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Herstory: A Women’s History Month Interview with Retiring Editor Terry Barber

Terry Barber, longtime Parallax Press editor, and Zen teacher, friend, and author Sister Jina (Sister Dieu Nghiem)

Terry Barber has been a dedicated and integral part of our Parallax Press team, embodying the spirit of mindfulness and compassion in her work. Her tireless efforts in transcribing Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings have helped to make his wisdom accessible to countless readers around the world.

On this International Women’s Day, we celebrate Terry and her commitment to spreading the teachings of mindfulness and peace. Her dedication and hard work have been a true gift to the community, and we are grateful for all that she has done.

As we bid farewell to Terry, we wish her a happy and fulfilling retirement. Her legacy will continue to inspire us and guide us in our work, and we are grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside such an extraordinary woman.

Thank you, Terry, for all that you have done. Your insight and guidance will be greatly missed, but your presence will always be felt in the pages of the many books you have helped bring into the world. Happy International Women’s Day to a true inspiration and role model.

Hisae Matsuda,  Parallax Press Publisher, conducted this interview with Terry Barber, Parallax Press Editorial Director Emerita, in 2022.*

Terry Barber, Parallax Press Editorial Director and Hisae Matsuda, Parallax Press Publisher, with the book True Virtue by Sister Annabel Laity (Sister Chan Duc)

How did you first come to Plum Village?

In 1991, my studies and work were ending and I was ready for a change. For years I had been reading books about Buddhism and wanted to live in a temple or practice center. I knew that for my life to move forward I needed the support of a daily schedule and practice community. One day someone put a copy of Being Peace into my hands and said, “I think you will like this!” and so I learned about Thay. I thought, “If it’s possible, I’d like to go to Thay’s practice center.” Soon after, I had the chance to attend his public talk in Los Angeles and a Day of Mindfulness at a retreat for environmentalists in Malibu. I was moved to hear Thay address matters of social injustice; at that time it was the police beating of Rodney King, which had happened a few months before and was still in the news. I came to Plum Village in April 1992, hoping to stay indefinitely.

What were your first impressions and experiences of life in Plum Village?

I loved the peace and beauty of the land and the hum of monastery life. The residential sangha was small, with 12-15 monks and nuns and 5-6 laypeople. At mealtimes in the Lower Hamlet, we all fit around one big square table. Thay would sometimes join us, bringing a sweetness, an informality, and a feeling of family. On my arrival I was told I could only stay for a week, since the three-week June retreat was about to begin. In the end, perhaps because of my enthusiasm for pot washing, I was asked if I’d like to stay on to help prepare rooms and staff the retreat. Listening to Thay’s Dharma talks, my heart felt completely open, as though I’d been waiting to hear those words all my life.

I stayed on as staff for the Summer Retreat and was lucky to be in the Lower Hamlet, where the Vietnamese families stayed and created a real community (non-Vietnamese retreatants and families stayed in the Upper Hamlet). There seemed to be so much happiness and freedom in just being together, interacting, living, and eating in a Vietnamese way. After dinner, the songbooks came out. I don’t have words to describe the beauty and penetrating effect of the Vietnamese songs; many had been written by Thay. At summer’s end came the first-ever plum harvest—not a commercial success! We were a crew of 4-5 laypeople who’d stayed on after the retreat. We were led by a friendly, well-intentioned local farmer who, knowing only grapes, was inexperienced with plums, even though they were a common local crop. Most of the plums we picked rotted in the heat before they got to the drying house. It was discouraging but, doubtless through the efforts of Sr. Chan Khong, systems were put in place to ensure more efficient future harvests. It was enjoyable and tiring work: shaking the trees, gathering the plums from the ground, eating the sun-warmed fruit from the trees, and bringing full buckets back to the kitchen for the Sisters to make plum jam. To stay on for winter, I had to write a letter to Thay, asking to be a resident. I stayed for six years in Plum Village, and then for three years at Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont.

I’m always moved by Thay’s dedication to creating environments where people can find peace and healing, connect with nature and community, have the chance to look deeply, and learn ways to handle suffering and touch seeds of happiness and well-being.

How did you come to be at Parallax?

While living in Plum Village and Green Mountain, I’d sometimes visit my family in California and spend time in the Parallax office, where I continued my work of transcribing Thay’s Dharma talks. In spring 2001, my father entered his last illness and I went home to be with him. He passed away at the end of the year. I needed dental work and a job to pay for it, and Parallax seemed the logical place to apply. I began a few months later, packing and shipping book orders.

What are the changes you’ve seen at Parallax over the years and what are your aspirations for its future?

Bridging distance, time zones, and ways of life between a monastery in France and a publishing office in California has always held challenges. It’s been heartening to see the Plum Village and Parallax Sanghas mature over the years, and to see the next generation of Plum Village teachers emerge and become authors. Significant changes have come with you, Hisae, as publisher. A publishing professional whose heart is with Thay’s teachings and the Plum Village community is just what Parallax needed. From the outset you’ve dedicated yourself to growing a more integrated relationship with Plum Village and their editorial team. Parallax has become a tighter, more professional and transparent operation with a happy, caring staff who work together as a team. You have a keen sensibility for which books are appropriate for Parallax to publish, and you’ve acquired and edited some wonderful books. You’ve also ensured we’re regularly publishing Thay’s scholarly works on our Palm Leaves imprint. I’d like to see the press continue in this same direction, helping to preserve Thay’s legacy, collaborating with Plum Village, and serving the international community with nourishing books.

Plum Village editors with Parallax staff, 2019, in New Hamlet, Plum Village France

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about our wonderful colleague and friend Terry Barber.

*If you are interested in reading the complete article please click here. Thank you La Thu Lang Mai for allowing us to use pieces of the interview here.

View just a few of the many titles Terry touched during her tenure!

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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