Deborah Tobola

Book Reviews

"She doesn't romanticize the system, or her position ... instead,
she's frank and even wry about its myriad challenges ...
Tobola's dedication to keeping these inmates attuned to their
creative spark is what gives this humble memoir its powerful shine.
There are people like Tobola who never give up on the forgotten.”
— The Los Angeles Times
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“... the book is a compelling portrayal of education in prison…
Tobola’s chronicle of her years teaching poetry
and directing plays in prison reveals that
art also asks something of us. It demands that
we make friends with ambiguity, with vulnerability.
It calls on us to attend to the vital creative capacity of others.
Art asks that we leave the door open for beauty, whatever its travels have been.
— Los Angeles Review of Books
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"Tobola describes her early awareness that
'misery’s persistent whisper' could 'turn into a collective groan.'
It spurred her to develop a poetry program that
encouraged her students to develop and express their talent.'
— San Francisco Book Review
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“With open-mindedness and empathy, Tobola explores how
systemic issues play out in individuals’ lives
as they grasp for light in the darkness."
— Booklist

“On one level Hummingbird in Underworld is a narrative of teaching art in prison.
On another, the book is a memoir of vocation, that we are
formed by our families is the subtext: for better, for harder, for good ...
The lengths to which Tobola will go for her students are
stirring, astonishing, heart-rending.”
— Angelus News
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“... a treasure of a book in multiple ways ... Her memoir recalls
prisoner comfort zones expanding, incorporating that taboo realm
where hopes and dreams of life beyond prison reside.”
—Foreword Reviews, 5-star review
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"... a deeply moving reflection ... beautifully wrought ... "
— The Indypendent
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“ ... that’s the heart of the story: Underneath her tough exterior,
she has a gifted and inspiring teacher’s idealism and empathy,
and she believes that the arts can save one’s soul and free one’s
mind, a valuable gift when one’s body is locked up for years, even decades.”
— Read Her Like An Open Book
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“... fascinating ... writing is gorgeous and the voice
strong and engaging ... the story of one woman’s faith in others
and how that faith brought out the best in some of them.”
— Readers' Favorite
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"... I found Hummingbird in Underworld memorable, enlightening,
and disarming. It’s not something we think about often-
what daily life is like inside a prison. I’m grateful for Deborah’s
insight and important work.”
—Tar Heel Reader
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