Sandra Rivers-Gill

Sandra Rivers-Gill

Poet, Performer, Playwright

June 22, 2020


Tell us more about some of your past projects?

I’ve always wanted to perform a one woman show. So, in November 2019 I wrote a dramatic monologue proposal, ““A Letter to Langston”, for Bowling Green State University’s Black Issues Conference which was accepted. My forty-minute show included a fusion of spoken word and song about Zora Neale Hurston’s life and her friendship with Langston Hughes. The idea of the performance came while taking a fall 2019 Independent Study with my professor, Dr. Thomas Barden for my Masters program at the University of Toledo. It was an in-depth study that reached beyond “Their Eyes of Watching God” to discover the many facets of Zora through her biographies, novels, essays, sound bites and other perspectives. She was a folklorist ahead of her time.  I wanted to perform the show at the end of the fall semester, but when the BG opportunity presented itself, I embraced it and was able to perform an amazing piece. I planned to perform the show in Toledo this spring, but things happen for a reason which causes one to reflect. I hope to perform the show again soon.

Last fall, a friend of mine John Eikost recommended me to a professor colleague of his at BGSU who invited me as a guest speaker; an unique opportunity to have a conversation with her students about my poetry and discuss the work I do in the community with Naomi. The aesthetic of the classroom had a fireside chat kinda of a vibe. This presentation was not on my radar, but I appreciate Diane DePasquale for being the conduit that pushed me out of my comfort zone. There were some great questions asked and I am glad I knew the answers.

I have facilitated “Poetry, Prompts and Pens”, a poetry workshop offered to area nursing home residents designed to spark their inner poet. A few years ago, my friend Miriam Wheeler who is a life enrichment mentor at Sunset House asked if I was interested in teaching poetry at the facility. At the time, my grandmother lived there, and I thought it was would be great idea, as it would encourage her and the other residents, some who were challenged by memory loss. To be able employ simple prompts to evoke memory trapped in dementia was everything to me. I was inspired because they were inspired, and Miriam invited again to teach the workshop to residents at Sunset’s sister-facilities.

What current projects are you working on?

My ongoing plans have been to submit my well-done poems to journals. I am also collecting them into manuscripts to be published. This is a lengthy process. I also took an illustrated poetry workshop with Imani Lateef at Sanger Branch Library and have been experimenting with mixed-media art forms and fusing my work into the landscape.

Since 2014 I have facilitated poetry workshops at Naomi Inc., a non-profit, residential treatment facility that provides shelter and beneficial services to woman recovering from substance and alcohol abuse. The women we serve come from diverse ethnic groups and socio-economic backgrounds. On workshop Wednesdays, for an hour the women and I meet around a table to discussion various themes that lead to the creation of their own poetic voices. Since we work in a safe environment, the women are encouraged to share what they have written because I it not only builds upon their creativity but fosters confidence as they face their challenges. The women have had opportunities to read publicly at the Library’s Poetry Speaks events, the Black Kite and Greenleaf Café. I am editor of a poetry chapbook anthology, “Dopeless Hope Fiends”, which was funded through the Art Commission’s Accelerated Grant Program. It is a beautiful book of poems written by former Naomi graduates. This effort culminated into a celebrated release and readings. The sale of the chapbook is an ongoing fundraiser which supports Naomi’s mission. Since Covid I have been workshopping remotely. For more about our organization visit

What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?

I think Northwest Ohio/Toledo area has some pluses in that we are within four hours in either direction to engage in concerts, community events, ethnic festivals, etc. To me, there is always something to do in Toledo that is meaningful and inclusive, but sometimes you do have to search for it, and expect the unexpected.

Tell us about one of your greatest successes.

I really cannot name just one, because success to me is a journey. I suppose I can say that any time I step outside of my comfort zone; that’s being successful. To achieve something that you have never achieved before requires you to be willing do something you have never done before.

Tell us who or what gives you inspiration?

Being an influencer and making a difference in the lives that I serve encourages me. As a playwright, not only do I get to direct the play but seek out, not necessarily someone else’s depiction of an ‘actor’ but a willing star who never believed they could shine. Sometimes people just want to know that they are valued and their contributions matter. Maya’s Angelou said it so eloquently. “You shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back”. This profound mantra resonates with me whenever I serve.

