Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World Workshops
This is a series of workshops; each workshop stands on its own, or can be taught as part of the whole. For writers across the genres interested in shifting and expanding their ideas about craft and language, through reframing and recontextualizing the concepts of creative writing. Each workshop uses multicultural and interdisciplinary materials, integrates many writing explorations into the discussions; and goes deeper into concepts which leave “writer’s block” way behind. Centrally creative writing courses, these workshops also offer powerful tools to support work for social change; self-transformation and personal growth; diversity training; and community-building. The workshops described below are 4 of a continually developing series; each workshop stands on its own, or can be taught as part of the whole. For writers across the genres interested in shifting and expanding their ideas about craft and language, through reframing and recontextualizing the concepts of creative writing. Each workshop uses multicultural and interdisciplinary materials, integrates many writing explorations into the discussions; and goes deeper into concepts which leave “writer’s block” way behind. Centrally creative writing courses, these workshops also offer powerful tools to support work for social change; self-transformation and personal growth; diversity training; and community-building.
“A dream can be the highest point of a life.” —Nigerian writer Ben Okri, The Famished Road
These workshops have been and can be taught in many different formats and time schedules. Each section stands on its own, or can be taught as part of the whole, whether in private workshops, conferences, or retreats, or in a semester-long university course. They treat writing across the genres, using multicultural and interdisciplinary materials.
While it is named a writing course and certainly has that focus—it also offers powerful tools for activists and social change agents in many settings; for self-transformation; for building community; for diversity training; for healing; for leaving “writer’s block” way behind; for developing tools to write and speak the truth in its fullness; for integrating the parts of the self.
1. Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World
Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World, begins with an exploration of the profound connection that the act and art of writing have to the work of increasing social justice. We will find in our passion for justice a powerful engine to drive our writing; to reveal, to witness, to commemorate, and to explore language, character and story. But potent as well in freeing and deepening our writing is our work to re-examine the craft and concepts of good writing, whether poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction, by grounding the craft in its political and historical context. The work of association, for instance, of revealing the connections between things that seem not to be connected, is basic to both the poetic and the political. The readings for this course bring forward an understanding of the craft and issues of creative writing, as well as offer examples of prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction, that bring together extraordinary craft with concerns for social and economic justice. The reading selections are, by the nature of this course, far-reaching, multicultural and interdisciplinary, and support and inspire much participant writing.
Through a series of writing explorations, and with the inspiration of authors who have grappled with how writing makes an impact on the world, the work we do together offers ideas for and practice in ways of using writing for social change. These workshops support us in coming to voice, which is an intrinsic part of the process of overthrowing personal, group and societal censors and tyrants to recover what has been silenced and to empower each speaker. It goes much further, examining some of what is at the heart of writing that can break the social silences, recover people’s history, reveal connections among all things and beings, and re-dream a just world.
And for all its good purposes—it works at every step to expand and illuminate your craft and creativity. Funny, how the liberation of your writing and the expansion of your creativity are deeply connected to issues of justice and social change.
This workshop will get you writing in class and beyond it, with a newly developed understanding of your craft.
For writers at all levels of experience, across the genres, whether prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, hybrid/experimental. You name it!
2. Place and Exile; Borders and Crossings
This workshop breaks ground in expanding our writing in both content and craft. We will work to go beyond the usual instruction that all writers must write from a sense of place, and instead catch up with a world of peoples in exile from their ancestral homes; often in flight, in war, in refugee camps, and crossing borders that are not only geographic, but also cultural, linguistic, racial, and gender- and class-related. The participants will also be encouraged to create work that speaks of the massive changes to “place”, to environment, that climate change has put into motion. This work on borders and crossings connects directly as well to the building of story, and the understanding that there is always a story next to each story we tell or write. As well, the full development of characterization has much to do with the ability of the writer to cross borders, with knowledge, compassion and respect. The ability to enter another’s world, including that of an object, as Neruda does in his Elemental Odes, is of course of central importance for poetry and essays as well as narrative. We explore the work of entering and writing the lives of others with a sense of inquiry that does not appropriate.
