Alison Luterman's Biography
To learn more about the thought process of Alison's writings and teachings, click the link below to watch a series of interviews from the Fetzer Writer's Retreat.
Alison Luterman was raised in Massachusetts, the oldest of four children. She began writing poetry at the age of six or seven and has never stopped. She also began making up plays as a child, and cast her siblings in those early dramas. In high school, she was president of the Drama Club, and acted, wrote, and produced plays, as well as continued to write poetry.
She studied poetry at Emerson College and then at UMass Amherst. Her mentor at Emerson was the poet Bill Corbett, who introduced her to the work of Bernadette Mayer, John Ashbery, Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley, James Schuyler, and others. At UMass she studied the poetry of D.H. Lawrence, Muriel Rukeyser, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, and later, Tess Gallagher. She was also deeply influenced by Robert Bly’s book, Leaping Poetry, and by his translations.
Upon graduation she joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and worked with Haitian refugees in Miami, teaching English as a Second Language and sometimes acting as a Creole translator. After her VISTA stint was over she continued to work with Haitians and other immigrants and refugees in Boston. During this time she also joined the Boston Theater Group for a six-month theatrical immersion in Shakespeare’s sonnets.
In 1990, Alison moved to Oakland, California. She was in a storytelling troupe and taught theater to elementary school children, directing two Disney musicals with ninety children apiece in the casts. She joined California Poets in the Schools, where she was an artist-in-residence for twenty years, conducting poetry workshops in elementary, middle and high schools throughout the Bay Area.
After her marriage broke up, Alison also worked as an HIV test counselor at San Francisco General Hospital, and later at Glide Memorial Church and at Urban Health Study. Her experiences with dual and triple-diagnosis clients (mental illness, drug addiction and HIV), as well as her divorce, formed the basis of the poems in her first book, The Largest Possible Life, which won the Cleveland State University Poetry Prize and was published in 2001.
Around that same time, Alison saw Eve Ensler perform in The Vagina Monologues and was inspired to start writing plays again. Saying Kaddish With My Sister, her first full-length play, was produced in 2008 by the Jewish Ensemble Theater of West Bloomfield, Michigan. Since then, she has written a number of other plays: Oasis, Glitter and Spew, Hot Water, Touched, and The Chain, a musical with composer Loren Linnard about kidney transplantation, as well as a musical-under-construction The Shyest Witch with composer Richard Jennings, and a feminist song cycle We Are Not Afraid of the Dark with composer Sheela Ramesh.
In the early 2000s, Alison taught for several years as an adjunct instructor in the Writing and Consciousness MFA program at New College. She also co-taught a class in Poetry and Sacred Play with Cynthia Winton-Henry, co-founder of Interplay, at the Sophia Institute of Holy Names College. Interplay, a system of authentic movement, improvised vocalization, and storytelling, has informed all of Alison’s work since she was introduced to it in 2002. She has been an active member of Wing It!, the Oakland Interplay performing troupe, since 2003.
Alison’s second book of poems, See How We Almost Fly, won the Pearl Poetry Prize and was published by Pearl Editions in 2009. That same year she remarried. Intimacy and the push-pull of domesticated wildness form the cornerstone for the poems in her third book, Desire Zoo, (Tia Chucha Press, 2014). These themes are also present in the e-book, Feral City, a collection of her personal essays (with a few poems thrown in), published by SheBooks at shebooks.net in 2014 and now also available through Audible.com. Her latest book, In the Time of Great Fires (Catamaran Press, 2020), celebrates the emergence of fierce young female leadership and the vibrant, troubled world these young people are inheriting.
Since 2000, Alison has taught Memoir and Poetry through The Writing Salon in Berkeley, California, as well as at Esalen and Omega Institutes, at the Great Mother Conference, and at poetry festivals and conferences around the country. She lives in a rambling old house in Oakland where she tries and fails to keep the cat from clawing the couch, and writes poems, essays, plays, and song lyrics. She also offers private writing consultations, workshops and classes, coaching, keynote addresses and poetry readings.