Seated at a table at The Looking Glass Bookstore in Oak Park on Oct. 23, Tyra Manning leaned toward those gathered to learn about her newest book, “Your Turn: Ways to Celebrate Life Through Storytelling.”
Manning, who holds a doctoral degree in educational administration, served as the River Forest School District 90 superintendent between 1992 and 2004. She also taught at Dominican University in River Forest.
Now living in Texas, Manning returned to Oak Park and River Forest between Oct. 22 and Oct. 24, sharing her story and encouraging others to write their own. In 2016, Manning wrote her memoir, “Where the Water Meets the Sand,” and said her second book is an answer to one of her most frequently-asked questions.
“People would say to me, ‘how did you write this book,’” Manning said. “I would say, ‘I wrote my stories, and you have stories, and your stories make a difference.’”
In the first book, Manning wrote candidly about her experiences with mental illness and substance use disorder. At first a “closeted recoverer,” Manning said her goal now is to encourage empathy and build connections.
“It was amazing to see her in a different light; to be brave enough to present a very private life to the public to help people and take away stigma at so many different levels,” Joanne Trahanas of Des Plaines, a former Roosevelt Middle School principal in District 90, said.
While receiving inpatient treatment at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas, Manning learned compassion from those also in treatment, especially recalling the compassion they showed her after her husband’s death during the Vietnam War.
“We were all human beings trying to be supportive,” Manning said.
According to a National Institute of Mental Health webpage, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml, nearly one in five adults in the United States live with a mental health illness.
Still, Manning says there is a stigma attached to mental health and other conditions.
“When someone applies a stigma to something, it’s often something that could be frightening to them,” she said. “When we label it, it’s one of ‘those people, not me.'”
Encouraging others to journal, “It brings some of the things we wouldn’t say out loud to the page,” Manning said. “We realize it’s OK to say, or let’s others know they’re not alone.”
Manning also said she sees storytelling as generational. “My spirit says to my body—’come on, we have places to go and people to see and pages to write,’” she said.
The second book contains 14 chapters, arranged by themes such as “grief” or “creativity.” Each chapter includes writing prompts to stir the thoughts of those looking to write their own memories.
“When we share our stories, we find out we have more alike than different, and it brings us together,” Manning said.
“Your Turn” includes Manning’s barbecue brisket recipe, something she shared during the holidays with her District 90 colleagues.
Many of the people who attended Manning’s talk knew her from those District 90 days.
Carlotta Lucchesi of River Forest said she was on the Board of Education that interviewed Manning.
Manning’s dedication, curriculum ideas and listening skills stood out, and Lucchesi said Manning helped keep cohesion during challenges such as referendums.
“We developed goals in common that Tyra helped us figure out,” Lucchesi said. “It was always a great district and Tyra brought it to a new level.”
Nick Bridge of Oak Park said he had listened to Manning discuss her first book and came again to listen to her discuss her second.
“We’ve known Tyra for almost 20 years, and she’s a really fabulous lady,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see how her life has unfolded.”
Manning’s book is available on Amazon, and her website is www.tyramanning.com