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"A heartfelt, personal story of the gradual awakening of a woman who comes to see that preferring the 'human to the perfect' does not alienate her from authentic spirituality but allows her to live more fully."

Kathleen Norris,
author of The Cloister Walk

 “So much depends on the stories we tell ourselves, and on the questions we ask, or fail to ask.” —Mary Johnson, in An Unquenchable Thirst

Mary leads the Sunday Assembly in Boston (photo by Blake Moloney)

Would you like Mary to speak at your event, to your group?

I love speaking with groups large and small, secular and religious, men and women, students and senior citizens. For decades, I’ve been privileged to challenge people to ask big questions--and then I provide innovative tools of support and discovery to help each individual journey to his or her own answers. 

“Mary's courage in speaking to a broad audience, believers and nonbelievers, with equal respect makes her an exception to the freeethinking rule. She has the confidence not to look down on others and her ability to communicate is exceptional. She looks people in the eye and tells truths.” --Herb Hartnett
“ Mary is an encouragement to others who are discovering their voices and trying to tell their own stories. Her open and honest approach puts an audience right at ease, and her story enthralls anyone who learns of it, whether in written or spoken word. We were so lucky to have her visit and chat with the readers and writers in our program!” -- Kate Engstrom, Groton (MA) Public Library  

Listeners at the Ohlone College Psychology Club presentation (photo by Cassandra Manansala)

I've been a featured speaker at both the Wisconsin and Texas State Book Festivals, spoken at the Brooklyn Museum Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art, addressed the Psychology Club at Ohlone College in California (the student newspaper ran this nice story afterwards) and the Italian Cub at Boston College, taught students in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Goddard College as their semester's Visiting Writer, and led the very first Sunday Assembly in Boston. My Spring Celebrations at the Humanist Hub at Harvard have become a tradition. I also serve as a Humanist Celebrant, officiating at weddings, funerals, baby namings, and other celebrations. (A fuller list of recent events can be found at the bottom of this page.)

“A group of about 75 gathered in a lecture hall at Mount Mary College to hear Mary Johnson. From the moment Mary began her presentation we were hooked! It was not just her gift as an entertaining speaker, but more her disarming honesty, humility, and courage that drew me in and opened me to my own story.” -- Sister Joan Penzenstadler, SSND, Vice-President for Mission and Identity, Mount Mary College  
“You spoke—in the book and on the stage—in such a real and approachable manner.  We all were touched by your presence, time and care. Thank you for your amazing visit. You clearly made a difference here.” --Professor Camille T. Dungy, Creative Writing Department, San Francisco State University  

Speaking at the Nashua, NH Public Library. “Mary Johnson prepares assiduously for her readings, and it shows. Both her literary and speaking voices are rich and full of emotion. Her appearance at our library, which filled the house, was a real winner.” –Carol Luers Eyman,Outreach and Community Services Coordinator, Nashua Public Library

“When I met Mary Johnson in 2007 at a writers’ retreat, I was immediately struck by her generous, passionate heart and wise ways. When I became program director at the New Hampshire Writers' Project, I knew I wanted to get her involved. Mary has taught for NHWP on several occasions. Her classes and workshops are always top-rated, with attendees clamoring for more--literally sending me emails to ask to have Mary teach another class! Mary is an inspiration, and I highly recommend her as a writing instructor, mentor, coach, and friend.” -- Carla Gericke, program director, New Hampshire Writers' Project  

I can tailor presentations for a fifty-minute slot, several hours, a weekend, or an entire week’s retreat. To explore topics for your event, click on the headings that interest you. Feel free to mix and match and to think outside your group’s usual concerns. 


Possible Topics:

click on each topic to expand the possibilities.... 

Personal Growth

  • Living an Authentic Life: Big Concept, Practical Steps
  • When Everything Changes Overnight
  • When and How To Let Go
  • The Joys of Doubt
  • Useful Uncertainty
  • An Unquenchable Thirst: My twenty years with Mother Teresa, and my decision to follow a new path


For Writers

  • The Questions that Scare Us Writers Most
  • Writing about Transcendent Experiences
  • Construct a Faithful Narrative from Your Life’s Million Little Pieces
  • Freedom and Support to Finish Your Next Big Writing Project
  • Writing Through Fear
  • Me, Myself, and I: Personal Writing that Extends Beyond Narcissism 


Interfaith/Secular Themes

  • Adopting Traditional Christian Meditation for ALL
  • How My Family does Holidays: Eight Belief Systems around One Turkey
  • Mass Media and Religion: Concerns


Social Systems, Women's Issues

  • When Beauty and Oppression Walk Hand in Hand: My Story from inside one of the World’s Most Revered Religious Systems
  • Commitment Mechanisms of the Missionaries of Charity
  • Women and Community: Strengths and Dangers
  • Adolescence: The Explosive Passions that Shape Adult Life


