Interview with Trina Paulus, Author of Hope for the Flowers

Trina Paulus on the meaning of Hope for the Flowers, and her writing process.

Posted Mar 16, 2012

When I was a young kid, I happened upon a book that changed my life: Hope for the Flowers.

At a time in my life when I felt little hope for the future, this book made me realize that it's OK to go your own path. Like a caterpillar, it's fine to go through many years in a cocoon while everyone else is climbing and clawing their way to the top of the same path—even though no one really knows where that path leads. And for those brave folks who are willing to enter the cocoon, and contemplate their own path, they can turn into a beautiful butterfly, and fly to the top of their own path, bypassing all the competitive climbers.

This book had such a profound influence on me, I contacted the author Trina Paulus a few years ago to give her my gratitude. To my delight, she responded almost immediately! Ever since, we have formed a long-lasting and meaningful friendship

Trina wrote Hope for the Flowers on a $500 advance, and at times had to live with her friends due to her financial situation. But her belief in her message got her through the writing. Hope for the Flowers has been an immense success, inspiring many thousand of people since it was first published in 1972. Trina has lived such an incredible life, fighting for justice, peace, and our environment (see below for her bio). She even once lived in Hollywood with the possibility that her book would be turned into a Hollywood movie! 

This past August, Trina celebrated her 80th birthday, and she is busy as ever. Currently she's hard at work on transforming Hope for the Flowers into an animation—on her own terms. You can read more about this exciting project and even contribute to the campaign here

Trina was kind enough to answer a few questions for me through video. Below are her responses. 

I hope her words, and her book inspire you as much as it inspired me. As Trina notes,

"Without butterflies, the world would soon have few flowers. There is enough room in the sky for all flyers."

Trina on The basic meaning of Hope for the Flowers

How long did it take you to write Hope for the Flowers?

How did you feel when you received the 1st copy of Hope for the Flowers in September of 1972?

Stripe's inner juice

Yellow's inner juice

© 2012 by Scott Barry Kaufman.

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Biography of Trina Paulus (written by Trina in 2010) -

Born in 1931 in Cleveland Ohio, I am the oldest of four. We lived in Cleveland Heights in an ordinary house but with an extra long back yard ending in a ravine with a stream at the bottom. My father, Clarence, grew up on a small Ohio farm and became an electrical engineer who worked all his professional life for the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company. My mother, Alice, was the daughter of the general store owner, living just a few miles from where my father grew up. Both sides are German immigrants arriving around 1840 in New Orleans where my father's family bought 120 acres sight unseen, traveling up the Mississipi, and Ohio Rivers and then taking the Erie canal to as close as they could get to their new land.

Visits to "the country" were very important to me growing up, especially working on the farm, experiencing all the wonders of cats and chickens and pigs and calves and outhouses! My uncle Ernie always used horses or mules, and the only time machines were present was for collective efforts like silo filling. I was there and helped during those great community experiences of harvest and butchering. I feel blessed to have had such a background, where animals, food raising, harvesting and canning were a natural part of life. Some of my 1st watercolor paintings were of this farm. I think I had the best of both the city and the country and a mix of high culture with simple rural living continued thru my Grailville years on a 300-acre farm. It troubles me to see food and farm policy often being made by people who have never really worked or lived on a farm.

We were a religious, practicing, Catholic family - Mass together on Sunday, Catholic schools, and parents who practiced everything they preached. A great gift was their total absence of any derogatory talk about people of any race or culture and we were on a street of many faiths, though no other races at that early time. But they set us up for total openness, and they did not fight with each other.  We prayed together before meals and at night. I took this all in and by 12 had made some big decisions about serious involvement in my faith.

At about 8, I discovered yellow clay in the ravine behind our house that did not crack when I made sculptures from it like mud puddle soil did.  Soon I was taking the bus to the Cleveland Art Museum and then the Cleveland Art Institute for Saturday and Summer classes with Edris Eckhardt in ceramic sculpture. She hired me to be her assistant and fire the class kiln when I was 12.