Very important in our exploration of the relationship of writing to place is the way that writers, even those writing in a language that is not their first tongue, work to make a home in language, thereby filling their creative expression with tension and resistance, music and power. We will look at these evocative and emotional issues in our discussions, and in the illuminating work of other writers, and challenge ourselves in our far-reaching writing explorations to cross boundaries that will free our writing, and deepen our understanding of and respect for the worlds and characters we write about. This workshop yields a great deal of new writing for the participants, as well as a re-visioning of the concepts of literary craft.
For writers at all levels of experience, across the genres, whether prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction.
3. Yearning and Justice: Writing the Unlived Life
In this workshop we go way beyond the usual concept of the backstory as the essential for development of characterization and plot, and into the rich concept of the unlived life. For each of us, our society, culture, family, and history, individual and intergenerational, give birth to an unlived life hidden within the life we live to get by. This land of yearning, bordered by frustration, overwork, distractions and violences, large and small, is charged by the deep human desire to create and to express, and to fulfill the individual and social self in creativity and community. All that we have not done or said, have not lived or been able to create; all that we deeply yearn for, moves us as powerfully as that which we have lived. Working with these conscious and unconscious yearnings that move us (and our characters) through life, opens us to a tremendous source of writing that not only deepens characterization and opens story, but hits at the core of what we strain for as we write—perhaps, to express the inexpressible—and, at the core of what we yearn for in our hopes and work for social justice. Writing the unlived life galvanizes our writing in powerful personal and political ways, as it connects to our deep yearnings for our own lives, and for a world of peace and justice, a world in which we can realize our full potential.
Using the unlived life and its yearnings in story expands and deepens characterization, and opens up the stories we write in unexpected ways. By the nature of yearning, this material gives us ways to work with the “unsaid”, with the whispers of subtext in story, with powerful unspoken sources of behaviors in our characters. As writers of the unlived life, we will work to develop the stories, both in fiction and memoir; the poems; and the personal essays, which recognize and portray those aspects of ourselves and of others that have limited social space in which to flourish. This workshop offers ideas for and practice in ways of accessing the unlived life to give birth to powerful images, complex characters, fuller story context, and thoughtful and compassionate analysis of the world around us, and within us, all of which simultaneously supports the full development of our written work.
4. Body Stories, Body Song, and the Elements of Story Craft
(All levels welcome!)
Body is a container of story; a map of journey; the sea in which we drown to rise with the full-bodied voice of a storyteller. Like body, story can be bare or adorned; parchment written with lies or truth.
Body is home or exile. Site of sacred freedoms; of trauma, captivity. Expansive, cramped; beautiful, decaying; mundane, mystical. Body—politicized, punished, exploited, sacrificed—is also nourished, celebrated, pleasurable. It loves display, and flees it—flees being sold, violated, beaten. It fuels and confuses our sense of identity.
What body yearns for, will sing, moan, weep, be stifled, in voice.
After introducing the relationship of body to these craft elements—setting; voice; POV; characterization; combustibility; (and the biggies) narration; story structure—our first day closes with suggested writings in your chosen forms, pure or hybrid, standalone or in-process.
Thereafter, we’ll focus daily on one element of story craft to deepen and clarify its use. For example, since the body holds crucial connection to the gap between voice that opens to the presence of self, and voice of self-presentation, we’ll explore simultaneously the theme of BODY and the narrator’s work.
Each daily focus will generate substantial writing from, about, and beyond BODY themes.
Look here for further workshops that incorporate this powerful approach.
