What Has Debra Leigh Been Up To?

....an “artivist and edu-preneur”, a professional writer, playwright, singer, film-maker, educator, dramaturg, editor, arts administrator, public speaker and activist, often all at the same time. 

In addition to her own creative work, Debra Leigh is passionate about working with other artists.  She founded Hidden River Arts over two decades ago, and has grown the organization so that it now includes gallery events, an independent small press, yearly writing competitions, outreach and educational activities.  Wanting to be a "creative catalyst" for other artists, Debra is dedicated to helping other creative people to grow and develop. In addition to Hidden River's activities, Debra also works individually with fellow writers, with manuscript consultation, all levels of editing, and developmental support at all stages, from concept through to publication and on to promotion.  It's all about creative growth and discovery.  

One of her recent projects is a documentary film and companion book, both called 'Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America, which addresses the corporate colonization of academic culture in the U.S. - and now increasingly happening around the world.  She continues with her fiction and dramatic writing; there are always many projects in development at the same time. 

As if that isn't enough, Debra Leigh also provides an expansive list of communication, writing and editing services for a select group of clients in various business sectors, with her company, DLS Communications

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2018: A Year of Intensity 

Unless you've been living underground for the last several years, you know that we are living in a time of great intensity, disruption.  As someone who has always been engaged in activism and in making art, I find that it is also a time that urgently calls on those tendencies within me.  Sometimes, the pull is so strong that I have to unplug and reflect before it is possible to move forward in a positive way.  The great danger when living in such chaotic times is that we become reactive and reactionary, acting out of places of fear or anger.  It's been my experience that nothing good comes from actions that have such roots.  So, as the world is going through great changes, it felt important for me, personally, to re-asses the life I was living, the priorities I set, the goals I was aiming for.  I know myself well.  I understand that I am one of those people who wears many hats, juggling lots of activities and occupations.  Some people have a more straight-path kind of life.  Others have lives with many side trips and detours.  I am that sojourning kind of person, exploring and working in the arts, in scholarship and education, in activism.  That's been true for most of my life.  But that doesn't mean that it isn't necessary at times to re-configure and re-align.  It became clear to me in late summer of 2017, that this was such a time, and I had to make a very large decision, one that I had avoided for quite a long time.
After over 20 years, I decided to leave university teaching in order to focus on all my other projects that had been gasping for life, for want to sufficient attention.  I wrote more extensively about this decision on my Homeless Adjunct blog, because it was a very emotional decision.  That decision has now seen its one-year anniversary, and I am convinced that the choice was the right one.  
One of the most important projects I hope to finish this year is our documentary, 'Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America.  If you are interested in the film and our other work with 'Junct Rebellion, I think following The Homeless Adjunct blog is a good idea.  We'll be posting news about our activism activities there, not only for the university activism, but for our soon-to-launch projects of Guerilla U and Isidore International (more detailed information about these will be coming soon!) In short, for the time being, the projects are focused in this way:  'Junct Rebellion/The Homeless Adjunct focus on the issues of the corporatization of academia.  Guerilla U focuses on issues of K-university and offers advice for parents, counselors, students and the "stakeholders" -- meaning all those who care about high quality public education and the best possible opportunities for learning and development we can find for our youth.  If you visit our site for Guerilla U, you will see that we are in process.  One of the goals in late 2018/early 2019 is to expand this site and to launch our programs, which will include consulting, workshops, articles, curriculum for students, especially those "alternative" students not served by the overly-standardized public education we suffer these days.  I have begun to realize that the "alternative" student, those I have thought of originally as the artists, the unusual thinkers, the so-called "special ed" kids (who are often some of our most creative thinkers) were the ones Guerilla U would serve.  They are still very much at the center of our project; but I have come to realize that most of our students need the advice and help Guerilla U will offer. Our public educational system continues to deteriorate under the strain of for-profit values, and under the incompetent hands of the likes of Betsy DeVos. Isidore International, the website for which is still in process, will focus on the opportunities we are building in creating a network of international learning centers where students can opt out of the corporatized university systems for a more independently designed learning experience.  This is an enormous project, and more details will be offered on this as it unfolds.  
