Art as healing: Safe Passage launches new anthology project to give domestic abuse survivors space to tell their stories

Northampton-based Safe Passage on Tuesday launched “Survival & Beyond: A Survivor Anthology” at a Forbes Public Library event. The anthology gives survivors of domestic abuse, such as Peggy, left, a chance to heal through essays, poetry and other art forms. At right is Catherine Hodes, a domestic abuse survivor and director of community programs at Safe Passage.

Northampton-based Safe Passage on Tuesday launched “Survival & Beyond: A Survivor Anthology” at a Forbes Public Library event. The anthology gives survivors of domestic abuse, such as Peggy, left, a chance to heal through essays, poetry and other art forms. At right is Catherine Hodes, a domestic abuse survivor and director of community programs at Safe Passage. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By Alexa Lewis

Staff Writer

Published: 06-02-2024 9:01 AM

NORTHAMPTON — For victims of domestic abuse, speaking out about one’s experiences can be both terrifying and liberating at the same time.

With the launch of its new anthology project this week, Safe Passage — the longtime Northampton nonprofit whose mission is to end domestic violence and help survivors — aims to offer a space for survivors across the country to tell their stories in a variety of mediums.

The idea for the anthology project came from Alec Reitz, a volunteer program manager at Safe Passage who was inspired after watching “Angels in America,” a play by Tony Kushner about the AIDS epidemic. Reitz was struck by a particular monologue by the character Prior Walter, in which he says, “I’ve lived through such terrible times and there are people who live through much worse. But you see them living anyway… If I can find hope anywhere, that’s it, that’s the best I can do. It’s so much not enough. It’s so inadequate. But still bless me anyway. I want more life.”

The idea of “more life” sparked the anthology idea in Reitz, who saw it as a way to combine their degree in publishing, Safe Passage’s mission to aid survivors, and the “transformative role that art can play in healing,” they said.

“Relationship abuse is sometimes called the invisible epidemic,” said Reitz. “Silence and misinformation are key in feeding the epidemic… what we don’t see is easy to ignore.”

Through collaborative efforts over a year long, “Survival & Beyond: A Survivor Anthology,” was born. Safe Passage’s goal is to produce a new anthology twice a year.

Anyone can submit their writing, poetry and art to the anthology, which hopes to share many unique experiences and healing journeys as a way to break the silence around domestic violence. Several of those who contributed to the project attended an official launch at Forbes Library this week, most of whom chose to remain anonymous or divulge only their first names to protect their identities.

“I started writing for a couple of reasons. One, my therapist was encouraging me to write my story, and two, I wanted to understand,” said Peggy, one of the contributors. “When I write my own story and put it down on paper, I gain clarity but I also get some of myself back.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Music in the sky: Summit House Sunset Concert Series returns to its 173-year-old home
Knitters’ paradise: Webs, ‘America’s Yarn Store’ and a mainstay for Valley crafters for generations, turns 50
Easthampton to lose Pepin school gymnasium as public recreation space
Easthampton’s 11 Ferry St. project promises affordable five-story, 96-unit complex
Taylor Haas takes the reins as new executive director at Three County Fairgrounds
Sunderland receives $195K grant to study, design multi-use trail from Whately to Amherst

Peggy has now written over a dozen essays and a dozen poems chronicling her journey healing from narcissistic domestic violence. She is also a team member at Safe Passage who worked to make the anthology a reality.

“Silence will not change domestic violence,” she said. “When we see it, we must name it for what it is.”

Rose, a photographer and writer, contributed a piece called “Weeds,” which simultaneously explores a life-changing chronic illness diagnosis and rediscovering the meaning of love in the wake of relationship violence.

“I wrote the piece in 20 minutes,” said Rose. “I wanted to tell the truth, so I just let it come out.”

R. Joseph Rodriguez, a poet, educator, editor and researcher from Austin, Texas contributed several poems to the anthology. One of these poems, entitled “Self in 1985,” is inspired by the work of lauded poet Anne Sexton, who Rodriguez called an “eyes wide open poet.”

“It’s autobiographical, and it’s about a young survivor,” said Rodriguez, who often uses poetry as an avenue to explore difficult topics with his students.

The first edition of the anthology is now available in print and digitally. The next edition will be released in October, and is accepting submissions.

The anthology is entirely volunteer-led, and hopes “to not only help survivors process their trauma but to give them the space to feel empowered and share their stories,” according to Silas Clish, communications director for Safe Passage.

“The experience of being a survivor does not end once you get out of a violent relationship,” said Reitz. “Everyone’s healing experience is different.”

Alexa Lewis can be reached at alewis@gazettenet.com or on Instagram and Twitter at @alexamlewis.