Raising a teacup to empowerment through literature – San Francisco Chronicle


Basically, Robinson-Burns is a motivational speaker — but she’s genuine and passionate and kind of nervously nerdy about her job. As a result, she was subtle yet effective in inspiring our small tea party group to root for ourselves like we’re the protagonists in our own awesome novels. Cheesy as it may sound, I bought it.

“I sort of started reading about personal development,” said Robinson-Burns with a hint of Madonna’s not-quite-British accent. “And I realized that I had already learned a lot of it through literature. It’s all about finding characters you can relate to.”

Robinson-Burns explained this as she sat at the center of a long 14-person dining table covered in floral tablecloths and confetti. An eclectic array of porcelain china hung behind her, while a pink cuckoo clock dominated the far end of the wall. A dozen of us were seated at the table, wearing name tags. Several in attendance were Robinson-Burns blog fans; others were literature die-hards, just excited for a private high-tea experience with a small group of women who were more than delighted to discuss the likes of Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling on a Sunday afternoon.

We were instructed to introduce ourselves one by one, along with our favorite conversational topic. Many in the group said they love to talk about books or travel. I said, “My name is Beth and I like to talk about true crime.”

We sat upright with our napkins on our laps. We sipped tea. We used big words. We were fabulous literary heroines on the mezzanine level of a multiuse entertainment complex in Japantown.

Robinson-Burns imports lessons from the Harry Potter series into nearly every aspect of her life. She considers herself a member of the Gryffindor House, one of the four houses at the fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and she did a lot of soul-searching to come to that decision. A woman sitting across the table from Robinson-Burns announced “I’m a Slytherin” and was met with nods of approval.

Over tea sandwiches and scones, we weren’t lectured on how to live our lives more purposefully. Instead, Robinson-Burns encouraged us to talk to one another, she read quotes aloud from “Pride and Prejudice,” and she casually, quietly facilitated our diverse group to gently dive into deep conversations. We all left with new book recommendations, artists to check out, opinions on tea-based snacks, and two solid hours of intelligent and friendly chitchat with like-minded women.

The self-described introvert plans to continue her tea party tour. Her next one will be in Bristol, England, and she’s got a project in the works with the Kate Spade store at the Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre, which came about while trying on a dress for our tea party. Earlier in the day, Robinson-Burns had hosted an “empowerment pop-up” there.

“I’ve been manifesting this for a year now,” she said of her blossoming business relationship with the fashion brand she loves. In addition to her tea parties and pop-ups, Robinson-Burns still writes “Heroine Training,” her mindful words of wisdom gleaned from a quarter-century spent nose-deep in the printed word.

“Everything under the ‘Heroine Training’ umbrella is about becoming aware of how to live your life more intentionally,” Robinson-Burns said. “You learn it through whichever lens applies to you. For some people, it’s theater. For some people, it’s Harry Potter. And for pretty much everyone, it’s a tea party.”

Cheers to that, Hermione.

Beth Spotswood’s column appears Thursdays in Datebook. Email: datebook@sfchronicle.com


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