Between 2005 and last year, Linda Ross Swanson began making regular trips to Backspace in Old Town. But she wasn’t going there for a cup of coffee or to see live music. Instead, she went there to listen to stories of despair, grit and redemption from Portlanders who’ve struggled with poverty and addiction before getting on the road to recovery. Swanson used the material for “Wisdom Under the Bridge: The Prophets from Skid Row.”
The book includes the stories of 12 individuals who have overcome addiction and street life to become sober and productive people. The stories are presented as oral histories and take on stream-of-consciousness-like qualities, which Swanson used to capture each prophet’s voice and narrative. Swanson, a private grief counselor who serves as an associate sister at the Holy Names Sisters Foundation, hopes that telling the stories of how these individuals overcame adversity will provide lessons to others, while also challenging readers’ perceptions of the homeless.
Jake Thomas: The stories in the book are meant to be similar to or modeled after “ethical wills” or “wisdom wills.” I was hoping you could talk a little bit about how you discovered wisdom wills and why you wanted to use this format.
Linda Ross Swanson: Well, in 2005, I got my master’s degree in applied theology at Marylhurst University. It’s an inter-faith program, and one of the exercises in one of our classes was to do a ritual from one of the major religions. I came across the Jewish tradition of an ethical will, which dates back to biblical times when Jacob gathered his 12 sons around his death bed and bequeathed his blessing and his wisdom and his instructions. Continue reading