At the age of forty-five, Deborah Tobola returns to her birthplace, San Luis Obispo, to work in the very prison her father worked in when he was a student at Cal Poly. But she’s not wearing a uniform as he did; she’s there to teach creative writing and manage the prison’s arts program.
... a treasure of a book in multiple ways ... As if they live elsewhere, inmates refer to life on the outside as the 'real world.' Hummingbird turns this distinction inside out: it’s within the prison walls that its real story, in real time, featuring real people, unfolds ... While Tobola’s beacon shines upon the virtues and vices of those living and working in prisons, Hummingbird also ventures into the self-serving politics, businesses, and unions lurking in the darkest corners of the prison system itself.
Written in clear, occasionally lyrical prose and seasoned with Tobola’s poems and her students’ writing, the book is a compelling portrayal of education in prison ... She believes fiercely in her work but rarely romanticizes it ... Ultimately, Tobola is clear-eyed about the extent to which both she and the inmates are controlled by the institution ... reveals that art also asks something of us. It demands that we make friends with ambiguity, with vulnerability. It calls on us to attend to the vital creative capacity of others. Art asks that we leave the door open for beauty, whatever its travels have been.
[Tobola] doesn’t romanticize the system, or her position, which grows to include staging several original plays; instead, she’s frank and even wry about its myriad challenges ... Tobola’s dedication to keeping these inmates attuned to their creative spark is what gives this humble memoir its powerful shine. There are people like Tobola who never give up on the forgotten.