Barbara Gibson: Local Playwright, Poet, Kindred Spirit of Olympia

barbara gibson poet
Barbara Gibson, local author and playwright, is a long-time contributor to the Olympia arts community.


By Gale Hemmann

providence medical group sponsorBarbara Gibson is a local treasure.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the long-time Olympia resident and writer for a cup of tea at Traditions Café on a cold but clear Olympia morning. Gibson greeted me warmly, her eyes sparkling and her smile generous. With Capitol Lake shimmering in the background, we spent the next two hours talking about writing and life in Olympia.

barbara gibson poet
Barbara Gibson, local author and playwright, is a long-time contributor to the Olympia arts community.

Gibson is an extremely pleasant person to spend the morning with, one of those people who radiates positive energy and seems genuinely interested in talking with you. I had met Gibson several years earlier in a writing workshop at the Olympia Center, and was impressed both by her writing and her kind, witty personality.

A spry 83, Gibson has been busy in the years since I’d last seen her. She has written two books of poetry, On the Bridge: New Olympia Poems and Waiting to Fly. Her play, The Abolitionist’s Wife: Saga of Mary Brown, was recently produced by the Olympia Family Theater and sold out all three weekends. (Gibson says the play was a culmination of 15 years of work.) She also has been reading her work around Olympia, and was a featured reader at the Olympia Art Kitchen’s Godiva Speaks event celebrating Olympia women writers.

Over the steam of her tea, Gibson told me a little about her life. She came to poetry early in life, intrigued when her parents read her Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories as a child. She studied at Oberlin College in Ohio, where she met her then-husband, who was a writer and inspired her to start writing poetry. Gibson’s love of English led her to teaching writing at the University of Wisconsin and Thomas Jefferson College.

She moved to Olympia many years ago, falling in love with the natural beauty of the area – the deer, Budd Bay Inlet, the birds – and the artistic community. Gibson worked for a decade as a mental health counselor at The Evergreen State College before retiring. She and her partner, Carol, enjoy exploring Olympia together and spending time with their children and grandchildren whenever possible.

barbar gibson poet
On a cold winter night, Gibson’s books make for an evening of peaceful and enjoyable reading. (Photo credit: Cori Layman)

Gibson also stays very active in the Olympia community. She plays in a recorder group at Traditions, recently completed a memoir-writing class, and participates in local environmental and social justice issues. She is involved in her spiritual community, the Community for Interfaith Celebration, and received a Doctor of Ministry degree in 2000. And, of course, she takes plenty of time to reflect in nature and to write.

Gibson seems genuinely pleased that people are receptive to her work. Picking up a book, I could see why she’s become a local favorite. Written in a warm voice with clear images, her poems both calm and invite the reader in. Her poems are accessible: even if you do not normally consider yourself a poetry reader, you will find yourself enjoying Gibson’s books and tender, wise outlook on the world around her.

Olympia figures prominently in Gibson’s work. She has self-published two books of poetry about Olympia, the most recent being On the Bridge: New Olympia Poems (2007). She is a careful and attentive observer of local nature: the trees, the birds, and the changing seasons. She has her favorite trees and her favorite places to watch Mallard ducks. She cites the support of the Olympia writing community as a major force in her work. Speaking with Barbara, it is clear she is a remarkable person not just for her writing but for who she is: a calm, attentive person, in tune with the world around her and genuinely committed to finding the beauty in life.

barbara gibson poet
Gibson’s play, ‘The Abolotionists’ Wife: Saga of Mary Brown,’ was recently produced by Olympia Family Theater. (Photo credit: David Nowitz)

When I asked if she had any advice for writers just starting out, Barbara stressed the importance of building community. She advised beginning writers to join a writers group, take a class, and form friendships with other writers for creative inspiration and support. Gibson can name many long-time local writer and artist friends who have inspired her. She is good friends with prolific Olympia writer Jeanne Lohmann, an Olympia poet who celebrated her ninetieth birthday last year.

As we wrapped up the interview, Gibson gave me a warm hug and insisted I take a copy of her book, Waiting to Fly, as a parting gift. I asked Gibson if she had any questions for me. Ever modest about her work, she replied, “Yes. I have no idea why they chose me to read with the Poet Laureate of Washington (Kathleen Flenniken).” Smiling, I said, “I do.”

You can purchase Barbara Gibson’s books at Orca Books in downtown Olympia.


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