12 Stories of Homecoming: Marya Summers and Erica Blumfield

Editor’s Note: Earlier in June, Lighthouse finally moved into our exciting new home. The 12 Stories of Homecoming is a series of stories written about creatives from all walks of Lighthouse that have made us who we are today. We are endlessly grateful for the support from our community and eager to welcome you home so we can open the doors even further, together.

Lighthouse often asserts that writing is a transformative act and that there is power in storytelling. But every so often, we hear stories of Lighthouse Writers participants that truly pull this phrase into deep humanity. Such is the case with Marya Summers and Erica Blumfield.

Summers and Blumfield have been steadfast participants of Lighthouse’s Hard Times Writing Workshops. These workshops, run in partnership with local libraries, provide community and a creative outlet for people who have recently experienced or are currently experiencing poverty, addiction, homelessness, and other hard situations. Each session is led by a seasoned instructor, who guides participants through prompts and writing exercises while creating a safe place for people in difficult situations to tell their stories and hone their craft.

For decades, Summers was as busy as they come—a columnist for the alternative press, a singer-songwriter who performed on stages across the country, a professor who taught writing at many colleges and universities, and someone who led poetry and writing workshops at community organizations. Then, in 2017, Summers had a sudden onset illness that left her disabled.

“My story is unfortunately emblematic of so many others,” said Summers. “I had a full life, but that all stopped when I was forced to focus on my health.”

Unable to work, Summers was driven to homelessness. For years, she struggled with word-finding, reading, and writing. She struggled with the grief of the loss of her abilities and identity. But in 2022, she found Hard Times online.

“I knew this workshop was special from the beginning,” said Summers. “There were no expectations; we had people of all abilities. I truly felt like someone had just thrown me a buoy because I was able to show up each day exactly where I was. Some days, I have better command over my language, and those are days I can workshop my poems. And other days, my illness takes over, and showing up means turning the camera off and laying down to listen to others.”

Blumfield’s journey to Hard Times was full of complex challenges, too. Years ago, Blumfield experienced a sharp undiagnosed bipolar mania that eventually landed her in a psychiatric hospital and recovery facility for years, and also experienced homelessness. She worked hard to put the pieces of her life back together and reach significant milestones while volunteering at places like 826LA and sharing her story through mental health advocacy organizations.

But when the pandemic hit, Blumfield felt herself slipping. The elementary school program where she taught creative writing and children’s literature closed, and her fear of COVID forced her into isolation.

“I knew I needed to find a community,” said Blumfield. “And I knew I needed to find a safe one. When I found Hard Times through Lighthouse, it was a savior and a turning point again toward mental wellness.”

Blumfield and Summers also acknowledged how much they’ve enjoyed the multi-faceted approach to each workshop. Some instructors spend more time on intros and build the writing community by getting to know each participant, while others jump right into the work, pushing writers into new genres and expanding their literary boundaries.

“Hard Times is a group where creative inspiration flows freely, the exchange of ideas and stories becomes a lifeline, and the journey of self—discovery is enriched by the collective wisdom of those who walk a similar path,” said Blumfield. “So finding this community was not just about saving myself; it was about being a part of a tribe, finding comfort in creative inspiration and purpose in a world that so often feels overwhelming.”

“Communities like Hard Times give voice to people marginalized by their experiences,” said Summers. “I can tell when someone has been dragged by life but chose to let their difficulties make them more compassionate. That’s this group of people. They’re generous and open-hearted because of what they’ve been through.”

This year, Summers and Blumfield were awarded the New Voices Fellowship, which honors two members of the Hard Times workshops and awards them free Lighthouse classes and the opportunity to read their work at a celebration at the end of the year.

“Being awarded the New Voices Fellowship helped me find a new purpose in life,” continued Summers. “Disability and homelessness affect my cognitive ability and emotional health. But writing poetry has really helped. When Lighthouse awarded me the fellowship, I thought to myself, ‘Now I have a purpose, a reason to live.’”  

"To me, writing is everything,” said Blumfield. “It's how I make sense of the world and connect with others. When I was awarded the fellowship, it was not only validating but also opened the doors to a larger writing community and provided an opportunity for me to contribute meaningfully to the world of words." 

“I see people being dismissive of arts programs all the time,” said Summers. “But Hard Times changes lives for the better. This isn’t just frivolous spending. This program allows people to find their humanity again through art. And there’s power in that.”


To learn more about Marya, visit http://whollycreative.com/
To learn more about Erica, visit https://ericablumfield.com/