Independent Writer • Educator • Theatre Artist • Activist - Company Message

Contact
Please send e-mail to mstephens AT ithaca DOT edu


Bio
Maura Stephens writes for independent media and speaks on varied subjects including journalism and media, human rights, Iraq, sustainability,farming,food production, food security; international affairs, corporate malfeasance and control, Burma, social justice, theocracy, entrepreneurship, urban lot reclamation, writing, editing, publishing, and health policy. Since 2008 her primary concentration has been fracking, the intensely violent industrial activity that is sweeping the planet, spurred by corporate-state collusion and greed and further hastening catastrophic climate change while fracturing Nature and human communities.

An independent writer, theatre artist, educator, and activist, Maura began her professional life as a New York City actor, working off-Broadway and off-Broadway and studying at several studios.

Later she learned the craft of journalism during 19 years in various editorial positions at Newsweek and Newsweek International, while simultaneously operating an organic sheep, poultry, and crops farm called Isle of Ewe in central New York State. For many years her climb up the ladder at the magazine was a journalistic dream, and would prepare her well for running later editorial ventures. She worked on stories as varied as the wars in Lebanon and Central America, the "troubles" in Northern Ireland, apartheid and its dismantling in South Africa, the quincentennial of the arrival of Europeans in the "New World," the Japanese stock market, and ongoing feminist struggles in the USA and elsewhere.

During her years on the farm, she grew or traded with neighbors for almost of all her family's food (except rice, spices, and tropical fruits). When she had to leave the farm to live in cities for a while, she studied horticulture and landscape design at Philadelphia's Morris Arboretum (through U of Pennsylvania) and then the NY Botanical Garden.

At NYBG she had the good fortune (and timing) to be an original shaper of Bronx Green-up. BGU helped residents reclaim trash-strewn, dangerous, abandoned city-owned lots and turn them into urban oases of crops, flowers, trees, songbirds, beneficial insects, and tranquility; to grow and preserve food; and to bring intergenerational neighbors together in healthful exercise and community-strenghthening, property-enhancing, rewarding collective work. The program became a model for other urban gardening programs around the country, and it still thrives.

After leaving Newsweek, Maura cofounded an innovative and financially successful early Internet "e-zine,” raising the launch funding via venture capital investments. She also benefited from the professional expertise, enthusiasm, and investment of members of Binghamton (NY) SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), a service of the Small Business Administration. She enjoyed this entrepreneurship -- which she describes as the "equivalent of earning an MBA."

From 1997 until mid-2010, Maura was publishing editor of ICView, the magazine of Ithaca College (IC), where she also guest lectured in classes from anthropology to writing, hosted 42 research-writing interns (some of whom now run their own media ventures), served on committees, and programmed or coprogrammed the visits of filmmakers, writers, humanists, and artists in various disciplines.

In May 2010 she was named associate director of the Park Center for Independent Media, home of the Izzy Awards and I. F. Stone Hall of Fame. She is thrilled to work with founding executive director Jeff Cohen, a champion of independent media, to collaborate with many dedicated independent newshounds countrywide, and to mentor students toward careers as non-corporate-tethered journalists. In spring 2011 she first taught Multimedia Journalism in the Park School at Ithaca College.

Maura often teaches Participatory (aka Community or Citizen) Journalism, which she prefers to call Witness Reporting. Other teaching experience includes stints at Ithaca's Lifelong Learning (magazine writing) and many community education courses on a variety of subjects.

Weeks before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Maura and her husband, playwright-director-photographer-teacher George Sapio, first visited that country. They fell in love with the people and their culture and published a book, Collateral Damage, about them. Since then Maura has worked to help Iraqi people who have been endangered
and misplaced because of this misguided invasion and subsequent occupation. With Rosemary Nuri she cofounded Iraqi Refugees Assistance Connection, dedicated to helping imperiled Iraqis find safe haven and new communities in the USA. Both women continue to help Iraqis who made it to the USA, as well as others at home and in Syria and Jordan who are now suffering under a new wave of violence. The United States never rebuilt the telecommunications, electrical, water, water treatment, and economic infrastructure that it destroyed during its invasion and occupation, leaving Iraq incapacitated, its people without prospects. This latest wave of violence is a predictable result of the hubristic, inhumane way the Iraqi people have been treated from within and without over the last several decades.

