Hummingbird in Underworld
Teaching in a Men’s Prison, A Memoir
by Deborah Tobola
Pub Date 23 Jul 2019
Talking about this book? Be sure to tag it using #HummingbirdInUnderworld #NetGalley
As she creates a theatre program for prisoners, Tobola finds plenty of drama off the stage as well. Inside the razor wire she finds a world frozen in the ’50s, with no contact with the outside except by telephone; officers who think prisoners don’t deserve programs; bureaucrats who want to cut arts funding; and inmates who steal, or worse. But she loves engaging prisoners in the arts and helping them discover their voices: men like Opie, the gentleman robber; Razor, the roughneck who subscribes to The New Yorker; charismatic Green Eyes, who really has blue eyes; Doo Wop, a singer known for the desserts he creates from prison fare.
Alternating between tales of creating drama in prison and Tobola’s own story, Hummingbird in Underworld takes readers on an unforgettable literary journey—one that is frank, funny, and fascinating.
A Note From the Publisher
“Deborah Tobola is a change agent, a visionary pioneer in the field of arts in corrections in the United States. Her stunning memoir skillfully weaves her family’s story with her professional life, delivering a lucid, up close, and deeply personal view of bringing art a la carte into the belly of the beast of prison. Deborah is a lighthouse, shining a beacon of redemptive light, reclaiming human souls once lost in the darkness of despair.” —Curt L. Tofteland, Founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars
“Riveting! Tobola moves between her maverick childhood and outlier life teaching art in prison with the eye of an anthropologist and the pen of a poet. Much more than a memoir.” —Sheila Toomey, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
“In Hummingbird in Underworld, Deborah Tobola writes with lean precision, guiding us through prison like a kind scientist. This book is about attitude and inspiration: her passion for the arts is matched by empathy for the imprisoned. I was a student and employee of Ms. Tobola’s in 2000. As an aspiring poet and novelist, she is my mentor once again.” —Call me Opie
“Deborah Tobola has spent most of the last 30 years in California prisons, more time inside than the average bank robber. In Hummingbird in Underworld she takes us on an adventure most people would never imagine, from her rough-and-tumble childhood to her considerable artistic accomplishments. This beautifully written book shows us an inside view of daily life behind bars, and how Tobola changes lives by engaging prisoners in the artistic process. What a joy to read!” —Claire Braz-Valentine, poet and playwright
“Like a hummingbird, Deborah Tobola’s story flutters effortlessly from her bohemian upbringing to her work in prison. It is her poetry, and the poetry of her prison students, that "knows no boundaries of geography or language." Hummingbird in Underworld vividly depicts the life of an artist working in prison.” —Leah Joki, author of Juilliard to Jail and Prison Boxing