From Poverty to Stage

From Poverty to Stage

Linda Terry was only nine years old when her father was killed in the South Bronx of New York City, leaving her mother to raise six children in poverty.

After being hit by a car and a cab and mugged, Terry turned to poetry to help her get through her childhood living in the ghetto. Her family did not have heat or hot water, and the children went to school mostly for heat and lunch.

"It was either stay home in the cold, or go to school and be warm," Terry said.

Terry, now a Program Manager in the special education department of Fairfax County Schools, just ended her run at Gunston Theater in Arlington, where she played Topsy in the American Century Theater production of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Her writing was inspired by the poet Emily Dickinson, whose poetry wasn't published until after her death. Terry wrote her poems in a spiral notebook between the ages of 12 and 18. "I had [the poems] for so long the pages were yellowed," she said.

Twenty-one years after she wrote her last poem at age 18, Terry has published the entire collection of poems that she wrote during her childhood. Called "Pieces of a Poet, The Symphony of an Adolescent," the poems are Terry's reflections on the drugs, crime and violence with which she grew up.

"I needed some kind of outlet [while living in the Bronx], and poetry happened to be that," Terry said.

Terry's friend Elizabeth Clarke, whom she met at a Department of Human Services Training program, has read some of Terry's poetry. Clarke is also from New York and comes from a similar background.

"[Poetry] was [her] way of trying to get all of that out of her system," Clarke said.

Terry spent eight years in the Army Reserves to pay for college, and now has Associate's and Bachelor's degrees in Business. She worked for social service agencies before her current job with Fairfax County Public Schools.

Terry also started acting in community theater, stage, and film in 1995. She performed in the plays "Inherit the Wind" and "Savages," as well as the movies "Deep Impact" and "Species," and other industrial videos, plays and television shows.