Season 4: Episode 4
Kaitlin Curtice is an award-winning author, poet-storyteller, and public speaker. As an enrolled citizen of the Potawatomi Nation, Kaitlin writes on the intersections of spirituality and identity and how that shifts throughout our lives. In her new book, Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Every Day, she examines the journey of resisting the status quo of hate by caring for ourselves, one another, and Mother Earth.
Patrick Reyes: Welcome to another episode of the Sound of the Genuine, the Forum for Theological Explorations podcast where we talk to leaders about how they found meaning and purpose in their lives. Now today I'm really excited because we have a friend, a colleague, a writer, an author, Kaitlin Curtice, who's going to share with us about how she came to be the writer that she is.
And I want to make a special plug alongside listening to this interview with Kaitlin about how she became a writer, please be sure to go pick up her newest book released just this month. It's titled Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Every Day. I'm so excited to have Kaitlin on the Sound of the Genuine.
Patrick Reyes: All right, Kaitlin, thank you for joining us on the Sound of the Genuine. Now, I know that you're an author, a writer, a speaker. You do all kinds of inspiring things in the world. But take me back to your genesis. Take me back to your beginnings. You know, where did this kind of spark come from?
Kaitlin Curtice: I grew up in a lot of different spaces. I was born in Oklahoma in a small town called Ada - Ada, Oklahoma – and lived in Oklahoma for the first few years of my life. I'm the youngest of three kids. My sisters’ nine years older than me, my brother's seven years older than me, so I'm like definitely the baby of the family. And my father worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and my mom did transcription and a few other jobs. And so since my father worked for the BIA, which for those who don't know, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is basically indigenous police officers.
And so we, we moved a lot. And maybe I was four or five was the first time we moved from Oklahoma to New Mexico. A pretty big change but I loved New Mexico. I mean, I have very vivid memories of living there. But then we lived there for a while, we moved back to Oklahoma, lived there for a while, moved back to New Mexico, lived there again for a while, and then we moved to Missouri.
So it was like this very drastic change moving from kind of, you know, the southwest Oklahoma dirt to the Midwest of Missouri. And the kind of small town where there is a church on every corner. There were in Oklahoma too, very Southern Baptist where I lived, but mid-west church culture is different than other church culture. You know how different parts of the country feel different? So we went to church a lot. We went to Baptist churches just because like both of my grandmas were, you know, Southern Baptist secretaries. They worked at churches in Oklahoma. I think it was just a part of our story. And so we just went, you know? My father didn't go a ton, but our family did go to church. And so we lived in Missouri for a few years and I will say along the way, since I was little, that words and poetry were always a part of my life.
Not necessarily reading - wasn't a huge reader, but I was a huge writer. I love to write and that was just always a part of me. When I was about nine years old, my dad abruptly left and my parents got divorced not long after that. So, you know, at a time in life…9, 10, 11 is such a tender time for kids and for adolescents. And so moving back and forth, my dad working for the BIA, being at least adjacent to indigenous culture and kind of forming that part of my identity. We didn't talk about it a lot just because of intergenerational trauma in my family. We didn't talk about being Potawatomi a lot, but I still understood what my dad did and there was some of that context.
Moving to Missouri, to a very conservative little pocket small town, was really jarring, I think. Not that I didn't love it, I still made friends and all those things, but then my dad leaving again…very jarring. I was in fourth grade, my parents getting divorced and throughout all of that, just poverty, poverty, poverty, like trying to just survive. And I think when I was little, you know, being the youngest, not fully understanding, also just not really knowing how to talk about it or knowing who to talk to, there's just a lot of hard stuff that comes with that and finding safety where you can.
Like I remember I just loved my fourth grade teacher who I'm still friends with, and she reads my books, which is so wonderful. And we still write, write letters to each other and email and so she was like a safe person for me during that time. I would stay inside from recess sometimes just to be with her, or I would stay after school and help with things. I wanted to be in that classroom because it, it felt safe to me, you know, it felt stable maybe. So I remember that was always just a really important space for me.