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Toledo during a time when it when it took a village to raise a child. I am an alumnus of Rogers High School and the University of Toledo with a BA in communication and during pursuing my master’s degree in liberal studies. Having worked 30 years at the University of Toledo (formerly MCO), I retired in 2009 with a background in program development, cultural competence, and compliance training. This season I am working at BGSU as a compliance investigator. For several years I was a member of the Madd Poet’s Society where David Bush is the founder. We did some amazing work in the community. I have always been a writer at heart and always looking for ways to inspire others. I am blessed to be married to a wonderful husband and have family and friends who support my endeavors. Since retiring I am enjoying the ride that comes with embracing life and creativity!

Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?

No vision no victory! If you cannot see yourself in your own future, you won’t enjoy the journey!

Favorite place for local culture?

Open mic poetry events hosted by people like Floeticlydivine, Jonie McIntire and Lonnie Hamilton, Ethnic festivals, and The Toledo Museum of Art.

Toledo’s “best kept secret” is . . .

The contribution and creativity found in various cultures, but to embrace it should not be a mystery.

My favorite place to chill locally is . . . 

In my office at the computer or in my reading room surrounded by poetry books and artistic projects.

My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is . . . 

I love the Toledo Botanical Gardens on perfect sunny afternoons. I will drive to the park, roll down the windows, kick back on a quiet breeze with some current poems I’m working on. Disclaimer: To sit under a tree to write is to be distracted by a squirrel and his nuts, bird bombs, busy bees, annoying flies, and allergies. 

When I’m not working hard, I can always be found at . . . 

Thinking. The mind of a writer never shuts down. So, I am still working, unless I’m not.

If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative, progressive people . . .

I’d like to see more collective projects that are cross-cultural, that have the potential to be enduring and leave a conscience legacy in Toledo’s cap.

Any exciting collaborations (past or present) you would like to tell us about?

Several years ago I was involved in the Prizm Creative Community which was an inclusive organization that served visual and literary artists, founded by Annette Jenson.  I participated in Beyond Words Exhibition, an opportunity for visual artists and writers to respond to one another’s work in an artistic way. A collaboration with Rineil Rayford’s photography, “Body Sculpture I” and my poem, “The Landscape of a Body is Uneven”; and received an award.

Writing and directing staged plays and spoken word productions for the drama ministry at Friendship Baptist Church is what I love to do. I’ve worked with Bonita and James Adams of ETM Productions a few projects and reaching out to other individuals in the community to get involved in the journey. This is how perpetuality happens.

Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.

I’m not sure, but as I progress with my poetic license, God will place those people in my path.

Name a CD, book or website you can’t live without. ,  to name a few. I am inspired by so many voices.

3 words that best describe me or my work are . . .

Candid, Motivating and Creative.

Give us 5 Desert Island Album picks.

Hello Fear: Kirk Franklin
Keys in the Song of Life: Stevie Wonder
The Elements: Earth, Wind and Fire
Greatest Hits: The Temptations
Greatest Hits: Hall and Oats

My biggest vice is . . .

Jamoca or Coffee ice cream. Straight no chasers.

What’s the last dream you recall having?

I rarely share my dreams, but I do record them if they are significant.

The last lyric that moved me was . . .

I just saw a new Kroger 'Workout' commercial where an animated character is exercising to the song “I’m too Sexy” by Right Said Fred. It is hilarious. 

One movie character I identify with is . . .

Saana Latham in “Something Different” and in “Nappily After”

The best gift I’ve ever received was . . .

Receiving tickets from my husband to see the Broadway show, Hamilton in Chicago. That made my 60th birthday weekend!

My most inspiring moment was/is . .

When my husband and I flew to Maui for our honeymoon and saw a breathtaking sunrise on the summit of Haleakala. When we turned to face West there was an imprint of the volcano in clouds. That was majestic glory!

I want my last meal to be _______________.

I think I would be too excited to eat!


Back to All Creative Natives