At Beaumont, a Catholic Girls high school, I found the "Catholic Action" movement and quickly became involved in a citywide group. In those years right after the Second World War some of us discovered the Catholic wartime heroes from Europe, and I read books like: Henri Perrin's, Priest Worker in Germany, and learned about student and worker movements which became the YCS (Young Christian Students) and YCW, (Workers) here in the U.S. These groups used a simple system, 1st - Observe,  2nd - Judge by the gospels, and then Act to fix things that violated Jesus message of universal love. I was going to Mass each day across the street from school at the Carmelites where the example of cloistered women I never saw, who left everything for God, was sealed into me. I was also winning awards for my sculpture. The question of boys and first love was there too.

THE GRAIL-Grailville, the Lay Apostolate

In the late 40's and 1950's, Catholics who were deeply committed to the service of God and neighbor but did not feel called to the "religious life" could find lay groups in which to invest their energy. This was the time of the rise of the Lay Apostolate as contrasted with the vocation to the priesthood or vowed religious life. The Catholic Worker movement with Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Friendship House with Baroness Catherine de Hueck and Eddie Doherty and The Grail in the US founded by Joan Overboss and Dr. Lydwine Van Kersbergen who began Grailville are examples. These were the fermentation movements and centers that worked with and expressed the theological and liturgical aliveness which prepared the way for Pope John XXIII, to throw open the windows "and let in some fresh air and the spirit" with the 2nd Vatican Council in the early 1960's.

By the time I graduated high school, the ideal of living and bringing spiritual values where ever I would be in the world was my dominant passion. I understood that to do this well, I needed a deep spiritual formation, and for a woman who wanted to live in the heart of the world and not in a convent, there was only one place for such an experience. I gave up two full college scholarships to go to Grailville in Loveland Ohio, near Cincinnati, to be trained for this calling. I have not been sorry!

My life at Grailville is a story in itself. Some is on my page at It seems I always had a world view with a peace and justice focus which was certainly nourished by belonging, as I still do, to The Grail, an International Women's movement. Because I was building up the art center and our art production program, I was at Grailville for a much longer time than most who came for "the Years School". I experienced how community can help talents flourish and I had the privilege of using my particular gifts to contribute to the needs of a whole group without my owning anything. "Having nothing, yet possessing all things." 2 Corinthians 6.

My religious, artistic, justice leanings gradually evolved into an understanding that without a vibrant earth, none of the other work made sense or could succeed. So besides being active in other areas as well, I focus now mostly on earth issues which also purvey my sense of the sacred. Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry and Genesis Farm have helped me understand The Great Work we humans are called to as part of creation.

Just a few notes about the period from 1949 to 1969. During that time I developed the art center and with a team, created the national art production and distribution program at Grailville, attended Ohio State University in 1951, and again in the mid-sixties (what a difference), tripped back in time through Europe to Alexandria to Akhmim, a 4000-year-old city in upper Egypt to help nourish an embroidery co-op among young girls with an international Grail team, was evacuated at the end of the 1967 Six Day War, to our International Grail center for two years in Paris which included 1968, when the Western world was on edge with revolution talk, was brought back home by the International YWCA, then signed a contract with Paulist Press (no relation) to polish my simple theology of Hope which was written for our Grail Movement during Vatican 2 when change hit the Catholic church like a whirlwind - it was not just an open window! 

