Sam Anderson-Ramos (Writing): I was born in Austin and grew up in Dove Springs, on the South East Side. I attended the University of Texas for about five months before dropping out to pursue fiction writing, which is my first love. After several years of writing and publishing on my own, and working at BookPeople Bookstore downtown, I made my way, on a whim, to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I would go on to achieve two degrees and join the faculty there. I’ve been back in my hometown for a little over a year now (and I brought my Midwestern wife along with me), where I write for The Austin Chronicle and teach writing at St Edward’s University. My fiction and nonfiction have been included in The Chicago Tribune Printers Row Journal, Hobart, and Pindeldyboz, among others, and my essay, “On Leaving Dove Springs,” was selected as a notable in the Best American Essays 2015. My wife and I have a tiny dog named Normal. I’m a lifelong Astros fan.
Janis 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.
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. 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.
Dr. 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.
Vivé Griffith (Creative Writing): I have directed Free Minds since 2007, when the program was just completing its first year. 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.
Dr. Pauline Strong (Anthropology): I have now lived in Austin for more than 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.