2018-19 Instructors

vive at graduationVivé Griffith (Faculty Lead/Creative Writing): I directed Free Minds from 2007-2016. You might say that writing brought me to Austin. I moved here in 1999 to attend the Michener Center for Writers at UT Austin, where I held a fellowship in poetry and fiction. While there I started teaching poetry in unexpected places, to kindergarteners and teen moms and retirees, and I discovered the power of arts and education to the community. In that way, working with Free Minds is a perfect fit. I love being witness to the explorations and discoveries that happen in our classroom. I still get up in the morning and work on my own writing, which has appeared in The Sun, Oxford American, Edible Austin, Role Reboot, and at the Blanton Museum. In 2000 my poetry chapbook, Weeks in This Country, was published. I also teach poetry and creative nonfiction at ACC. I am a certified yoga teacher and I love long walks, sometimes very long walks, as well as culinary adventures in my kitchen and beyond.


janis-bergman-cartonJanis Bergman-Carton (Art History): I moved to Austin from Boston in 1978 to start graduate school in art history at the University of Texas. At first it felt like I’d been transported to another planet. That was partly because Texas is quite different than Massachusetts, but it had more to do with the commitment I’d made to enter a Ph.D. program. I was the first one in my family to go to college, let alone graduate school and I wasn’t sure I belonged. But that feeling disappeared once I allowed myself to just enjoy being with people who loved to read, think, and look at art as much as I did. After graduation, I took a job teaching art history at SMU in Dallas where I have taught classes on modern European painting, modern art and media culture, and representations of the Holocaust in art for twenty-five years. I am also a photographer and mosaic artist. And I love to read novels and practice yoga.


Pat GarciaDr. Patricia García (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 teach a course on Mexican American Literature and Culture. 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 an eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.


Matthew Daude LaurentsDr. 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. I was Chair of the Philosophy Department at ACC for more than 20 years and am currently interim dean of Arts and Humanities. This will be my seventh year teaching in Free Minds.


Shirley Thompson (U.S. History): Shirley ThompsonI have always been interested about history as a way of constructing stories about the past, even though most formal history I encountered in school did not reflect the experiences of my African-American family and community. In college, I discovered a file cabinet full of sermons and church documents in the basement of my late grandfather who had been a minister in Harlem, and I realized that I had what I needed to begin to fill the gaps in the mainstream or official histories I had been taught. I also began to sense that I could make a living from my passion for researching, writing, and teaching history. After I completed graduate school in 2001, I moved to Austin, where I have taught American Studies and African-American Studies at UT ever since. This is my first year teaching in the Free Minds program. My first book, Exiles at Home, published in 2009, is a cultural history of Creole New Orleans in the 1800s. I am currently working on two book projects, one about the black experience in Texas and the other about African-American understandings of property and ownership. When I am not teaching, reading, or writing, you can find me in the basketball gym watching my 12-year-old son chase his dreams.


Amy Wright picAmy Wright (Writing): Since completing my doctorate in American Studies at UT-Austin in 2007, I have been teaching a range of interdisciplinary courses focused on issues of identity and social justice in the United States, both historical and contemporary.  I have taught Rhetoric and Composition courses at both UT-Austin and St. Edward’s for the past decade and a half, sometimes focused on specific topics, like hip hop or the 1960s.  I also teach courses on topics ranging widely from the literature of the Black Freedom Struggle, to political comedy, to building community in Austin.  In addition to teaching, I am a revisionist civil rights scholar currently completing a book on the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.  When I’m not teaching or working on the book, I’m hanging out with my daughters (ages 4 and 8), and my husband.  I love Foundation Communities and the good work they do and am thrilled to join the Free Minds program as the writing instructor this year to help students hone their writing, critical thinking, and analysis skills.