I had found the manuscript of my book in a closet in the Paris Grail Center while there, and proceeded to carry it with me. I had no idea that I would ever have a contract to publish it. But wonderful things like that happen and I was tasked to polish and update it a bit. However, I had changed with my experience of Egypt and Europe, poverty and "revolution", so this task never finished.  Hope #1 evolved instead into a yet "simpler" book, Hope for the Flowers. This was a two-year work begun in a tiny room in Hartford Connecticut, so a wonderful counselor could help me (for free!) navigate the culture shock of my return to the U.S. After a year and a half of very simple living, I ran out of the $500 advance, the additional $500 for hand lettering the book, and $600 saved from my YWCA time. I was then offered a place to stay (also for free!) with the founders of Global Education Associates in East Orange NJ. Though very poor, I made my first tax protest of $4.50 against the Vietnam War imposed telephone tax. (Great little story.) After I delivered Hope For the Flowers to the publisher, complete with all its laboriously hand-separated colors and screens on different paper layers, I went for six months to St. Meinrad, Indiana to help Abbey Press set up their production processes for our Grail Art production line and my statues, which they had purchased when Grailville stopped producing them.

Hope was published in September, 1972. I went back to Akhmim, Egypt  3 weeks later. Hope for the Flowers won the Christopher award for the most inspirational book of 1972 while I was in Egypt. 

I came back to U.S. in March 1973. Again my life was to change. On October 1, 1973, back in East Orange NJ, I received my first royalties. This was my first real money ever, and later in that same momentous month I gave birth to my son at the age of 43. How providential to have money along with a baby! I struggled with a marriage which ended, raised my son mostly alone, studied appropriate technology for simple living, solar energy, natural healing, became a suburban mom and assisted at my son's Montclair Coop school, etc., while dealing with movie offers and becoming ever more educated politically and environmentally. (This, of course, is the short version.)  

In 1980, I returned with my son from a year in Hollywood, rented a room, then bought a house in Montclair where I have lived since.

Around the same time, Abbey Press stopped making my statues, so the rights came back to me, and I produced some of the nativity figures in my basement. Others now make them, but I am still involved around the edges.

The computer became an important tool. I am still trying to master it for the sake of new books; Adobe Creative Suite with the continual updates has been a challenge for some years now.  My son and I started with Commodore 64, a brilliant design, then TRS 80, IBM 286. With a broken ankle keeping me down, I bought my first MAC, a used UMAX. It was great and I resisted moving to the USB system and OS X, but finally let go and bought my first brand new computer, an iMAC. I love being in touch around the world with email and Skype.


I am mostly known now - and for several decades, - for my justice, peace, and environmental work rather than my art or book. When my son went to school in Steamboat Springs, I discovered the Rockies and West. I lived six months on a mountain Permaculture site, came to love the positive vision of this movement and became the vice president of the fledgling non-profit I believe we need to demonstrate the positive solutions that are already at hand, learning from the indigenous wisdoms of the people of the world, which is a Permaculture and Agroecological approach, put forth powerfully in the GLOBAL REPORT ON AGRICULTURE ( released in April, 2008 and suppressed by Corporate Agriculture and Biotech. My UN work relates to food, my focus within the Commission on Sustainable Development UN meetings in NY. My local environmental support community, Cornucopia offers frequent organic gardening demos and food oriented articles on its website:

The earth and God are just waiting for us to get wise and act for the common good. I dare to believe that a loving Other is at the heart of the world's beginning. It's a world that can work if we do our part. We humans are free to choose to heal or harm, to love or be indifferent. Choice is at the heart of  the message of my book, Hope For the Flowers.
These last decades have seen me involved with many struggles, particularly against the destructive, but official USDA policy, of spreading processed, but still toxic, sewage sludge which is so incredibly harmful for soil, food, and health on our food producing land.  My most persistent effort is to halt the takeover of the world's food supply by a few big Ag and Biotech companies aided by the governments they seem to control, and complicated by the huge threat of genetically engineered food. Such work is an exhausting battle with greed where corporate non-person "persons" have more influence than breathing humans and don't die or get tired. I have tried to balance this dark side by rejoicing in the ever present and positive beauty of the people I am graced to work with, while working with the living systems and beauty surrounding me. 

