Kathy was born in Yuma, Arizona and after six weeks there, moved around the country at frequent intervals as her father was an airplane mechanic and navigator in the Air Force (Maine, Hawaii, Louisiana, New York, Massachusetts). She went to college at the University of Vermont and Burlington College, and earned her BA at Burlington College in 1996, in psychology.
In 2003, she left for Ghana to attend University of Ghana to earn an MA in English (Literature track), working closely with Kofi Awoonor.
In 2001, she got involved with the Vermont Global Village Project (VGVP), a tiny nonprofit that brings high school students to Ghana and India, as the volunteer fundraising coordinator and trip counselor. She is still active in that role to date. It is through VGVP that she initially entered the world of Ghana and fell in love with the country. She has now been to Ghana 9 times!
She is married, and has a daughter and two sons. She's building a school in Amanase, in the eastern region of Ghana.
Five Questions with Kathy FitzGerald:
1. How long have you been writing poetry?
The beginnings of poetic language with line breaks began when I was twelve and my family had moved to a beautiful rural country setting in Vermont, where my grandparents had a farm and 800 acres of mountainside, woods, fields, brooks and a pond. I spent a lot of time in the woods, writing about the natural world around me. We moved from the country to a more suburban area two years later (my mother found country life too isolating and missed her 13 brothers and sisters terribly), and new poems came from the "trauma" of leaving my first home with roots (remember, I was raised in the Air Force). I had a wonderful poetry teacher my freshman year in high school when this move occurred and she brought us outside of the classroom time and again, which helped me, once again, connect with nature and away from what felt like oppressive personal experiences. I have been writing poetry since,and have taught it as well to teens in state's custody. I also used poetry as a group home counselor. I have a collection of poetry from teens that I hope to publish one day. I am still collecting it.
2. Who are your favorite poets? Which poets have most informed and inspired your work?
Rainer Maria Rilke, Tess Gallagher, Gregory Orr, Robert Creeley, William Carlos Williams, Susan Griffin, Jane Hirshfield, Rumi, Naomi Shihab Nye, Linda McCarriston, Mary Oliver, Eamon Grennan, Derek Walcott, Galway Kinnell, Robert Frost, Daniel Lusk, and others.
Robert Frost was my favorite poet throughout junior and senior high school. My grandmother worked at Vermont mountain resorts in Ripton and Killington on weekends while attending Castleton State College. She sat at the feet of Robert Frost as he read, more than once. I have a copy of his book that was hers. She loved his work, and exposed it to me. Perhaps the influential part was that Frost wrote the "home poems" of my youth (he brought me to Vermont through and beyond the transient years, I suppose).
I fell in love with Tess Gallagher here in Vermont at a weekend workshop in Lincoln, Vermont. (Ethridge Knight was there, too!) She read her work, sang Irish ballads and told fantastic stories. Her poem "Refusing Silence" is a constant friend:
...On the sacred branch
of my only voice - I insist.
Insist for us all,
which is the job
of the voice, and especially
of the poet. Else
what am I for, what use
am I if I don't
There are messages to send.
Gatherings and songs.
Because we need
to insist. Else what are we
for? What use
3. What do you hope to accomplish with your poetry?
Poetry for me is permission to speak. It's testimony. Which is why I believe it has been such a useful tool in my past work with troubled teens.
4. Could you tell us a bit about the Vermont Global Village project? And about your status as a queen mother?
I became involved with Vermont Global Village Project (VGVP) in the fall of 2000 when my teenage niece came to live with us for a while. She wanted to go to Ghana with VGVP but did not believe it was possible. I took her doubt on as a challenge and began helping her raise the money for the one month trip to Ghana. I helped all the kids who were signed up for the trip in fact, and to date, am still doing this. I was asked to go as a trip counselor in 2001 and have helped run several trips since.
I became a queen mother in March of 2003 in the eastern region village called Amanase, in Ghana. We have begun to build a school with the help of many generous kind supporters.
5. What motivated you to attain your MA in Literature from the University of Ghana? How did you find that experience?
I was loving every moment of my time spent in Ghana, even what I found difficult. I wanted "an excuse" to extend my stay, and I had always wanted to study literature. I felt that if I did not do it soon, I might never (I was in my mid forties by then). It was a fantastic experience. I was far behind because my first degree is in psychology (though my senior thesis combined literature and psychology, two areas of equal pasison for me), so I had to spend more time reading in my room then I had anticipated. That was isolating.
You know, when I applied at UG, my application to the English Dept was denied and I was given admission to the sociology program (though this request was nowhere in my application). A dear UG professor and friend told me to "come to Ghana" with my acceptance letter and my senior thesis (an 80 page paper called "Poetry and Trauma"). So I went to Ghana. I bought a few sociology books at the University bookstore and waited for the teachers’ strike to end. August and early September passed. During this period of waiting for classes to start, I decided to act on what was becoming an ultimatum. I did not want to study sociology in Ghana! It was literature or else back to Vermont for me. I went to a department head at the time and told him I would leave Ghana if I was not accepted into the English MA program. He took the thesis and my writing samples and passed them around the dept, and I was accepted.
It was a very challenging program and I feel good about how well I did. I was asked to apply to the PH.D program but I was afraid that if I continued to do research, I would be distracted from my creative writing practice (because I find research/writing very satisfying and in some ways, “easier” than creative writing).