The Disobedient Writer Workshops
1. Finding the Real Story: Essential Elements of Story in Fiction and Memoir
For writers at all levels of experience
Finding the Real Story addresses some of the larger issues of writing story through a look at the essential elements of narrative. We go beyond mechanical and conventional approaches to craft, and limiting prescriptive definitions of each element of story, to bring forward complexity, depth, new thinking, and lots of new writing. This class strengthens the tools that you already have, and offers and encourages new ways of thinking and working to go deeper into your work; to make your work coherent at deeper levels; to find ways into the stubborn knots and potent concealed places in your stories; to develop characters that breathe and surprise and move the story; to find language that not only works, but amazes.
Each week we explore more of the essential elements of writing story for both fiction and creative nonfiction writers; and how to allow these elements to embody the deeper truths and powerful emotions which move us into writing. We work on discovering narrator and point of view; the unfolding of plot; deepening subtext and letting it work for the story; context and simultaneity; dialogue; the music of prose; the story’s metaphor and its power; and revision. We work with the mystery of human behavior in story form, to deepen characterization and discover plot rather than be constricted by it. We tap into the power of the visions and voices of our narrators and characters, and the mix of truth and fiction that creates a world both imagined and real. We will focus in on the many possibilities for narration, and how to grow the best possible narrator for each story. We will explore narrative summary, active scene and dialogue; begin new stories and discover ways to complete old ones. I provide writing suggestions throughout for explorations that both free and develop participants’ writing, and work with each element of story.
We will share our work in an atmosphere supportive and challenging, attuned to the needs of each participant, with the aim of getting powerful and useful feedback.
Contact me for more information and to work out the specifics of your course.
2. Claiming Our Stories: The Power of Memoir & Autobiographical Fiction
For writers of memoir, creative nonfiction and fiction at all levels of experience.
How do you tell the story of your life? How do you convey your truths in stories that may include, and yet go beyond, the specificity of facts and dates? Are you aiming for autobiographical accuracy in memoir or creative nonfiction? Or would you rather use your experience and history, your intuition and imagination, to transform your life stories into fiction? For some of us, the decision as to whether to write memoir or autobiographical fiction is made in the process of the work, rather than possibly prematurely, as an abstract plan. Whether you want to tell your own story, or are drawn to embody your truths in fictions peopled by your inventions, there are ways of working with your own life experience to bring forward stories with powerful truth at their core. The lectures will guide you in the work of locating your story and its beginning; its powerful images, potent moments and metaphors, and underlying meaning; and creating a narrator compelling enough to carry a full-length book, and “large” enough to hold the story.
We’ll dive deep through a series of grounded lectures and discussions, expansive writing explorations, memory and sensory exercises to keep your memory activated; focused and open-ended freewrites; and with a look at evocative writers whose work suggests a spectrum of approaches. Then you will draw on what is deepest in you to write the stories you have always wanted to write; locate the narrators of your life; flesh out some of the other voices that inhabit your memory and imagination; and find the structure of your telling. Whether just beginning, or “re-visioning” your work to bring forward its meaning and thematic coherence, this workshop will propel your writing forward. Our work together, including class feedback and critiques, will be challenging, and the atmosphere, always supportive.
Students who complete Claiming Our Stories, Part One, may continue on to Claiming Our Stories, Part Two.
Contact me for more information and to work out the specifics of your course.
3. Deepening and Organizing Our Stories: Memoir & Autobiographical Fiction
For writers of memoir, creative nonfiction and fiction at all levels of experience. It is useful to first take Claiming Our Stories: The Power of Memoir and Autobiographical Fiction. This course is particularly helpful to writers in midst of a longer work of memoir, creative nonfiction, or autobiographical fiction.
Part Two of Claiming Our Stories: Autobiography, Memoir & Autobiographical Fiction will emphasize the deep work needed to bring forward the underlying meaning and thematic coherence of your writing. Central to this work is freeing and developing a powerful narrator with personality, with the ability not only to unfold the events of the story, but to reflect upon them; to move seamlessly through time; to include and exclude detail; and to shape structure. We will work to locate and use the power of metaphor in your stories, in your characters’ searches and struggles, and again in the explorations needed to discover the larger structures of your writing. We will explore the deeper connections of writers to their characters, in order to mine the writer’s experience and arrive at greater character truth. And we will apply what we gain from the great writing of others to our own explorations, in surprising and original ways.