I take particular pleasure in "composting", gathering organic materials such as leaves, grass and food scraps and letting trillions of micro organisms transform the mix into food for the next generation of plant life. I think this is one of the most important things a human can do - renewing the fertility of the soil so the cycle of life can continue! I learn and gain joy from the existence of movements like Permaculture, and local groups all over the world whose efforts like saving seeds, growing local organic herbs and food suggest the sharing world that Hope For the Flowers calls for. And then there is the wonder of what we can do to support each other, wounded healers that we are, through compassionate listening, gentle touch and just plain love!

After some decades of trying to balance intense struggle with the positive, I think at this age and time of life to focus again mainly on the message I was given with Hope for the Flowers.  The global connections of the Internet, plus the spread of Hope for the Flowers all by itself around the world gives me a small but important ability to say something further. I'm working on sequels to expand the message of Hope for the Flowers.

Let me get on with this task! I am attempting to lay down much of my overt actions fighting the bad, and focus on the potential of a Hope for the Flowers movie and new books. Pulling back to get this work done is really hard for me. Maybe, for me, this is my latest and necessary cocoon.

2012 update - lots happening since 2010

Scott, it's very humbling to be included with the "beautiful minds" you have interviewed. My goodness, I certainly don't feel like this as I go through my day, which seems so ordinary. My messes do not seem to get put away, the raspberries have green leaves yet have not been cut back, I need to compost the garden and plant lettuce, hands and neck sometimes scream for help, my computer desktop looks like it has chickenpox with so many things open, and 10 new worthy requests for signatures and money crowd my inbox in less than an hour. I feel quite inadequate, but it's a wonderful life! 

I ask what use this sort of interview might have - perhaps it is to encourage other "young in spirit older people" to use their lifetime of experience to help the world turn a corner toward a society built on compassion, sharing, joy, justice and love! 

I've never been busier! And I've laid down a considerable number of my activist involvements for the sake of a focus on Hope.

So much is happening! The 40th anniversary of Hope For the Flowers is here!  
It's like harvest at 80 - 

HOPE E-BOOKYes, coming soon, will be e-book versions of Hope This was never feasible before because there was no digital version. The book was made before computers. Now, countries can more easily prepare the book for print, and electronic versions can be published.

HOPE AROUND THE WORLDHope is recently out in China! This exquisite edition joins the Korean, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, English, presently in print. And now with the digital version, we will also be able to republish earlier translations which have been out of print for some time, German, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, or at least offer them in e-book form.
The Thai version will be the 1st printing using our new digital files. In the pipeline are Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi, French, Turkish and Swahili. As we get rolling, we might be able to offer a new translation each month as an e-book. Exciting!

Theater productions have happened from the beginning with more planned, mostly nonprofit, educational ventures, some live, some puppets.
Hope songs have been written, and musicians have contacted us wanting to use their music in some way to spread the story.

HOPE SEQUELSWith all this, my Hope sequels are on the back burner, but before this 40th anniversary year is finished in 2013 I plan to have at least one of them published. I'm behind with the illustrations! 

HOPE ANIMATION We have begun!  We have found a sensitive animator director ready to start when we find the money. We invite all to become producers using grassroots "crowd funding". Spreading a story that can support people's instincts to listen to their own inner juices, get off the pillar of competition and become their most beautiful selves can be a fulfilling collective enterprise. The status of this effort can be found on our website:

JOIN OUR HOPE TEAM We invite you to become part of this Hope team. You can see that much is in the cocoon stage, including the role of our new nonprofit, Friends of Hope For the Flowers. It is officially registered but we have not yet applied for federal 501(c)(3) status which would allow tax free charitable contributions. We plan to apply as soon as we come up for air in the midst of all the other projects. For now, my movement, The Grail, has offered to be our fiscal sponsor, accepting donations to help further the spread of the cooperation and peace message of Hope For the Flowers. 

There's room in the sky for every flyer! 


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