red couch. “I want to do a series or column called Red Couch Stories of Birminghamians who go unheard yet have a healing story and would probably not get published in traditional senses, such as a homeless man who walks by the red couch at East 59 or the woman who comes to Urban Ministries for lunch and tells her story of domestic violence,” Green says. “I think this is the true city whose words should be put in print and pain penned to paper for others to heal and for the nation to see resilience and hope.”
Learn more about the Literary Healing Arts Foundation at LiteraryHealingArts.com.
Tags: december 2016