Poet and Multidisciplinary Artist J. Mae Barizo Presents the 2023 Courtney Steel Visiting Author Lecture
Poet, writer, librettist, teacher, and Spence parent J. Mae Barizo presented the annual Courtney Steel Visiting Author Lecture, a program that brings authors of national stature to Spence, to an audience of Upper School students and community members. Barizo’s lecture was inspired by and focused around a quote from pioneering poet and activist Audre Lorde: “...poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence.”
Throughout her lecture, Barizo discussed the need for accessibility to art, specifically writing, in our personal lives and in the cultural and academic worlds we inhabit. “Poetry need not be only dream or vision: it can be the skeleton architecture of our lives,” she said. Born in Toronto, Canada, and daughter to a school teacher, Barizo shared the essential role books played in her young life. “Books were my teachers, my friends. The female characters in the books I read were capable, articulate, and intelligent. Much like the Spence girls I’ve met over the years, the girls in those books solved problems, and they didn’t wait to be rescued.”
Barizo wove poems from her two collections into the lecture, Tender Machines and The Cumulus Effect, and discussed the craft with the curious audience. When asked by a student how she is able to write about her life and personal experiences and feel comfortable putting it out into the world for others to read, Barizo offered a choice. “Poetry can be a fiction—a way to explore other personas, other myths of yourself,” she said. “Each of us has the opportunity at any moment to consider if today is the day we will speak our truth.”
The Courtney Steel ’87 Visiting Author Program was established to honor and remember Courtney Steel ’87 by her parents, family and friends. Through lectures, which bring a writer of national stature to the school each year, Courtney's passion for literature, gift for writing and respect for the nuances of language continue to inspire Spence students. Past Courtney Steel guest authors have included Jacqueline Woodson, James McBride, and Barbara Krauthamer.