My parents get divorced and my dad moved to Oklahoma, and you know, I was back and forth visiting Oklahoma. And then being in Missouri. So again, just instability in a lot of ways and trying to figure out who you are as a young kid, an adolescent. My mom then, a few years later, got remarried to my stepdad and he at the time was a Southern Baptist, associate pastor at one of the churches in town. So even though I went to church, this was kind of a step further in that I then became a pastor's kid. I think I was already taking in a lot of messages of needing to be saved. That I was a just…despicable human until I accepted Christ. Like all those messages that we get in the church, especially in the Southern Baptist church that I grew up in, I already had all that and then add that to sort of the people pleasing, the trauma responses that I was trying to figure out as a child.
I was a great pastor's kid, I will tell you, because I didn't rock the boat for anybody. You know, I listened to my pastors, I listened to my teachers. Didn't wanna go against the grain, like I was all in, you know? It was still hard. And I think there were just spaces where my questions, maybe I didn't let them surface very often, cuz I didn't wanna make anything uncomfortable, you know? I wanted to help kind of keep a good equilibrium wherever I could. But it was definitely a cultural shift in a lot of ways to go from having a single mom and being with my siblings to then we moved into a new house.
So it gave me a stability in that way that I had never had before. Financial stability and going to school in one place for the rest up until high school, and then church. Church was a stable place for me, even if it was toxic. And I look back now and when I talk about sort of my deconstruction journey, I can't always say like, it was just horrible and I was unhappy all the time. There were people who genuinely loved me at that church and would do anything to take care of me like their own kids.
But the theology that we practiced was toxic and had a lot of issues. And I went on the missions trips and I did all the princess conferences and I was part of the purity movement. Like I did all those things. So as a teenager I was in the youth band. I was leading, I was already a leader from so young, which I also find now to be a very toxic trait of the church, is to put leadership roles on young people and children. That can be manipulative possibly but it was just part of, it's part of who I am and so I was happy to take on those roles early on. And so I led - helping lead the youth band and helping do these conferences and bible studies and, you know, just all of it, you can imagine.
But my dad played guitar, so I, taught myself how to play guitar. I think it was a connection to him and singing, but also to myself. And so learning to play guitar as a teenager and having my friends teach me also fed into my writing heart. And so that was actually really wonderful. So yeah, all through high school, like leading like FCA and being part of student council and things like that.
It's really interesting even when you look back at your like teenage selves, like I was so passionate about God and about salvation. That's the language I would've used then. And I would say now that at the heart of who I am, that what I wanted most was to care about people and to be a part of their lives and their cultures and their stories.
And that is still true of me today. But again, the only framework I had for that was church. And so it's that salvation is the way to do that. Helping people save their souls, that kind of thing. So it was based in fear and guilt and shame somehow. But that's still who I am today is at the core of me. Now that I've begun to dismantle and kind of peel apart some of the shame and th, pain of the other aspects of it, I'm still someone who loves people and stories and that's just who I've always been. And so that's been good to recognize and not sort of blame my younger self and think that she was a horrible person or this zealot that was just awful. But that she actually cared about people and probably was really conflicted a lot of the time.
So carrying the trauma of my parents' divorce and growing up and having this jarring part of my identity of becoming, then a part of the church and assimilating, you know, and being a part of that as much as possible, wanting to succeed in that, wanting to be a leader and a worship leader. But in high school I remember I took a psychology class and it just was one of my favorite classes I'd ever taken because it connected me to people and our minds and the way we think and work. And so as soon as I took that class, I took psychology and then I took tons of writing classes, even in high school.
So I loved words and I loved people, and I write about this in my new book but I loved words and people, and I couldn't separate those things out. And even into college, I still loved words and people, so I would take psychology classes and social work classes, but then I would also be taking all these literature classes and they just…they didn't really go together, but for me, they went together somehow. They just seemed to work, which is why I had like, so many credit hours. It just seemed to be a part of who I am. And now I realize that all of those classes sort of have blended to become the writer that I am today.
In high school, I was still writing words, I was still journaling. I was writing music and doing all of those things. Graduated high school and then started college doing psychology, studying languages, things like that. Just loving words, you know, and people and our minds and how we think. I don't think at that time I had any idea of what trauma I had been through.
I was still very disembodied, I will say. And I was still really clinging to the narratives of the church that I had grown up with and of God, these toxic narratives of God. Very patriarchal narratives of God. And so I really struggled going into college. I took a world literature class and we were studying the Hebrew Bible.
We were studying some stories from the Hebrew Bible and I was likesure that I knew all the answers cuz this is a book I've carried around for years only to realize that my little bubble was burst and that other students had very strong opinions on God and history. So that began to peel back my layers of, you know, this bubble of religion that I had grown up in, which was really good for me.