After publishing a story about IC janitor Han Lin (left, center) and his brave, inspirational fight for freedom in his homeland, Maura became the chief policy strategist and US spokesperson for the International Campaign for Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma, in which capacities she volunteered several years. Maura is pleased to have been called an "honorary Burmese" and to have many Burmese colleagues around the globe. (Sadly, the courageous Han Lin passed away in 2008, but his friends and comrades continue the struggle. Aung San Suu Kyi was "freed" in November 2010 after a lengthy incarceration, but many more political prisoners still languish in Burmese jails. Aung San Suu Kyi is now a member of the Burmese Parliament and faces a new series of challenges since the USA decided in May 2012 to lift sanctions on the country [for imports but not exports!], freeing the military regime to continue its egregious human rights abuses unchecked and freeing multinational corporations to rush in and begin their own regime of abuse.

Also in 2003, Maura was fortunate to hear the visionary Joan Bokaer speak. A longtime nuclear disarmament activist and national speaker, founder of Ecovillage at Ithaca, gifted organizer and researcher, Bokaer founded TheocracyWatch to expose how the Republican Party politicized the radical religious right. Maura became deeply engaged in this work as well, and served as TheocracyWatch vice president and active member of its speakers bureau for several years. Although they may not be quite as blatantly visible as during the Bush years, the radical religious rightwing of the GOP is as powerful as ever, or more so.

Maura still works as a theatre (and occasional film/TV) actor, director, and producer and as a voice-over artist. She is a member of Wolf’s Mouth Theatre Collective and other troupes and was a founding member of Icarus Theatre Ensemble (photo, left, playing Hazel Hall in Susan Mach's Monograms, with Karim Muasher). In spring 2013 she played the part of Theresa (written for her) in the world premiere of George Sapio's comedic drama Fault Lines, produced by Wolf's Mouth, and the part of Fern Gold-Dumas in the Homecoming Players' concert reading production of Joni Fritz's In the Car with Blossom and Len (photo, left). The most exciting theatre news for 2014: the Ithaca Fringe Festival debuted in April, directed by George Sapio, Maura's favorite playwright, and featuring five terrific productions. Maura is proud to be on the board of the IFF. Its inaugural year was a resounding success, and everyone's looking forward to year two, which will be April 16-19, 2015. 

Maura’s further community involvement has included Ithaca Rape Crisis/Crime Victim and Sexual Assault Services of Tompkins County (its programs now merged into the Advocacy Center); the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County; Finger Lakes Progressives; Sustainable Tompkins; the Sustainable Enterprise and Entrepreneur Network; Sustainability Center; Democracy New York; WRFI Community Radio for Ithaca and Watkins Glen, and several independent media and democracy alliances.

Maura is currently busy working alongside thousands of grassroots activists in the Coalition to Protect New York, SAVE S-VE, Food Not Fracking, FrackBustersNY, RAFT (Residents Against Fracking Tioga), NYGRASS, You Are Here fracking infrastructure mapping project, and other groups to keep unconventional shale-gas drilling (fracking) from poisoning the water, polluting the air, and destroying the health of people and our natural world, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and essentially ruining our chances for survival on the one and only planet we share.

Not to get too heavy on ya, but we all need to be paying attention to fracking and fossil-fuel extraction, and working to conserve (use less) energy in our own lives and to demand policies that help us do so (such as more mass transit options, incentives and assistance for insulating our homes, mandating geothermal for new construction where appropriate, killing oil/gas industry exemptions from regulations, increasing funding and tax incentives for research and development of renewable energy systems, and much more).

Before we can accomplish these daunting tasks, of course, we need to get money
out of politics (please join the movements at MoveToAmend.org and FreeSpeechForPeople.org) and protect Net neutrality, while strongly supporting --
and using -- independent media!

A lifelong learner, Maura studied theater arts and creative writing as an undergraduate and horticulture, landscape design, and communications as a grad student. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College, where she studied with Susan Kim, Deborah Brevoort, Rogelio Martinez, Richard Panek, and Paul Selig, among other great faculty members. She was accepted into the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. program at Union Institute and University. She is a three-time graduate of Democracy School.

Media kit with short bios and headshot available at bottom of "Media and Presentations" page.
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