Poetry reading this weekend features author with Down syndrome
Murray, 25, of Jamestown, was born with Down syndrome, a genetic abnormality. Down syndrome patients have an extra – or part of an extra – chromosome, and the condition usually causes developmental delays. But recent studies also have focused on patients with exceptional literary abilities, whose powers with the written word are comparable to the drawings and other accomplishments of savants.
Murray, who attended the Jamestown schools and graduated from North Kingstown High, may someday find a place in that special group with literary gifts. She says she is the first person in her family to publish a book of poems, and that’s saying something in a family with a record of high achievements.
Her grandfather, Dr. Joseph Edward Murray, performed the first successful kidney transplant and won the Nobel Prize. He died recently, and one of her poems, “Fragile,” delves into her feelings about losing him and her maternal grandmother, who also died recently.
Her grandfather saved her life, she said, because he arranged for heart surgery when she was an infant.
“I would not be here without him,” she said.
Murray said it’s hard to answer when asked about why she writes. She started writing because she had been unable to pray, she said.
“It’s not because what I wanted was to actually feel God,” she said. “You can’t actually hear him because he’s not co-existent where I was. Where I would talk to him, most of the time, I’m always asking
God, ‘Can you do this? Can you do that?’ That is not what God wants you to do.”
She said God wants people to pray for others, not for themselves. Poetry has become her way to pray, as she believes God wants.
“I cannot be told what to pray, and I cannot...” She stopped for a moment to find the right words. “To me praying is like going outside and clearing your head.”
In writing down her observations about nature and in images, she has been able to capture her ideals.
Murray has been working on the book for three years, according to Mary Wright of Jamestown.
Wright edited some of the poems to correct errors in grammatical tense. She and Murray collaborated on one poem, which they will perform in tandem at a poetry reading Sunday at Slice of Heaven. Wright will read the lines she wrote, and Murray will read the lines she penned. Murray will also read some selections from her book, “Attitude to Gratitude,” which include some lyrics on overcoming a disability. The event will take place from 4 to 5 p.m. While the event is free, Wright said it would help her organize if those interested RSVP by calling her at 741-9818.
Murray started writing poetry five years ago after attending a workshop, “Power of the Poets.” Lisa Starr, then the state poet laureate, created the workshop and took it on the road around Rhode Island. Murray was attending weekly Learning Unlimited classes at Salve Regina, and when the workshop came to the university, the organizers invited the Learning Unlimited class to come by. Heather Sullivan, another Rhode Island poet, was also involved with the workshops.
Murray liked the workshops, which met once a week on Thursday nights, but her first poems weren’t successful. “I was not good at it initially.”
But she kept trying and found she had something to say. “It’s kind of like you have an epiphany,” she said.
Murray remembers she wondered if it was all God’s idea.
“Was this your idea, God?” she said. “To help me find my place and other ways to express myself?”
She finds many ideas for poems from observations on her walks around town.
Murray is the daughter of Joseph Link Murray and Karin Murray of Jamestown, and she wants her parents to be proud of her, she said.
“They are the best parents anybody ever had,” she said. “I feel like I have to keep my end of my ballgame up. My other siblings are very successful. My sister is a doctor and my brother is a consultant. I basically am in Jamestown and doing stuff that pleases me. This book is the biggest thing that ever happened to me.”
Murray said the book represents proof she has done “something right” by her parents.
“I’m their first child who actually published a book,” she said. Murray hopes her poems will help other people with disabilities, and even change attitudes about Down syndrome.
Murray calls Wright her editor, mentor and friend.
Wright said she once asked Murray what it was like to have Down syndrome. Murray had assured her she could ask her anything about her condition, Wright said.
She described the experience of having Down syndrome vividly, Wright remembers.
“It’s like having a hammer without the nails,” Murray told her.
According to Wright, Murray lives between the two worlds of Down syndrome and ordinary life. She sometimes becomes upset when she sees people discourage disabled people from trying, but added she understands the temptation.
“I can see the qualities of a Down syndrome child,” Murray said. “The special feature is around the face.”
She said she sometimes labels herself as well, but she understands the consequences. If she accepts the Down syndrome label, she doesn’t try as hard.
“My parents always raised the bar,” she said.
Wright said she doubts there is anything Murray cannot accomplish.
“When I first met her she was in first grade,” Wright said. Murray defied everyone’s expectations then.
“Teresa was one of the first to learn to read,” Wright remembered. She was in a regular classroom and working with a specialeducation aide. She stayed in regular classrooms all through high school.
“From my perspective, I don’t think there is anything Teresa can’t do if she decides to do it.”
Murray lives independently and holds down a job at McQuade’s Marketplace. She has plans to publish more writing.