Amy L. Wink, Ph.D. Educator ~ Writer ~ Morgan Driver ~ Welshie Owner

Writing Mentor

Welcome to my website. I am the author of She Left Nothing In Particular: The Autobiographical Legacy of 19th Century Women's Diaries (University of Tennessee Press, 2001) and the editor of Tandem Lives: The Frontier Texas Diaries of Henrietta Baker Embree and Tennessee Keys Embree, 1856-1884 (University of Tennessee Press, 2009). You can find out more about my work on these diaries by visiting My essays have appeared on, in the Austin-American Statesman and, most recently, in YogaPlus Magazine. I started learning to drive horses after I bought my first horse for my 40th birthday present to myself. I now own two Morgan horses, Will and Blessing, as well as 2 Welsh Springer Spaniels, James and Lily (not named for Harry Potter's parents but I'm okay with that connection.) I am now in my 30th year in the classroom and working toward a new book, Small Voices and Encounter Narratives: Notes from a Creating Life. I teach at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.

Lent: Redemption

amywink February 21st, 2018

“Stories are a gift to the tribe and stories have always been the best way for us to make sense of this hard world, or try to.” Greg Garrett

Reading the 19th-century diaries of Henrietta and Tennessee Embree taught me a great deal about compassion. The moment Tennessee wrote about backhanding her two-year old daughter across the face, hitting the child hard with her ringed hand and then her own horror at doing so was a moment I had to put down her journal and think hard about how I might judge her or understand her. I had liked her, felt for her, and suddenly, she struck her daughter in an unforgivable way and I could not like her.

Her fate in my writing would depend on how I responded. I could dismiss her. I could demean her. I could forget her humanity. She was racist, wealthy, abusive. What more did I need to condemn her? We are so much more evolved now, right? What value would there be in considering her humanity? Instead, I found my compassion in understanding the life she lived with her abusive husband, the fear that pervaded her life, and what must have been overwhelming moment, one that exploded into violence. I forgave her.

It has been over twenty years since I first encountered that moment in her 1867 diary and yet that moment stays with me today because my work turned on how I responded to her. A graduate student once wrote me about Tennessee Embree, asking “If there was basically a women’s shelter in Belton, why didn’t she just go there for help?” There was judgment in the question, like there is still today, but the answer I sent was very simple, very human: “She didn’t like the woman who ran the Belton Women’s Commonwealth.” That is the thing that stopped her. I never heard back from the graduate student. I suspect my answer might not have been what she wanted to hear, but it could also have been that my answer was just not exciting enough, not deep enough, for what the student wanted to write. I don’t know. I do know that Tennessee was a human being and it is hard to be a human being.

What does it matter what way I wrote about this long-dead woman? What does it matter how I chose to respond in a critical book on women’s diaries that so few people might eventually read? My response mattered because I was telling her story, the story she kept privately, the story I was reading, the story that now became part of my story. My responsibility to her story was also a responsibility to her, my responsibility to understand her humanity. I had to reach. I had to set aside my self (my PhD-seeking, make-a-critical-impact self) and reach, instead, for her.

When I eventually met Tennessee Embree’s descendants, they asked me “What made Henrietta and Tennessee special? What made them important enough for you to write about?” I answered, “Their ordinary lives.” I explained that they lived ordinary lives, in a community of people, and experienced ordinary human things, in the same way that we experience ordinary human things. The value of their diaries is exactly that, not in being extraordinary. When we read the story of ordinary living, we can come to understand what makes us human, the things that connect us to each other. The moments of ordinary failure, or ordinary achievement, help us understand, as Richard Rohr describes, the “shattering experiences of living.” Their ordinary lives, their ordinary words, reach across time and like a revelation, illuminate the difficulty and elegance of being human.

