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Author-teacher expands awareness of cultural, spiritual traditions

By Yvonne Lopez-Morton

Spokane author and educator Sarah Conover’s inspiration for her books comes from her travels and a commitment to share with children and adults the richness of the world’s traditions of wisdom and spirituality.

Sarah Conover
Sarah Conover

As a teacher and public TV journalist, she has helped connect people of different cultures and has fostered open media.

Through her books, she engages children, young adults, educators, and parents to look beyond their own understandings of life so they consult and profit from the wisdom traditions of humankind.

After earning a master’s in fine arts and creative writing at Eastern Washington University in 1998 and a teaching certificate from Gonzaga University in 2000, she worked from 2001 to 2008 writing books and teaching honors humanities, American studies, radio journalism and a writers’ workshop at the West Valley School District.

Sarah grew up outside New York City, reared with her sister, Aileen, by an aunt after their parents and grandparents were lost in 1957 sailing off Key West when Sarah was 13 months old.

In her teens, she began exploring spiritual options outside her Presbyterian roots.  She attended friends’ bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs and attended Catholic and Episcopal services.

While earning a bachelor’s degree in religious studies at the University of Colorado, she studied martial arts with an Aikido master in Japan.  She sampled various churches as an adult while living in Northern California.

“I have been a seeker from the get go,” Sarah said.

Sarah met her husband Doug Robnett
, during her 15 years in Colorado.  From 1983 to 1989, she produced documentaries and series for Denver public TV.

She became a senior producer at Internews, an international nonprofit fostering open media.  In that role, she produced “Agenda for a Small Planet,” a series that aired in 33 countries, and many public television programs, including the National Academy of Science’s “The Medical Implications of Nuclear War.”

 In Northern California where they moved in 1988, Sarah, who became Buddhist, worked part time for Internews and spent time at home with her children.

When the family moved to Eastern Washington in 1992, they lived in a rural area outside Spokane where most of their neighbors were Christian.

In her book, At Work in Life’s Garden, she describes her life there: “The dissonance between our beliefs and our country neighbors’ beliefs proved a rich opportunity for the children, albeit not always pleasant. Ironically, the situation became the ultimate ready-made lesson on tolerance—giving us many opportunities to discuss world religions, prejudice, fanaticism and wars.”

Shortly after moving to Eastern Washington, she founded and directed for four years the Doula Spokane Program at Childbirth and Parenting Assistance (CAPA), a program of Catholic Family Services that supported teen mothers pursuing education.

In At Work in Life’s Garden, Sarah said working at Catholic Family Services introduced her to “remarkable Christians who were as close to saints” as anyone she had ever read about.
In 1999, the family left behind their rural lifestyle and moved to Spokane’s South Hill.

Sarah’s first book, Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents, published in 2000, shares traditional and humorous Buddhist tales.  Spokane artist Valerie Wahl illustrated the stories that encourage people to let go of anger, fear and greedy desire to embrace gladness.

In 2001, the American Library Association’s Booklist magazine named this book one of the five best spiritual books for children.

Valerie also illustrated Sarah’s 2003 young adult/adult anthology, Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs:  A Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents.  In 2004, Newsweek named it one of the best multicultural books, and the American Folklore Society gave it the Aesop Prize.

For this book, Sarah collaborated with Freda Crane of the Islamic Society of America.
“It draws not only from the core of Islamic spirituality and ethics, the Qur’an and hadiths (the observed traditions) but also from mystical verse, folk tales and exemplary figures of the Islamic narrative,” Sarah said.

She wrote on Islam, because of a lack of material on Islam for Western children and young adults.  She had studied Islam in a comparative religion class at the University of Colorado.

With Spokane author Tracy Springberry, Sarah co-edited the 2005 book, At Work in Life’s Garden: Writers on the Spiritual Adventure of Parenting. It will be re-released next spring.
The book features a collection of essays by ecumenical and contemporary writers, such as Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, Barry Lopez and local writers.

Half the proceeds from the first edition went to Mercy Corps. The humanitarian agency CARE will benefit from the re-release.

In addition, Sarah collaborated in 2003 with four Spokane women authors on Daughters of the Desert: Remarkable Women from the Christian, Jewish and Islamic Traditions, 18 stories of often-overlooked women who played important roles in the early days of Judaism, Christianity and Islam 4,000 to 1,300 years ago.

Although women played key roles in the development of the three faith traditions, men who recorded and copied the Scriptures and other documents rarely recognized them, she said.
Her 2008 book, Harmony: A Treasury of Chinese Wisdom for Children and Parents, co-authored with Chen Hui, draws on 24 ancient Chinese “chengyu”—Chinese sayings and proverbs—and provides insight into what largely defines Chinese culture.

As a teacher, Sarah has expanded horizons
and cultural connections of area teens.  While teaching for West Valley schools, she produced “Raise Your Voices” on KYRS Thin Air Radio.  She said it was the only public affairs program produced by teens in the Inland Northwest.

Sarah encouraged her students to reach outside Eastern Washington and participate in a pen pal project with classes in Egypt.

“When the United States invaded Iraq, my students were in the second year of their pen pal project,” Sarah said.

The Egyptian students told the West Valley pen pals how upset they were about the invasion.

“They were passionate,” Sarah said.  “My students were taken aback because they had only our media perspective on the war.”

Despite their expressing strong feelings, the American-Egyptian friendships led to continued dialogue between the students and a study of media war coverage.

For information, call 979-3376 or email


Copyright © January 2011 - The Fig Tree