I also got married at 19. So I met my partner Travis, when I was 18. And we met and we got married seven months later. It was a whirlwind of something where it was like, he was doing work in the world that I wanted to do one day and we had the same core love for people and culture. And we're still married today, so we'll be married 15 years this coming summer. It's really wild when you grow up in conservative spaces a lot of people do get married really young. I never planned on it just happened, but people don't always grow together. So I'm really grateful for the support that I've always had in my writing and in my work with Travis.
Patrick Reyes: I am curious, I mean, this feels like you've had a lot of transition, trauma, kind of movement through church, also community, your fourth grade teacher. You know, what comes next after college? And where do you take this kind of commitment to words, to community to understanding the - to me - it's like hearing you love the human condition, you're exploring through literature and through other people. What do you do with that post college?
Kaitlin Curtice: This is interesting, and I haven't really talked about this a lot, but I never finished my college degree. I was this close to finishing my social work degree, but I had kids. And so my social work program, of course, was really supportive of me, but we ended up moving after I had my second child. And so trying to start over, trying to finish my degree all got really complicated. As I was working on my social work degree, when I had my first son, I started a blog because don't we all start blogs? So I started a blog and it was called Stories and it was actually, it was a public journal…which I'm just like so embarrassed at some of the things I actually wrote for anyone to view, but it was mostly just friends and family who read it probably at the time. But I wrote about my spirituality and my motherhood and just, that's when I really started reading books.
I was reading books in college. I was loving it, but like my need for especially books that were breaking open some of the things that I believed. Like reading Richard Rohr. I'd never heard of him. And reading, Henry Nouwen I'd never heard of him. Like some of the desert fathers and the desert mothers, I'd never read any of that stuff growing up Baptist. I never heard of it. And so breaking my mind open a little bit, Thomas Merton especially, sort of coming to terms with some of these incredible thought leaders, they were helping me deconstruct. And so my blog was kind of that space. I have this baby but I'm also like carrying him to the coffee shop where my partner worked and like writing just for hours and I needed it. I think with words, I've always needed words. I just have to have them to process life.
Let's see, I finished college. We moved to Atlanta, which for me moving from small towns - we moved to Arkansas, then we moved to Atlanta. So, you know, when you move to bigger cities, you experience new people, you meet new people you didn't know existed in the world. Your bubble widens, right?And so those small religious bubbles that a lot of us grow up in totally burst when we move away from home and we experience more stories and that's such a beautiful gift.
So, continued to lead worship in Atlanta and actually ended up getting a job as a part-time worship leader, but at the same time I also got a book deal. And so I kind of thought, I don't need to go back to school right now if my dreams are coming true, realizing that maybe I could write a book. Paraclete Press was a small publishing house. They, took my first book which was Glory Happening, and it was just a series of essays and prayers and they said yes, and they published it. And it was such a gift, but such a whirlwind for me. I didn't think it would really ever happen and I didn't even really know it was a dream inside of me until it happened, you know? It was like that kind of waking up to, oh, I guess words have always been there for me, haven't they? And so, that was a real gift.
And then I realized that I also needed to switch away from worship and music, that kind of life with word, to writing books and more poetry. And so I could feel that shift. And continuing to still blog and write online, and then I started writing for Sojourners. Yeah it just naturally shifted and I think the lessons I learned in college, the things I held there all came with me, and it just naturally was a part of who I was.
Patrick Reyes: As you think about this vocation as a writer, I think a lot of young adults that we work with, especially those who are kind of figuring out what their leadership's gonna look like, but imagine this being a life they could imagine, or a dream come true, to write books or to be a public thought leader.
Can you tell us a little bit about your process? Like how often were you writing, how were you thinking about this? What does the work look like?
Kaitlin Curtice: My first book was literally from my journals. Like most of the essays, most of the prayers, most of the things I had written had already been written - handwritten in a journal. And then I just took all of those and I'm like realizing, oh, maybe all this writing I've done every single day could turn into something else.
Like I said earlier, at the time I just needed those words. They were for me but what a gift to think that maybe they could be for somebody else too. I would say for anybody who loves something that much, I don't always love that we take our passions and we have to monetize them.
