Whenever someone asks her profession, Phyllis is never certain what to say. Depending on the moment, she’s an author, editor, composer, songwriter, musician, public speaker, activist…. “Basically anything that doesn’t pay well, I do,” she laughs.
Phyllis unites her deep love of writing and composing with a passion for humanitarian service. Her creative work is inspired by a profound desire to help create a less violent and more just and equitable world for this and future generations.
“I believe the arts help make the world,” Phyllis says. “They help shape it, help it breathe. They help it survive, and become.” Her primary artistic tools for touching the world are the written word and music. Through them she tries, in her own small way, to “grow the peace.”
In 1994 Phyllis married Jihong Dai, a research scientist in environmental chemistry. The Cole-Dais relocated in 2000 from Columbus, Ohio, to Brookings, South Dakota, where Jihong joined the faculty of South Dakota State University. Two years later they celebrated the birth of their son Nathan, whose Chinese name, LanTian, means “wide-open blue sky.” He is the shared joy of their lives.
Along with a smattering of short fiction and poetry, Phyllis has authored or edited six nonfiction books, the most recent being The Book of the World: A Contemporary Scripture (2008). She is probably best known as the co-author of The Emptiness of Our Hands: A Lent Lived on the Streets (Authorhouse, 2004). Written with James Murray, the book chronicles the 47 days in 1999 that the authors spent living voluntarily on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, the nation’s fifteenth largest city and home to both at the time. Thousands of copies of The Emptiness of Our Hands have been sold over the years, a portion of the proceeds being donated to programs benefiting homeless persons in Columbus.
In January, 2013, Phyllis launched A Year of Being Here, a website presenting daily mindfulness poetry, primarily by recent and contemporary poets.
Beginning in 2002, Phyllis began composing music. Her first work was Beautiful Is the Moon (2003), a children’s album done in collaboration with friends. Subsequently she composed solo piano music, recording the albums Friends (2006) and Child of All Earth (2007). She also released one holiday album, ‘Tis a Gift: Christmas by Guitar (2009). Regardless of genre, her music is consistently described by listeners as “deeply emotional,” “visionary,” “cathartic,” “relaxing,” “moving,” and “lyrical.”
Phyllis has been very active in various humanitarian organizations and efforts over the years, among them: Fast for the Earth, Stand for Peace, the Brookings Reconciliation Council, No KXL Dakota, Brookings Backpack Project, Empty Bowls, Committee for the Common Good, Brookings Interfaith Council, and the Common Good Film Series. In 2013 the city of Brookings, South Dakota, recognized Phyllis for her humanitarian work, awarding her the 14th annual Dorothy and Eugene Butler Human Rights Award.
An interview with Phyllis was published in 2014 as a chapter in First We Imagine: 22 Creative South Dakotans Speak on the Subject of Creativity, compiled and edited by John E. Miller.
Phyllis has long been in demand as a public speaker, having appeared in all kinds of settings—religious, spiritual, educational, philanthropic, social-service, and civic. She still presents as her busy schedule allows. Please contact her if you would like to discuss possibilities.