Carolyn Holbrook’s literary testimony

Writer and teacher Carolyn Holbrook has been sharing her powerful story for decades.


Dasiyah Franklin-Carter
Professor Carolyn Holbrook discussed her new book “Tell Me Your Names And I Will Testify” in a Facebook Live event on Oct. 29.

Robin Doyscher, Senior Reporter

Adjunct English department instructor and author, Carolyn Holbrook – who was once a pregnant sixteen-year-old within Minnesota’s juvenile incarceration system – mentioned the importance of not letting the circumstances around us prevent storytelling. 


Holbrook recently held a virtual event where she read pieces from her memoiristic essay book, “Tell Me Your Names And I Will Testify.” The event opened with two of Holbrook’s students doing supplementary readings before Holbrook began.


“In this time of crisis, many writers seem to feel blocked. Write as much as you can as often as you can, and try not to be too hard on yourself if you are unable to write at the pace you were writing before the world went crazy,” Holbrook said. “Perhaps you can consider lowering your expectations of what you can accomplish right now so that you can feel satisfied with what you are able to accomplish.” 


Holbrook’s series of panels and discussions, “More Than A Single Story,” has changed its format greatly to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as enforced distancing.


“We have moved our programs to a virtual format, and will continue to do so, until the pandemic is over. Our panel discussions will be on Zoom. Our writing workshops will be on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, depending on who we are partnering with,” Holbrook said. “Like everyone else, our partners have also been programming virtually: The Loft Literary Center, Hennepin County Libraries, Friends of the Saint Paul Library, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.” 


Throughout “Tell Me Your Names And I Will Testify” Holbrook writes about growing up in the Twin Cities, struggling to be recognized in the literary world and her experiences as an educator.

The Facebook Live had a chat function for audience members to leave comments and interact with each other throughout the event.
Dasiyah Franklin-Carter
The Facebook Live had a chat function for audience members to leave comments
and interact with each other throughout the event.

In chapter sixteen, “Stones and Sticks,” Holbrook writes “There are turning points in everyone’s life, though we sometimes fail to recognize them right away. I experienced one of those moments many years ago during a springtime poetry class where students were learning to make video poems.”


Holbrook’s involvement in Hamline has been intertwined with her experiences as an author, especially when she was hired. 


“In 1996, Eng. Professor Veena Deo invited me to participate in a panel on Black women writers. Later, another Eng. Prof, who is no longer at Hamline, invited me to teach a First-Year English class,” Holbrook said. “I’ve been at Hamline ever since, teaching English and Creative Writing courses. I also coordinated readings and poetry slams for a number of years.” 

Holbrook has done readings over her essays in the past at various literary events and has gained acclaim from local newspapers such as The Star Tribune for her journey from incarceration to being the subject of celebration.