Maura Pellettieri Is Listening to the Land

By on April 2, 2024

Maura told me that she “lives in the green,” and I believe her. I took that to mean not just being in nature but also having the ability to see and know it as a spiritual realm. She listens to the land; holds counsel with trees; feels the history held in the ground. And that’s just one dimension of Maura, a talented writer, artist, and coachPhoto of Maura with a book while backlit

Over Zoom, we talked about Israel, ecopoetics, coaching, the need for humor in dark times, and a park built atop a former explosives factory. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Jason: Maura! You JUST returned from Israel, so I was curious what brought you there and anything you’d be willing to share.  

Maura: I’ve been writing about topics connected to Israel-Palestine for a while and I started an exploratory trip there a few days before the war started. I’m not someone who’s had a big relationship to Israel except in my own question-making and I found the experience of being an outsider to be powerful: both as a Jewish person with multiple generations in diaspora getting to have a real connection with the land and as a socially-conscious person in total opposition to what is playing out politically.

 I ended up doing a lot of listening to people’s conversations and also to the land itself, which has personhood and agency. A lot of diasporic Jews feel that they don’t deserve an ancestral experience of the land because of what the Israeli state is doing but those are actually separate things. You can be in resistance to the modern state of Israel, which is a government and an army and all kinds of things while simultaneously acknowledging and respecting the ancestral connection. That’s part of the healing that needs to happen. If we are in denial of what we’re actually experiencing emotionally and somatically, we have no chance of getting to the next step. 

How do you view that healing process?

I believe the reason we have made so little traction and backtracked so much in terms of “solving” or “fixing” the crisis is because it’s being approached as a political problem by politicians, political entities, and even activists. The reality is that it’s a spiritual problem, which means  it won’t be fixed or solved—it will be healed and repaired by artists and people who are living spiritually. Fixing is a linear, colonial approach, so that distinction in verbage matters. And it’s my belief that healing will come about primarily from people who are ancestrally connected to the land. 

Can you tell me more about what listening to the land—any land—entails? 

Many of us go into nature to recharge and that’s important and necessary. We don’t talk as much about what it means to offer reciprocity back to the earth. In the Bay, I teach ecopoetic classes, which blend creative inquiry, writing, ritual, and ancestral healing work. Part of that practice is examining how we show up as people. Some of us who have settler-colonial privilege or white or white-passing privilege in this place as guests may have a tendency to tithe to Sogorea Te’ Land Trust [editor’s note: an urban Indigenous women-led land trust based in the Bay Area] or pay Shuumi [land tax] or show up in other public-facing ways and then feel like, “I’m done.” I think it’s important to go deeper and ask ourselves, “How are we in direct conversation with the land where we’re living?”

Speaking of the Bay, what first drew you out here? 

I was living on the east coast and started coming out here for Kohenet [Hebrew Priestess Institute] retreats. My trips kept getting longer and longer; I didn’t want to leave. I had never found such ‘earthcentricness’ in the Jewish world. The more I learned about the Jewish scene in the Bay, I felt like I was around the coolest people who also prayed the way that I wanted to pray. I felt like I finally had language in Jewish terms for the multi-dimensionality that I was experiencing.

What did that mean for you? 

My identity was compartmentalized; I was spiritual over here and an academic over there and a writer over there. During my time with Kohenet and after, I learned to weave my identities and understand that creativity is inherently sacred. I began to see that my role as a creative person, as a writer, as an artist, as a holder of sacred space were all one thing.

Did you always know you wanted to write?

From an early age, I was very dreamy and always spacing out. I loved being in nature. I have this memory of being seven or eight on my front lawn in upstate New York, being in the green and thinking, “I’m going to be a writer.” Then I had a really incredible third-grade teacher, and she started giving us story assignments. That’s how it started.  

That really is an early start! Then you kept it up, got an MFA in fiction, and now you work with writers and artists, in addition to continuing your own practice, right?

Yes, exactly. When I would collaborate with artist friends, I noticed what a struggle it was that they had to make great art and then also market it. That’s a different skill set, and I started unofficially helping friends with applications and statements. Both my parents are artists so I grew up with conversations about art, and I found I had this ability to get inside an artist’s head. I could look at their work and see what they were intending and  transmitting without getting caught up in my own sense of review or critique. So a lot of my client work is now with artists and other writers. I still have my creative practice, too, which includes poetry and fiction, and most recently, film writing.

And I saw you’re currently the guest poetry editor for Moment Magazine. I’m beginning to see what you mean about multi-dimensionality…

I’m doing a series featuring Jewish poets for Moment, which we started talking about before the war began. But it feels really meaningful to be lifting up Jewish poets and curating voices that are speaking complexly and beautifully about Jewish identity from such different angles—to both internally remind our community, as well as the world, of how incredibly pluralistic we are.

That’s awesome. Now, onto our in-house Proust Questionnaire. Tell me about any poem, song, book, movie, play or piece of art or media that you love. 

A new favorite is an Italian novel called Pereira Declares by Antonio Tabucchi. It’s the story of this editor-journalist who becomes radicalized during Salazar’s dictatorship in Portugal. For such a dark time in the country’s history, it’s an incredibly comedic novel; very light and buoyant. I think that’s such an important muscle and so aspirational right now to be able to make comedy in dark days.

What is the Bay’s best-kept secret? 

Point Pinole in Richmond, which is on the site of a former explosives factory. It’s an amazing place to practice that listening to

 the land I mentioned earlier, and ask her how she’s doing. You can really feel the density of the explosives factory—there’s a lot of heaviness there. At the same time, there’s incredible birdlife, incredible views of the Bay, gorgeous eucalyptus groves. So it’s a beautiful place to be with that tension.

What’s a recent time you felt any kind of spiritual connection? 

In the same way that when you go through a life change, you have to kind of re-meet the people that you know, I think I’m re-meeting the Bay after my trip—we’re getting to know each other again. And the Bay is feeling like an old friend. I was feeling a bit lost and disoriented yesterday and I walked up Claremont Canyon in need of some life advice. I get that from the trees, and felt particularly embraced by them and invited to be in the mess. They’re so generous. 


GatherBay Profiles is our interview series spotlighting the vast array of community members doing rad things! Released twice per month, the series aspires to celebrate GatherBay’s greatest treasure—the people around us. Want to be profiled? Email