Speaker: Phyllis Cole-Dai

Writing Across the Divide

"This is not a thing I have sought,
But it has come across my path and I have seized it. "

-- Annie Dilliard

Annie Dilliard's words point to the place where Phyllis Cole-Dai's most significant projects begin -- in that electric intersection where serendipity, sincerity and steadfast resolve collide. 

On Ash Wednesday of 1999, Phyllis Cole-Dai walked out of her home in Columbus, Ohio with a friend. The two of them carried no money with them and would spend the next 47 days -- of Lent and Holy Week -- living on the streets. "We didn't go out to find answers to questions or to search out solutions to problems. We didn't go out to save anyone or to hand out donations of food and blankets. We went out for one primary reason: to be as present as possible to everyone we met - homeless person, volunteer, University president, cop." 

The Emptiness of Our Hands is a moving memoir of those 47 days, co-authored by Phyllis. It explores the great divide between the housed and the homeless-- and how being without a real home can ravage the human spirit.

As a writer and editor Phyllis has always written across the divides that separate us from ourselves and one another. Through her writing she seeks deeper understanding, and the possibility of healing -- for herself and readers. Her work spans multiple genres. 

Beneath the Same Stars is a historical novel set during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. In it Phyllis explores the vast divides between settlers and the indigenous people of this land in ways that bear deep relevance to our troubled times. Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poetry, co-edited by Phyllis, explores the divides between mind and body, self and other. In its pages, contemporary poets such as Joy Harjo, Li-Young Lee, Derek Walcott and Naomi Shihab Nye rub shoulders with beloved poets of the past, including Rumi and Li Po. The book evolved out of a popular blog titled "A Year of Being Here", that Phyllis created in 2013. For three consecutive years she posted  a daily 'mindfulness poem' along with an accompanying art piece, drawing in readers from across the world with her thoughtful curation.  

Her latest book is For the Sake of One We Love and Are Losing: A Meditative Poem & Journal. Written in the form of a meditative poem, the book seeks to bridge the poignant gap between the living and those who are dying, or have passed. Published last year as the world grappled with a pandemic that has continued to drastically redefine our reality and claim lives, Phyllis' words have served as a tender, steadying hand for many in pain and grief. When she lost her own father recently to COVID-19, her own words would return to her as deep medicine (along with blessings, poems, healing images and more) from her many well-wishers and readers.

In mid-March, 2020, in response to the pandemic, Phyllis created Staying Power -- a free virtual care package delivered to subscribers every Sunday that weaves together offerings of personal stories, meditations, poetry, music, and other resources -- all with the simple intention of helping people weather the challenges of these times with 'a clear mind, sound body and generous spirit.' Several of her stories have been syndicated on DailyGood, including, "I Am One of Everybody," the heart-warming story of Phyllis's 'signature' red coat, that has now been autographed by hundreds of strangers, and that serves as unique reminder of our shared hunger to simply belong.

Born in 1962 in the farming community of Mt. Blanchard, Ohio, Phyllis eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (English, 1984) from Goshen College; a Master of Theological Studies (1987) from the Methodist Theological School; and a Master of Arts (English, 1993) from The Ohio State University. She lives with her scientist-husband, teenage son, and two cats in a 130-year-old house in Brookings, South Dakota, also the traditional homeland of the “Seven Council Fires” of the Dakota, Nakota and Lakota confederacy (more commonly called the Great Sioux Nation). 

Join us in conversation with a writer whose sincerity, courage and compassion speak directly to the call of our times.

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