So that's part of our society too, is like, oh, you love something? Well, how can you make money off of it? And I don't love that, but I do love that I get to do that with the thing that I needed so much and continue to need in life that I can share that with the world. That's such a gift for me. Another part of it is public speaking, which never crossed my mind that all these people I go to hear speak actually do it for a living, like get paid to do this work.
Rachel Held Evans was one of the first writers who like took me under her wing and said, “You can do this” and really committed to being such a champion for me as my first book came out and into my second. I just realized, this really could be a career for me and I see these other women doing this, like maybe I could do it too.
And I think that was a real gift because, growing up in the church, no one necessarily put this on me, but I just picked up these messages that when I get married and have kids, my job will become to be a stay-at-home mom and to support my husband. Like, that's the job I should have. And no one in my family would say that. It's just like a subliminal message that I inherited. I could never be anything else. I'll just be a mom for the rest of my life. So to have my own family, my partner Travis, and the people around me say, no, that's not what you need to be. You don't need to just assume that that's gonna be your life role. So who are you? And then to force me to ask that question, to believe in myself, and say, oh, maybe I am a writer. And then to lean into that.
You know, it's hard for us, especially if you leave maybe a full-time job and you become a writer, it's hard for people to lean into some of that work or any kind of creative work that you try to make money off of. That can be really scary, but like owning the space and owning that we'll maybe have to do it differently than everybody else. You know, my journey is not maybe a traditional publishing journey like other peoples. And everyone else has a different journey, so trusting you gut and your instinct and trusting the way that you work. I write all the time. It's still been a constant for me, and book writing in the era of social media, trying to make sure that we reserve ourselves and our kind of our energy to lean into the books instead of into whatever is online, social media or a public blog or whatever it is, to kind of, save the good stuff for the books is really hard because we have just so many spaces where we wanna share things and see how people respond. For me, writing for Sojourners as well was really helpful because it was a place where I could comment on being indigenous and struggling with identity and with the church and trying to ask these questions and what it meant for me to kind of come home to myself and what all these questions might mean for our society.
So that was a really helpful space for me. And my rhythms keep changing. I will say almost, weekly, I have to ask myself, is this rhythm working? Is this current writing schedule working? You know, you just have to ask yourself those questions too.
Patrick Reyes: And your newest book, which I'm grateful I got an advanced copy of and I'm getting through is really an expression of this beautiful vocation that you have as a writer. I mean, you've said that writing for you is one thing, and then some of us - like me - I'm blessed to be able to read your words on paper. Tell us a little about this newest book that you have and what was the inspiration behind, this is the next project that I want to take on.
Kaitlin Curtice: Yeah. so my new book is called Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Every Day. And I wanted to dive into this idea of resistance because we know that these really powerful terms and ideas can become sort of fads or these things we post about online, but they can become empty if we aren’t careful. And so this idea of resistance is such a powerful idea, and even two years ago was just kind of watching and noticing, what do we mean when we say that we're resisting? I wanted to write a book on that idea. I wanted to frame it for our daily lives, how are we living into resistance? How are we resisting the status quo of hate in our society? How are we resisting the status quo of white supremacy or colonization that has always been in the world? These painful things, oppression and racism, you know, these things that have existed, how do we resist those, but then also choose what's good on the other side of it, or choose care for ourselves and for each other and for Mother Earth?
I read so many books to write this book. That's what I think part of the work is too, is like helping my readers not stop with me. I always hope that no one will stop with just my book, but that they'll read a bunch of the books I've shared about in my books so that they will expand their world. And this book was particularly interfaith. I wanted people to read from people of different cultures and religions and really expand their bubble. I needed help expanding my bubble in college and early adulthood and books helped me do that. And so I hope that it helps other people do that and then my words do.
This book came really naturally for me. My second book was Native and it came out in 2020 right as Covid hit. And so I had a lot of burnout after that book came out. I was pretty exhausted and it was a really difficult book to write. It was all about what I shared earlier about my childhood, about disconnection from my identity, and assimilation, and kind of finding my way back to myself and leaning into that and then recognizing the white supremacy and colonization that does exist in the church.
So Native was really hard to write. It was traumatic to write and I wanted my next book to be like, well what now? That kind of book. Like if I've told you all how traumatized I am, now what? You know, so I wanted it to be a book that was kind of like, yeah, things are really hard in the world and we carry personal and collective trauma, all of us, but what can we hold onto in the midst of it? And I felt like maybe this book could be, I don’t know, a safe place for people to land and to ask, how are the choices I’m making in my everyday life actually having ripple effects in the world? And how are the ways we change kind of the macro level, the institutions and the systems around us, how does that affect the world and what’s my part in it?
