ESSEX — Every morning, Essex resident Mark Redmond wakes up at 5 a.m. to meditate and to practice yoga. He then moves to his desk to write.
A masterful storyteller, Redmond uses the page and the stage to share what he’s learned from four decades of working with homeless and at-risk youth. For the last 18 years, he’s served as the executive director of Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington.
In 2019, a one-man show by Redmond about his career sold out on Boadway and at the Flynn Theater. During the pandemic, he used his new-found free time to gather those stories and experiences into a memoir.
Called was published May 25, by Onion River Press, the Vermont publisher based out of Phoenix Books.
“I wrote this book to help people,” he said. “I hope it inspires people. I hope it encourages people.”
Here’s what Redmond said when he spoke with the Reporter recently about staying optimistic, the book-writing process and more.
Q: When and how did you decide to turn the show into a memoir?
A: It's so funny — I went to American Flatbread right after the show at the Flynn, and one of my friends turned to me and said, ‘When are we going to see these in book form?’ And I realized they were like the fifth person to say that to me.
I call it my ‘pandemic book’ because two Marches ago, Spectrum kept the shelter open, but really everybody else, including me, started working from home. I realized then I actually had time to write the book because I wouldn’t be driving to and from Burlington everyday.
Q: Are there stories in the book that you’ve never shared before?
A: About half of the stories are ones I haven’t shared before. I had to write those from scratch.
I’ve told a lot of stories on stage, but I've had stuff published in different places including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Some of the book was already written, but you can't just take a magazine article and plop it into a book.
I spent a lot of time reshaping the stories from a magazine or newspaper format into a book format.
Q: Did you read any memoirs to prepare yourself for writing this one?
A: I love memoirs. The one I read before starting was The Art of Memoir, by one of my favorite authors, Mary Karr.
Q: Does the book draw on your experiences from when you lived in New York, or is it mostly set in Vermont?
A: I would say about half of it is about growing up in New York and then going to college in Pennsylvania. From 1981 to 2003 — so for about 20 years — I worked with homeless youth in the New York metropolitan area.
The other half of the book is set in Vermont and is about what I’ve experienced working with kids here.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I wrote this book to help people. I hope it inspires people. I hope it encourages people.
I hope it gives people insight into some of the experiences that young people have gone through, the suffering they have endured and what we can all do to help people like that, to help them to heal in some way and to move ahead with their lives.
I get emails, letters or phone calls from parents who are just totally frightened for their kid because of suicidality, or drug addiction. My main message is always this: I know you won’t give up on your child. You just have to hold onto that hope no matter what the difficulty is.
I see young people really, really struggling, but many have turned out okay. That's something I hope people get out of the book. Even when it does seem dire, it's not hopeless.
Q: Because your job can oftentimes be overwhelming, how do you take care of your own mental health and well being?
A: That is a really good question. First of all, this is a marathon, not a sprint. I have had various points in my career where I’ve worked crazy hours, but that doesn't pay off if you don’t take care of yourself.
I practice yoga, meditate, exercise and take time off. I tell my staff at Spectrum, you need to take care of yourself, because if you burn yourself out, you're not going to be of much help to the people that work with.
My wife Marybeth is great. She’s incredibly supportive and I’ve got a wonderful family. I go on hikes with our dog.
I really, really appreciate the people who I work with. I support them and they support me. You can't do any of this as a solo warrior.