Lent: Privilege

amywink February 20th, 2018

Recently, I have engaged in a few conversations about what the privileged need to do (whether that privilege is embedded in class, or race, or sex, or what ever kind of access to power, even the smallest amount of power you may hold to act on behalf of someone with less power). Sometimes, we do not recognize the power we have or we feel tremendous guilt about the power that has come to us as a result of inequality. We may waiver between “no, I don’t have any power!” Or “ oh, I don’t want this power!” Or “But I made all the right decisions! I did it right.” Whether we earned power honestly (the earned rank in a profession or career or trade) or whether privilege has come to us because without trying (race/sex) or whether the choices we may have had to make allowed us to move ourselves into a position of power (class/sex/race), our relationship to power affects our relationship to those with less power (or those without). Some of us are troubled because we often don’t know what to do with that privilege, especially if we feel guilty about having it. Our tendency might be to offer it up or ask those without power what we need to do to fix our power imbalance. We seem to expect that those without power can fix our privilege (“Black Women will save us.”) But it is not the responsibility of those without power to make those of us with power feel better about having it.

I began thinking of this after reading The Gospel of Luke, and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. What privilege the Rich man had while Lazarus had none and yet, after death, the Rich Man still expects Lazarus to wet his lips in hell and make him feel better.


And then he also expects Abraham to go make sure his brothers are saved.


Abraham suggests they read Moses and the prophets: “they should listen to them.” The Rich Man STILL wants Abraham to fix it. no, they won’t read, but they’d believe a dead man and repent. Abraham, so witty, says “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead!”

I laughed out loud at this, of course (and the teacher in me recognized the “if only you’d read the assignment, you wouldn’t be flailing about so much.”)

Though this privileged man seems to know his privilege (as a rich man he has always ordered people around, likely gotten what he asked for) he doesn’t seem to understand that is current predicament is because he doesn’t understand how to use privilege for others, that his brothers HAVE a means to understand how to be saved, how to use privilege to change their fate and simply won’t— unless by some miracle of the raised dead.

Toni Morrison wrote that the purpose of freedom is to free someone else. Our privilege is our freedom. We must use our privilege to free others. Whatever that privilege is, however small we think it is.

If our privilege is economic, how do we use that to help those without economic privilege?

If our privilege is embedded in our sex, how do we use that privilege to aid others who do not have the privilege of our sex?

If our privilege is based in race, how do we use that privilege to aid those without that privilege?

If our privilege is embedded in our insight, how do we use our insight to aid those who are not yet awake?

Whatever privilege, whatever combination of reasons for our privilege, whatever freedom we have, our work is to free others, without expecting those who do not have the freedom to tell us how to do it.

Lent: Lament

amywink February 19th, 2018

Lent: Lament

Tell me there was some one,
at least one, who was kind.

Who could there be no one?

No one who turned?
No one who saw?
No one who reached?
No one who walked
toward your trouble,
just to be with you there,
just so you were not alone?

How was there no one?

I think of my own troubles,
and those who showed up,
just to be present,
just to be,
knowing so little
could be said,
just to be sanctuary
in the darkness,
so I could see
perhaps even
just the palest light.

I think of the times
I have turned toward
someone’s trouble.

How could there be no one?

How can there still be no one
walking toward this trouble?

Lent: Conversion

amywink February 18th, 2018

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4: 31-32

Stacey and I spent the last months of our writing time thinking together about the larger issues of our lives, what meaning we could find, where our ideas converged, where they differed. She had evolved in her thinking about what might happen after death, leaning toward the ideas of reincarnation. She was not Christian in her thinking, though she knew the Bible and I would have never challenged her to a scriptural citation competition. We respected each other and our faiths were never an argument, though we did often tease each other. “We’re all God’s children,” I’d say, “even atheists.” And she would retort, “If that’s the story you want to believe.” So we each grew stronger as we leaned against each other.

We did have wonderful conversations, deep and thoughtful, because we knew our time was coming to a close and what else to say but the things that matter? Why not go as deep as we had time for? I did not seek to bring her to God, or make her accept Jesus as her personal savior, in the common parlance of conversion. I always thought more like Henry David Thoreau, who when he was asked if he had made his peace with God, answered, “I did not know that we had quarreled.” If Stacey had a quarrel with God, it was not up to me to resolve it by argument or pressure. If she did not believe, I could only simply be and by my presence, hope that I was help, as she was help to me. And that was faith enough.

