Category Archives Interviews

Jungle of Virtues: A Book by Chelsea Lee Smith & Constanze von Kitzing

When I heard that Chelsea Lee Smith and Constanze von Kitzing had teamed up to create a board book for young children, called Jungle of Virtues, my heart sang! Sang, sang and sang some more! There are so few Baha’i-inspired materials for this age range, and Chelsea and Constanze are super talented. Among many of their other individual accomplishments, I interviewed Chelsea about her book, Garden of Virtues, and I chatted with Constanze about her illustrations for children’s prayer books. I am so delighted they have partnered to created this book and am also excited that they shared some behind-the-scenes information with me. Here’s our conversation:

Baha’i Blog: What inspired this book?

When I became a parent, I really wanted storybooks that would teach my children (and remind myself!) about the importance of practicing virtues each day. So in the past few years I have written several books for older children to share analogies about what virtues are. The first is called Mason’s Greatest Gems which was a collaboration with Elaheh Bos that shows how we each can find virtues inside us similar to mining gems. The second book is called Garden of Virtues which was illustrated by Shimone Mackie, and which uses the analogy of growing plants in a garden to share the idea of “growing” virtues in ourselves through practice. These books have been used in homes, schools and Baha’i children’s classes all around the world which has been awesome! But I really wanted to create a similarly virtues focused book which was appropriate for younger kids. I love rhyming books, and one day I began playing around with the idea of different animals showing virtues. From there I completed the poem which was the first draft of Jungle of Virtues and it sat mostly idle on my laptop for a few years before I came into contact with Constanze, who was the driving force behind getting it published.

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In Pursuit of Hope: A Book by Arthur Lyon Dahl

Arthur Dahl is an ecologist whose latest book offers a powerful message: you can make a difference, contributing to change within your own life, the lives of those around you, and the planet as a whole. In Pursuit of Hope: A Guide for the Seeker shares a metaphorical journey to find a more purposeful life amidst the environmental, social, economic and spiritual challenges of the 21st century.

I reached out to Arthur and was delighted when he agreed to tell us about his new book, what motivated him to write it, and what you’ll find between its pages. Here’s our conversation:

Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

As a Baha’i, I chose to study science because of the harmony of science and religion, and picked ecology as my specialty to understand how unity in diversity worked in nature, with coral reef ecosystems as my major focus. Originally from California, I always wanted to be a Baha’i pioneer, and have now lived and worked in the Pacific Islands (New Caledonia), Africa (Kenya) and Europe (France and Switzerland) while travelling and teaching in many other countries. Professionally, I have been a research scientist and an environmental advisor to governments and international organizations, including as a senior official of the United Nations Environment Programme. I founded the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, helped to write Agenda 21, the action plan from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and coordinated the UN System-wide Earthwatch. I have collaborated closely with the Baha’i International Community, and helped to found a Baha’i-inspired organization for environment and sustainability, the International Environment Forum (iefworld.org), now with over 400 members in 76 countries. Other books I have written include Unless and Until: A Baha’i Focus on the Environment, and The Eco Principle: Ecology and Economics in Symbiosis. My most recent project is working with other Baha’is on proposals to reform global governance, with another book in press: Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century.

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Spirit Within Club 2 – A Book for Youth & Children by Sahar Sabati

Sahar Sabati is an incredibly talented writer who has been honing her craft for years. I heard about Sahar and her infectious laugh long before I met her and I’m grateful to call her my friend. Sahar recently released a sequel. It’s called Spirit Within Club 2. I hope you enjoy our conversation all about it:

Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My parents were international pioneers throughout my childhood and teenager years, and I was incredibly lucky to be involved in some great projects from a very young age. Don’t get me wrong, I of course had very age appropriate tasks and responsibilities! But it was a life-defining experience, to be trusted with things that seemed, at the time, so big and important to a child.

As a book lover, I was often disappointed that the adults in the books that I read were, more often than not, didn’t believe in the capacity of the kids that showed potential, and ended up surprised at what those kids accomplished. I also struggled to find books about kids like me—kids who were supported and nurtured in their desire to make the world a better place.

So I wrote Spirit Within Club and Spirit Within Club 2!

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Aflame with Devotion: A New Biography about the Hannen and Knobloch Families

Baha’is today are considered the spiritual descendants of the Dawn-Breakers, the very early Baha’is in Persia. But some are blessed to be able to actually trace their ancestry to families that played important roles in the history and the development of the Baha’i Faith. Judy Hannen Moe is one such person, and for the last few years she has been working on a book called Aflame with Devotion: The Hannen and Knobloch Families and the Early Days of the Baha’i Faith

Judy shared the story behind putting this book together and what she learned in the process:

Baha’i Blog: Hi Judy! To begin, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am a life-long Baha’i who grew up in this family of many generations of Baha’is, as you will discover when you read my book. I grew up in the vicinity of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, attending classes there with my four siblings, participating in a North Shore Baha’i youth group, attending many Baha’i functions, and listening to many wonderful Baha’i speakers. I attended Northern Illinois University back in the days of the civil rights movements and antiwar protests and met my husband of fifty years, Bruce Moe, there. We moved to Rockford 45 years ago and I have served on the Local Spritual Assembly there ever since. I’m very involved in community social action such as our Eliminate Racism Group and the Interfaith Council. My husband and I are both retired teachers now. We love going on road trips together around the country. I taught English as a Second Language for 25 years which gave me the opportunity to travel abroad several times. I have two grown children a son-in-law and a granddaughter spread out across the country. I love gardening, singing, creating art, crocheting, and going out to eat with my friends.

