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

Please send e-mail to mstephens AT ithaca DOT edu

Maura Stephens is an independent journalist, writer, educator, and theater artist.

She writes for independent media and speaks on varied subjects including journalism and media, human rights, Iraq, sustainability, farming, food production, Burma, food security, international affairs, corporate malfeasance and control, 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, hastening catastrophic climate change while fracturing Nature and human communities.

A determinedly independent writer, theater artist, and educator, 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 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, South African apartheid and its dismantling, the quincentennial of the arrival of Europeans in the "New World," and the Japanese stock market.

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 neighbors together for exercise and community-strenghthening, rewarding collective work. The program became a model for other urban 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 investments of members of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), a service of the Small Business Administration. She describes the experience 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, served on committees, and programmed the visits of filmmakers, writers, humanists, and artists in various disciplines. During her editorship she ran stories on such disparate topics as race and racism, being gay on campus, non-state sponsored terrorism, tenure, human rights, and attempts to preserve a vanishing culture in Mongolia.

In 2010 she became associate director of the
Park Center for Independent Media
, home of the Izzy Awards and I. F. Stone Hall of Fame. She works with founding director Jeff Cohen, a champion of independent media; collaborates with dedicated independent newshounds countrywide; and mentors students toward careers as non-corporate-tethered journalists. Among the many indy media luminaries PCIM has hosted recently are Sharif Abdel-KouddousFarai Chideya, Dan Ellsberg, Susan Faludi, Josh Fox, Juan González, Amy Goodman (thrice), Lisa Graves, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein (above left; twice), Jim Hightower (above), Jeremy Scahill (twice), Robert Scheer, David Sirota, Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins), and José Antonio Vargas. If you want to learn more about independent media and start getting news from a more reliable source than corporate-controlled media, check out PCIM's list of selected U.S. indy media.

Maura often teaches Participatory (aka Community or Citizen) Journalism. Other teaching experience includes magazine writing, multimedia journalism, and community education courses on various 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 founded Iraqi Refugees Assistance Connection, dedicated to helping imperiled Iraqis find safe haven and new communities. 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 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. (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 has faced a new series of challenges since the USA decided in May 2012 to lift sanctions on the country, freeing the junta to continue 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 research and expose how the Republican Party politicized the radical religious right. Maura became 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 theater (and occasional film/ TV) actor, director, producer, and voice-over artist. She is a member of Wolf’s Mouth Theatre Company and other troupes and was a founding member of Icarus Theatre Ensemble (right, as Hazel Hall in Susan Mach's Monograms, w/Karim Muasher). In 2013 she played Theresa (written for her) in the world premiere of George Sapio's comedic drama Fault Lines, produced by Wolf's Mouth, and Fern Gold- Dumas in the Homecoming Players' concert reading of Joni Fritz's In the Car with Blossom and Len. The Ithaca Fringe Festival debuted in April 2014, directed by George Sapio. Its first two years have been a resounding success and a highlight of springtime in Ithaca. Maura is proud to be on the board of the IFF. See more about Maura's theater work on the separate theater page.

Maura’s community involvement has also 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, FrackBustersNY, RAFT, Save S-VE, 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.

It's critically important that more people begin paying attention to fracking and fossil-fuel extraction and all the destructive related industries -- pipelines, compressor stations, removal and permanent contamination of freshwater from ground and waterways, radioactive waste dumping, export, and more. It's also critical that we all use less energy in our own lives and demand policies that help us do so (such as more mass transit options; incentives and assistance for insulating our homes; mandated renewable energy for heating, cooling, and electrifying in new construction; killing oil/gas industry exemptions from regulation; increasing funding and tax incentives for research and development of renewable energy systems; etc.).

Before we can accomplish these daunting tasks, of course, we need to get money out of politics (see MoveToAmend and FreeSpeechForPeople) and to protect Net neutrality, while strongly supporting -- and using -- independent media! Getting our news from independent, that is, non-corporate controlled, news organizations is simply the only way to be accurately informed.

A lifelong learner, Maura studied theater arts and creative writing as an undergraduate and did her first grad studies in horticulture and landscape design at the University of  Pennsylvania's Morris Arboretum and the School of Professional Horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, and second in communications at Ithaca College. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Goddard College, where she was mentored by Susan Kim, Deborah Brevoort, Rogelio Martinez, Richard Panek, and Paul Selig, among other great faculty members/writers. She was accepted into the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program at Union Institute and University, but alas, fracking got in the way of that dream. She is a three-time graduate of Democracy School. But mostly she is fortunate to have learned so much as a journalist on the job and as a listener and observer of humans and the natural world.

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