And so this book was kind of that, but again, coming from that interfaith perspective. Because that's another part of me that's always been there is loving to learn about other cultures and religions and wanting to appreciate them and be in interaction with them. And I've gotten to do that a lot, especially now through the Aspen Institute. I've been doing work with them and it's been such a gift. I've loved it so much, and so I wanted this book, especially to have some of the undercurrents of that so that people who read it, especially Christians who read it, will maybe have a hunger for interfaith conversations as well and wanna expand, expand the bubble a little bit.
Patrick Reyes: I mean, I'll just say this on the book - What I've loved so much is the cadence of it, of your writing, is also like an act of resistance. You know, it's not just here's the problems of the world. Let's jump into all the solutions and how you need to change your daily life. It is a meditation to ground you into the deeper work that we've been invited to, by you and by the world.
So I'm grateful for the writing. So here's my last question. As I hear your story, and I think back to your dad working for the BIA, your fourth-grade teacher who's affirming you, the what does church look like, community challenge, all of those things. And then coming into your, or coming back to yourself, to use your words, as a writer and find your narrative, how much of your vocation and call is due to some relationship you might have with the divine or yourself, like an internal conversation? How much has to do with the broader community? Maybe your family, your kids, your broader world?
Kaitlin Curtice: Oh, so much. Yeah, so much. I'm one of those people who believes that anywhere you live you can find family, find community, cuz we have lived in so many different places. Even in my adulthood, I've lived in different places and everywhere we've lived we've found the adults who just love our kids well, or we have found other families who have just leaned into us. And we have found people of other religions and faiths and cultures who have welcomed us into their homes and who we've welcomed into our homes. We cannot live without each other. We can't. And so there is this beautiful gift of what community is. Now, I will say, you know, we don't go to church anymore, so I am not…while I am a faith leader, I'm not part of an institutional body of a church.
And that's okay for us. I understand that's not for everyone. Being such a leader in those spaces and leaving forced me to ask, well, what does community look like? Because it has to happen in more than just that space. And so it has forced me to ask, what is community then? Like what's that core thing that holds us together? If it's not a church, is it food? Is it our biking community? Is it, we're rock climbers, so is it our climbing gym that's become a space for us? Is it the school where your kids go to school? And asking what those spaces are has been really beautiful for me and has eased some of the grief, knowing that no matter what city we live in, whether we go to church or not, there are beautiful people out there from all different backgrounds who have a story to tell, who have their own journeys and who will overlap with me at some point.
And those people always inspire my books. They always lead me to something new that I then wanna share with the world. So my writing would be extremely dull without the people in my life who have kind of held me and have also taught me, you know, and helped me process my own stories and have let me lean into their stories.
Patrick Reyes: Thank you so much for coming on the Sound of the Genuine. Thank you for your writing. I mean this, I really mean it as someone who's benefiting from you sharing your inner worlds and your thoughts, it's a gift. It really has, it has challenged me and, and made me think differently about the world. So I recommend it. If folks wanted to find out more about you or to get your books, where would they go?
Kaitlin Curtice: I think the, the best place is my website, so kaitlincurtis.com. But I'm really active on Instagram, so that's a good place to follow me. Or you can look up my substack which is called the Liminality Journal. And I share a lot about my books. There's a lot of kind of sneak peeks there for my new book and. those are the best places.
Patrick Reyes: Kaitlin, thank you. This has been a gift. hank you again for coming on the Sound of the Genuine. Deeply grateful.
Kaitlin Curtice: Thank you.
Patrick Reyes: Thank you for listening to the Sound of the Genuine and Kaitlin Curtis's story. Now be sure to pick up that book, Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Every Day. You can find out where to get that book and more at Kaitlin's website at kaitlincurtis.com. We'll have a link in the show notes.
I want to thank my team Elsie Barnhart for producing this episode and @siryalibeats for his music. I have one final request for you. If you've enjoyed the Sound of the Genuine, please leave us a five-star review wherever you're listening to this podcast. It helps get our show in the ears of other listeners.
As always, I'm so grateful that you spent some time with us here on the Sound of the Genuine.