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New Day: An Album by Randy’d’dawn

Rap artist Randy’d’dawn has released an album of Baha’i-inspired music titled New Day. Although unnamed, I first came across his work on the official website of the world-wide bicentenary celebrations of Birth of the Bab with this music video called “The Story of Love – The Bab, The Gate“. His gentle yet profound lyrics and his catchy rhythms were easy to recognize when I stumbled across New Day. I caught up with him to hear all about his work and I hope you enjoy our conversation: Continue reading

The Lovebird’s Freedom: A Book for Children by Esther Maloney About Life After Death

Once, as a child, I attended a Baha’i winter school and made the most amazing friend: she was creative, fun and had a smile that lit up the room. She let me read part of a story she was writing and I was so impressed and in awe of her talent with words and her ability to weave a compelling and absorbing story. Fast forward a couple of decades and I am so excited and proud to interview her about her latest project, a book for children about the nature of the soul and life after death. Esther Maloney has a special gift for creating enchanting narratives and I’m delighted to hear all about The Lovebird’s Freedom and how it all came together.

Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up just outside of Montreal with my family. I’ve realized that moments from my early years with my grandmother Lucille were very formative. She was immensely creative, fun and spiritual. We used paint and glue, we named paths in the forest, we wrote books together, wore costumes, sang songs and used these as ways to think about the big questions of life. Since that time, I have essentially kept doing those exact same things, but as a grown-up. I studied acting at Concordia University and worked as a theatre and film actor for almost a decade in Montreal and Toronto. I produced my own work, acted at the Shaw Festival, was a cartoon voice on CBC, did a bunch of commercials, acted in a film at the Toronto International Film Festival and learned a lot about my craft and process.

Throughout this, I had a nagging curiosity, which was related to how the arts, or making things, could be at the core of all our lives, both individually and in community. I worked with some inspiring community arts organizations through grants and eventually was able to serve with some other Baha’i friends in creating a project with youth who wanted to write their own scripts that extended the reach of some of the spiritual concepts in the junior youth program. Since that time, Illumine Media Project has created a number of short films and episodes which have been shared with thousands of young people and their families in Toronto neighbourhoods and schools. This work has led me to more questions about the role of stories, creative process and media in our lives and I’ve recently finished my MA in Education at the University of Toronto in that area.

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Hope from Iran 3 – The Final Film in the ‘Hope from Iran’ Trilogy

Hope from Iran 3 is the final film of the Hope from Iran trilogy, and this time, filmmaker Flavio Azm Rassekh focuses on the unique story of two Iranian Baha’is who left Iran right after the Islamic Revolution to start a new life abroad. Their stories have a deep connection with the current situation in Iran today, and in the end, it all comes back together in a full circle.

I got in touch with filmmaker Flavio Azm Rassekh to find out more about Hope from Iran 3, and here’s what he shared: Continue reading

Hope from Iran 2 – A Film Celebrating the Lives of Four Baha’i Women

I’m excited to share a short film called ‘Hope From Iran 2’ by my dear friend Flavio Azm Rassekh in collaboration with Persian BMS.

Hope From Iran 2‘ is a follow-up film to its predecessor ‘Hope From Iran‘, but this film takes on a slightly different angle by exploring the lives of four very talented women who have been touched, not only by the Baha’i Faith, but in particular by the life and example of a famous Persian poetess and Baha’i heroine known as Tahirih.

Flavio is a filmmaker from Brazil, and besides truly being like a brother to me, we’ve collaborated on numerous projects together over the years, and his unwavering dedication, hard work, and passion for serving the Baha’i Faith through various avenues of media and the arts is always an inspiration.

I decided to touch base with Flavio about ‘Hope From Iran 2’, and share what he had to say with our readers: Continue reading

Kindle the Flame – A New Album by The Licata Brothers

In the early days of Baha’i Blog’s Studio Sessions series, The Licata Brothers, Jimmy and Tony, were among some of the first we recorded (they sang “O Thou Divine Providence” and “Is There Any Remover”). I remember these two young brothers coming into the studio in Los Angeles, and when they started singing, I was struck by the folksy, nostalgic, and classic pop-rock sound coming from these two young men. The singer/songwriter duo continue to share their gift of music with others, and they recently released an album called Kindle the Flame. I got back in touch with Jimmy and Tony about their new album, and asked about the process and inspiration behind their art. Here’s what they shared with us:  Continue reading