These educational projects will be receiving more attention, now that we are entering the last months of 2018 and looking forward to 2019. I had, first, to prioritize my departure from my own university teaching, and then to focus on the existing arts programs and publishing projects at Hidden River Arts that needed immediate attention.
From August through to about March, 2018, the focus was to dive into Hidden River Arts and start the expansion of programs.  I'm still working hard on this, but most goals have been met, and we have already had success in expanding our literary competitions, our internship program and our international network of artists.  Hidden River now has a year-round cycle of literary awards, which offer monetary prizes and publication on the Hidden River Publishing imprints. You can explore them here, on our Hidden River Arts blog.  If you are interested in our projects at Hidden River, I suggest that you follow us, so that you'll get notified when news is posted.  
A new book, Ruby Hands, by Cheryl Romo, our fourth Eludia Award winner, was published in the fall, 2017.  The eBook will be launched this fall, 2018.  Hidden River has two new books currently in the pipeline, the first of which is a departure from the books we've published up until now.  It will launch another of our imprints, Many Frog Press, which will focus on books about the arts, arts education and arts activism.  The book, Your Voice, Your Instrument: Learning to Play is by Jeffrey Lesser, a singer/performer, a vocal coach and a cabaret teacher.  The second book is our most recent Eludia Award winner, a wonderful short story collection, In Progress, by Catharine Leggett.  Both of these projects are on schedule to be launched by the end of 2018/early 2019. 
Finally, what of my own creative work?  Well, there is 'Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America,  the documentary I talked about above.  Chris LaBree, my co-producer, and I screened a rough cut of the film in Alberta in February, and are hoping to have screening opportunities as we continue to work on building out the rough cut(s) and finally, to screening the final cut of the entire film.  That project, and the companion book, will be taking up a lot of time in the remaining months of 2018.  I've also joined with my singing partner, Jean Brooks, to create Cabaret Divas, returning to singing cabaret.  We designed, wrote and performed two new cabaret shows in Philadelphia, the first called "Love Sucks. Let's Sing!" and the other called "Bawdy and Soul". Rehearsals for our latest project, to create a series of sets performing the Great American Songbook will begin in late 2018.  It has been several years since the publication of my collection of short stories, Other Likely Stories, during which time much of my creative activities were focused on the film, on returning to singing, and on writing plays.  I did manage to finish a novel, Blue Roses, which now needs some attention in terms of finding it a publisher.  Beginning this summer, I've returned to writing short stories as well, and am working on a new collection called Crossing the Line.  The first story of this collection to be published was "Do It Yourself Finishing School", which was published a few months ago by Adelaide Literary Magazine.  A second story from this new collection, "Beverly at the Fair" was published in April 2018 by the hard-copy journal, Stoneboat Literary Journal. 
Finally -- in December 2017 I traveled with my daughter to Florence, Orvieto and Rome.  This was a combined trip, for research, for making connections with other arts organizations, and for the kind of discovery that is only possible when you are on an adventure.  

 We stayed right at the Duomo in Florence, and celebrated the New Year with the Florentines.  We then traveled by train to beautiful Orvieto, one of the ancient hill towns with Etruscan history.  

And then, from Orvieto by train to Rome, where we stayed in one of our favorite areas, Campo de' Fiori, and wandered....or should I say hiked....logging in several miles each day as we moved from one of the impossibly beautiful sites to another.  The big accomplishment this time was that I, with my fear of heights, climbed to the very top of the Castel Sant'Angelo.   

So.....life is truly an on-going adventure.  There is a lot of work to be done in order to bring all the dreams and goals and plans into being.  But there is a lot of joy, too, in truly believing in everything that I am doing, discovering new things each and every day, feeling more alive and excited each and every day about what life has in store!  


In Spring 2018, my daughter and I once again headed to Europe, this time to Prague, Vienna and Budapest. There is much more to say, and more beautiful photos to show (perhaps in a new post?), and I hope to get more written and shared about the experience soon.  For now, suffice it to say that many ideas about ways to build international networds with other artists and with the English-speaking ex-pat communities in these cities have been exciting and are fueling still more plans and projects.  



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