Dr. Matthew Daude Laurents (Philosophy): I live and breathe philosophy, and I have a teen daughter who will readily testify on my behalf. I’ve loved philosophy since I learned what philosophy is. I asked far too many questions as a child, which I’m sure is why I spent so much of my school years in the hall or the principal’s office. In college, I tried for a while to escape philosophy by getting degrees in music theory and European history, but philosophy was never far away, calling to me. After college, I tried to escape from philosophy by getting a master’s degree in comparative religion, but even there, I was mainly interested in philosophical problems. My last attempt to escape came in the form of training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and a clinical practice. Through the “psychoanalytic years,” as I fondly call them, it seemed to me that many—maybe most—of the problems people were dealing with turned out to be philosophical problems. You know, problems like whether existence has any meaning, and “Why doesn’t everyone see things the way I do?” and “What should I be when I grow up?” So, in the end, I gave in and became a philosopher, full-time. In the world of titles, I am also the Department Chair of Philosophy at ACC, and for this year I’m also serving as Interim Dean of Arts and Humanities.
Dr. Patricia Garcia (Literature): I am a lecturer in University of Texas’ Department of English and an affiliate of the Center for Mexican American Studies. My research is on Renaissance writers such as Shakespeare. My current research project is a study of Catholic writers during the English Renaissance, a time when England became Protestant and living and writing as a Catholic was very dangerous. I also research and teach the work of Latino/a writers and this spring will be teaching a course on Julia Alvarez and Sandra Cisneros. How did I come to study these two different areas? My first literary love was Shakespeare, and I had wonderful professors in this area in college. As a Mexican American, I came to my study of Latino/a writers on my own, but I’ve been lucky enough to develop these interests in the academic culture of UT. In both areas, I am especially interested in the roles of women as both subjects and writers. When I’m not teaching, I’m busy with my family including a 5 year-old daughter and 2 year-old son.
Vivé Griffith (Creative Writing): I have directed Free Minds since 2007, when the program had just completed its first year. I moved to Austin in 1999 to attend the Michener Center for Writers at UT, where I held a fellowship in poetry and fiction and began my work bringing arts and education to the community. I’ve taught poetry to everyone from kindergarteners to veterans to retirees. My essays and poems have appeared in publications including The Sun, Oxford American, and Gettysburg Review, as well as at the Blanton Museum. In 2000 my poetry chapbook, Weeks in This Country, was published. In addition to my work with Free Minds, I also teach poetry and creative nonfiction at ACC. This year I gave myself the gift of taking and completing yoga teacher training. I love to travel, take long, meandering walks, and try out new recipes in my 1940s kitchen.
Michael Noll (Analytical Writing): I teach in the Department of English at Texas State University. My classes have included freshman composition, magazine writing, and creative writing, in both traditional in-class and correspondence formats. As a faculty member at The Austin Writer’s Lab, I lead independent writing workshops and craft seminars. In addition to teaching, I’m also the editor of Read to Write Stories, a blog that offers free creative writing exercises based on stories and novel excerpts that are available online. I have served as writer-in-residence at the Katherine Anne Porter House in Kyle, TX, and as an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine. As a practicing writer, I have published short stories at American Short Fiction and The Owls, written about parenting for The Good Men Project, and told stories at The Story Department. I’m currently at work on Seven Attacks of the Dead, a novel.
Dr. Pauline Strong (Anthropology): I have now lived in Austin for twenty years, but I was born in Colorado and spent the first twenty years of my life there. I studied Philosophy at Colorado College, and then spent a couple of years in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a research assistant to an anthropologist. That confirmed my interest in anthropology, and I decided to go to graduate school at the University of Chicago to study Cultural Anthropology. I met my husband, Buck Van Winkle, in Chicago, and our two daughters, Katie and Tina, were born there. After three years teaching at the University of Missouri – St. Louis we moved to Austin so that I could take a position at the University of Texas. In 2006 I became an associate director of the Humanities Institute, just when Free Minds was in its infancy. I have also served on the Board of Camp Fire USA Balcones Council, and both these programs are dear to my heart. My research focuses on stereotypes of Native Americans in American culture, and I recently published a book on that topic called American Indians and the American Imaginary. My other interests include classical music, theater, outdoor sports, yoga, traveling, and reading fiction.