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  • Linnea Iannazzone

Spotlight: Vivé Griffith, Director of Outreach and Engagement

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

Executive Director Lela Hilton
Vivé Griffith

Writer and educator Vivé Griffith has been part of the Clemente community for nearly fifteen years. After serving as the Academic Director of Free Minds Austin from 2007-2016, Vivé was hired as the first Clemente Course in the Humanities Director of Outreach and Engagement. Get to know Vivé with our quick Q&A!

What motivated you to get involved with Clemente? Like so many people, I first learned about Clemente when I read founder Earl Shorris's essay in Harper's Magazine. I was a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, and the article was included in a course packet I was teaching from in a freshman composition class. I like to say that I'm not sure whether the essay stuck with my students, but it ultimately changed my life.

A decade and another graduate degree later, I learned about a Clemente Course, Free Minds, being started at The University of Texas, where I worked as a writer. I asked to visit class, and I was awestruck by the engaged conversation in the room and the fierce intelligence and commitment of the students. I came home that night and knew I wanted to be involved. I had no idea that just a month later the program would be hiring its first staff position for an academic director and that I'd get the job. I ended up directing Free Minds for close to a decade.

Please share a favorite Clemente memory, or a favorite "fact" about the program that makes you proud to share your time and support!

It is so exciting to see how the humanities come alive through our students' engagement with them, and often in surprising ways. I have countless stories about this, but one of my first remains one of my favorites. In a philosophy class, we were reading Plato's Republic, all ten books over the unit. A student, Kellee, had a baby son in the childcare room who just wouldn't settle down, so she brought him into the classroom. While the class debated Socrates' controversial ideas about rearing children, Kellee walked the classroom in circles, nursing her son under a blanket. She never stopped participating in the conversation, arguing for the role of mothers while in the very act of being a mother. She was in direct dialogue with a 2400 year old book!

What do you do outside of the Clemente universe—for work and for play? I write essays and poetry, keep a year-round vegetable garden, and take epically long walks. (I've walked parts of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail four times.) In September 2020 I installed a poetry box on the curb of my house, and I put in a new poem every week for my neighbors to read as they walk by. It's been my favorite pandemic hobby of all. [You can subscribe to Vivé's poetry box newsletter here.]

What makes Clemente and the study of the humanities special to you?

At its heart, Clemente is about community. The texts become a way of knowing ourselves, knowing each other, and entering a conversation that's been going on throughout human history. How do we live a good life? What do we owe to each other? What is justice?

We so rarely get to step away from the frenzy of our modern life to ask these big questions, and Clemente offers the opportunity to do that in community with others. There's nothing quite like it. And we need more of it in the world.

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