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Meet Katharine Zaun

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katharine Zaun.

Katharine, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Well, I’m a writer and an educator, and I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to carry around a notebook everywhere I went and jotted down thoughts or things people said. But as an adult, there was a period in which I worked in the business of writing rather than working on my own projects. I completed a master’s in comparative literature and moved to New York City to work in publishing. After about a year and a half as a literary scout, I moved back to California to teach at the university level. At first, I split my time between English composition and literature and English as a Second Language. I loved working with international students and the refugees that were in the ESL program so much that I started doing that full time. And one of the perks of teaching ESL was that the grading and prep work was less substantial, which gave me more time to get back into writing and start on new projects. It was right around 2014 or 2015 that I really dove into writing poetry. Funnily enough, poetry classes were the ones I avoided in school in favor of reading novels, but then suddenly that completely shifted and poetry was the only thing I wanted to do. I appreciated how it forced me to pause and take in the moment and the images so carefully depicted in a poem. It made me move more slowly in the world and be more observant. It always makes me feel more centered.

Today, writing is still one of the many things I do. I’m still an educator and I’m lucky enough to do some facilitation and consulting work around the world. That is thanks in large part to a grant I received through the Rotary Foundation to do additional graduate work at the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica last year. From there, I started working as a creative consultant for DSIL Global, a human-centered design and innovation company that works toward meaningful systems change. And I’m partnering with a colleague in Panama on a arts-based project for social impact called Project Reimagine. In the time of COVID-19, however, that side of things looks very different. I’ve started doing some virtual facilitation work, but mostly I’m embracing this time at home as a moment to give more space to my writing. I’ve recently been honored with the Artist in Residence position at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, so I submit poetry to their newsletter on a monthly basis. I’m also starting a collection of short stories and collaborating on a multimedia art project with a friend in the Netherlands who is a textile artist and painter. We are both interested in the role art plays in regenerative education.

Has it been a smooth road?
My career definitely hasn’t had a linear trajectory. I’ve hopped around a lot, but that’s allowed me to acquire a perspective on life and on the world that I’m very grateful for. I think the hardest part of my path was getting up the courage to finally commit to my writing. I worked in publishing because I loved books and I thought it was more practical than writing a book myself. What I realized, though, was that that choice made me feel at odds with myself. Once I was aware of that, I saw a change in my decision making around work.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
As an educator focused on peace and community building and having traveled quite a bit, I try to bring those values and the lessons I’ve learned along the way into my writing. I’m not always successful, but I always try to be honest and uplifting as best I can. A 100% success rate doesn’t exist anyway. That’s one thing I’m proud of lately—embracing a process-over-product mindset. I’m also proud of a poetry project that I started while teaching and that I was able to recreate in Costa Rica. It’s called the Global Poetry Project and it’s a moving, multicultural initiative created to build community and give voice to belonging. It brings together people of different languages and cultures around poetry.

While in Costa Rica, I wrote a children’s book on human rights with a few peace education colleagues, which was such a fun experience. One thing I’ve been talking about almost daily with colleagues and friends is imagination. I’m so interested in how we might reimagine ourselves and others, and in how a rich imagination impacts your life. For me, somewhere in there is the key to more inclusive communities.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles has a lot of energy, but I’ve never spent a ton of time there actually. I’m from Orange County and, after going to college in Arizona, I moved around the U.S. and went abroad, so I’m only relatively recently discovering L.A. I’d like to get to know the city better once sheltering in place is over. There are obviously a lot of creatives in L.A. to connect with and draw inspiration from.

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