One of our last conversations, though, will always stay with me. She was so tired as the cancer grew and she struggled to maintain a public self that belied the depth of her illness, a kind of shield for her growing vulnerability, but one day she was just too tired. She wrote that she had gone to the pharmacy without her wig, in only her soft chemo cap and someone had turned to her, asked about her treatment, revealed her daughter had died, and offered her presence. She asked if she could pray for Stacey (which was not really an uncommon occurrence) and Stacey said yes, taking the true kindness of the offering. And something shifted.

She wrote to me of her encounter and said, “I realize my feelings have been a kind of vanity.”

I asked her what she meant.

” I have always thought, in a way, that only I can be truly kind,” she wrote. “That others are not as kind as me. I realize now that that is vanity and I see that others can be kind, that others are kind.”

“Yes” I wrote back, “Yes, that’s right.”

And I silently offered a prayer of gratitude for that conversion.

Lent: Kindness like a Branching Stream

amywink February 17th, 2018

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14: 27-28

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ” John 15: 12

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the memorial service for one of the kindest men I have ever known, a dear old friend of my parents, who was always a presence in our family memory even though we rarely saw him in my adulthood. His name and his wife’s are part of the lexicon of friendship in my life from the very start and when I read about his death, I was certain I’d go to his service because my father couldn’t and my mother was gone. Because his presence had meant so much to both of them, I would go. My brother also came, from Houston, because we remembered. We knew his family. We honored his presence in our lives, his steadfast compassion, his kindness like a branching stream spreading out to reach the sea.

At the service, I met again his little boys who I had played with as a child, now adults the same age as myself (how does this happen?) and remembered. I met again another old family friend, who had also known my parents from Southwestern, then Perkins, then Austin when we moved here in 1974. I sat next to another dear friend whose connection to Glenn started with the Methodist Church and who knew my mother as a child in San Antonio, and another friend who knew my mother from Mount Wesley. All these streams returned to a branching moment and I think about the map that we do not have of our lives when we start them, the map that is drawn by our living, those points of connection from which we begin to move in a new direction, and always toward another branching encounter.

I started my day in friendship, one renewed and one beginning, and a kinship of mind that engages and changes me, challenges me to think and rethink myself, who I am in the world, and moves me toward a different understanding of myself, something I’d forgotten, something I neglected to see in the map of my life. “Some people are moons,” my new friend said, “some people are planets. I think you are a planet.” And I am caught by surprise at the description, this gift, which keeps coming to me, and I branch in a new direction, toward a new idea of myself in the world.

I ended my day in friendship, with two oldest friends, who I have known since the 4th grade (which will be 44 years ago in the September). We do not remember the moment of our meeting but seem to have always known each other, recognized each other from the start, even though we branched apart, we can always come back to our connecting point. We always show up, even now in the middle of our lives. I asked them, as if they are a legend to the map of myself, “What do you remember?”

“I remember being safe with you.”

“I remember recognizing you.”

I am looking back at the map, even as I branch, deepen, and begin to move in a new direction.

In my Disciple class earlier this week, we all stumbled on our human condition, which read, in part, “We believe in God but we have so little power. We want to witness, to heal to convert the nonbelievers” and that is where we balk. None of us are what we deemed “evangelists” in the way that it has come to mean. We do not actively seek to “convert nonbelievers.” We are quiet, respectful of other faiths. But I ask, because I wonder, how might we be doing that? Is there another way? One of us suggests we do that by our being, by living our faith of kindness, and we launch into a discussion of what power is, what we think of as spiritual power. Have we missed the moments of power simply because we do not recognize them? And in our beautiful conversation, our asking, we branch.

I am thinking of this today, as I read my Lenten prayer: “Dear God, your love is present to me. Make me always aware that it is mine to share with others.” I am looking back at my map, to see where the branching streams connected. I think about how I am now branching, moving into a new territory. “Make me always aware that it is mine to share” this kindness like a branching stream spreading out to meet the sea.

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