On Mother Teresa        

  • Mother Teresa's Dark Night of the Soul: Unexpected Lessons
  • People Always Ask Me What Mother Teresa was REALLY Like
  • Mother Teresa and Princess Diana Met at My House: Learning from Two of the World’s Most Admired Women 
  • Mother Teresa as both Model and Portent 


For Secular Groups

  • Herding Cats: Building Secular Community
  • Constructing YOUR Purposeful Life: Tips from One who Lost Mother Teresa and Found Herself
  • Life and Mystery
  • Godless Heathen within a Religious Family: Avoiding Domestic Armageddon
  • Dealing with Those Who Disapprove: An Ex-Nun’s Perspective
  • This I Believe, This I Hold Dear: Draft Your Personal Creed (best as a week-end workshop)


For Religious Groups

  • How Best to Serve Our Neighbor?
  • Was Mother Teresa a Good Christian? Why it’s important to talk about this
  • Adventures, Missteps, and Growth: My Experiences Within and Beyond Consecrated Chastity
  • An Unquenchable Thirst: My Twenty Years with Mother Teresa


I’m happy to talk with book groups by Skype, as my schedule allows. In exchange for my joining the discussion for fifty minutes, I ask that each member of the group make a $20 donation to A Room of Her Own Foundation, to support other women who tell their stories. 

"Mary joined our book group by Skype. We had a lively and inspiring conversation, and all agreed that Mary's positive outlook is a breath of fresh air." –Mary B. Mitchell, Rye, NH

If you’d like me to tailor a presentation for your group on a topic not listed here, let’s talk. I always enjoy a challenge.

"Mary Johnson now walks a new path of service with her inspiring and provocative writings and teachings, honoring her new wisdom. In telling her illuminating tale, Mary's work opens the floodgates for both women and men to tell their stories and to be healed and free." –Gail McMeekin, author of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women and The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women

Selected List of Appearances click to expand

    Featured Speaker at the Wisconsin Book Festival, Capitol Theater, Madison, WI, November 8, 2012: "Losing Mother Teresa, Finding Myself"

    Keynote speaker, AROHO Day Conference for Women Writers, Austin, TX, October 6, 2012: “Facing Our Fears as Women Writers”

    An Ethic of Love Panel, Humanist Community at Harvard, Cambridge, MA, September 9, 2012: Kick off panel for the Harvard Humanist Community's 2012-2013 Speaker Series, with panelists Greg Epstein, Mary Johnson, Meredith Goldstein, Michael DeDora, and Tom Matlack. Video available

    Spring 2012 Authors Series, Mount Mary College, Milwaukee, WI, March 27, 2012: Reading and Q&A

    Tucson Festival of Books, Tucson, AZ, March 10, 2012: “Sex, Saints, and Sinners: Two Incredible Stories” Panel with Donna Johnson, author of Holy Ghost Girl

    Benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Portland, ME, February 17, 2012: Reading and Discussion. NBC television interview preceding event

    Address to Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, Cambridge, MA, January 29, 2012: Secular Sermon. Covered by The Harvard Crimson

    Goddard College, Plainfield, VT, January 10-11, 2012:
    Visiting Alumna Writer. Master Class: “Writing Beyond the Senses: Finding Words for the Transcendent.” Panel on Transforming Personal Experience to Public Memoir, Video available. Evening reading, with Q&A and reception

    Lamar University, Beaumont, TX, October 24-25, 2011: Address to combined Creative Writing classes: “The Writing Life.” Address to Sociology of Religion class (relocated to an auditorium due to public interest): “Commitment Mechanisms and the Missionaries of Charity.” Evening reading, with Q&A and reception. Covered by The Cardinal Cadence

    Texas Book Festival, Austin, TX, October 22, 2011
    : Discussion moderated by Robert Faires, arts editor for The Austin Chronicle.

    Columbia County Arts Walk, Hudson Opera House, Hudson, NY, October 9, 2011:
    Reading with Dara Lurie, discussion. WGXC audio available

    Brooklyn Museum Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn, NY, September 25, 2011: Slides, reading, discussion moderated by feminist historian Debra L. Schultz. Video available

    Women & Creativity Conference, National Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque, NM, March 6-7, 2010: “Wild Nights” Writing Workshop, “Writing it Bare: Shedding Fear in A Room of Your Own”

    MacDowell Downtown Presentation, Peterborough Historical Society, Peterborough, NH, March 8, 2008: “An Unquenchable Thirst: A Work in Progress”

    A Room of Her Own Foundation Retreats:
    Mary Johnson is Creative Director of AROHO Retreats, held at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM. Since 2003, Johnson has taught extensively during these biannual, week-long retreats, together with writers including Marilynne Robinson, Leslie Marmon Silko, Joy Harjo, Rita Dove, Kate Gale, Breena Clarke, Bhanu Kapil, Lesley Hazleton, Meredith Hall, Denise Chavez, Kim Addonizio, Dana Levin, and many others. Video available.

    For a Complete List of Appearances, click here.


For rates and availability, inquire here.

Share your thoughts after hearing Mary speak.