Weekly in-class critiques will in part focus on these central issues:
- How your narrator works;
- how your narrator and your story move through time;
- how a larger work is structured;
- what subtext or underlying meaning is revealed in your writing; and
- what metaphors are coming forward that will further reveal the structure and meaning of your larger project.
This provides an opportunity to puzzle through, in community and with feedback, the challenges of writing a long work, and developing a narrator who can carry it. Our work together, including class feedback and critiques, will be challenging, and the atmosphere, always supportive. Expect to take some great steps in the development of a book-length work that uses the truth of your experience, whether in nonfiction or fiction.
4. Beyond Formula: Writing Love Scenes With Spirit, Passion, Grit And Character Truth
Fonny’s body was a total mystery to me—the body of one’s lover always is, no matter how well one gets to know it: it is the changing envelope which contains the gravest mystery of one’s life.
What we are really looking for and working toward in this class are writings about romantic love that are neither sentimental and formulaic, nor graphic in a way that doesn’t tell the story but serves some goal outside of the work. It is perhaps bold to do this course, which is not a course in writing erotica, nor one that looks to fulfill a formula for romance genre fiction.
This is my corner of the world in writing about love, one that works to capture the ache of it, the beauty of it, the disintegration and yearning of it; that which makes it a part of life that is easy to obsess about, because of how utterly beyond belief it is when it comes fully into one’s life.
Love is difficult to write about in a world that so often connects sexuality to violence and exploitation; to the tragic and disturbing. This may come up in this workshop, and is welcome to, as it is so often part and parcel of what people have experienced. That starburst of magic will arrive to be written as well, that love that moves us into other realms of being. So much is expressed in how we love; so many stories told. Yet, often people have told me that they don’t know where or how to start writing such scenes or such stories, as they find their characters diving into love. I very often see the work of writers I deeply respect not achieve full expression of their stories and their characters in these scenes which may be crucial to the overall work. And, ultimately, these scenes must serve, beautifully or fiercely, that overall project. So I am here to invite you (and me!) to take a chance and enter this part of the world of your story that you are already flirting with! No one needs to be taught about love, at least, certainly not by this creative writing teacher, but finding that road to the expression of love in writing, well, that’s what I propose to be of help with, and as ever to share evocative work – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, film – that helps open up the magic, depth and craft of writing. (Who knows what magic may find you as you write in this open field, make dense and real the expression of this ache of love, and sometimes its fulfillment, in your work?)
Our work together will always be challenging, and the atmosphere, always supportive.
So, here’s to five weeks of writing about love, from crushes and unrequited love to consummated love, to long lost or long dead love; love that cheats, love that sacrifices, lusty love and restrained love, substitute love and love as substitution; the tragic, the unexpected; selfish love, compassionate love, expansive love, routine love and mystical love.
Contact me for more information and to work out the specifics of your course.
5. Roads into Writing: Multi-genre Stunners! to open new terrain in your work
Why multi-genre? While it isn’t necessary for participants to write in more than one genre, the weekly readings and the writings of other participants bring a kind of cross-fertilization to each of us. As, for instance, film has impacted written narrative; journalism has inspired song and poetry; novels have gone to film; history digested in the psyches of characters becomes fiction which allows us to face history; myths and folktales have fed poetry and blossomed into novels; theater scripts teach novelists and memoirists much about dialogue’s purpose, power, and dramatic impact; on and on….
This work will bring forward suggestions for writing—writing explorations that, although rich and without limits, also bring you into deep contact with craft that serves you, and opens your writing and language in surprising ways.
Whether you are opening up new works; deepening and refining what you have previously written; or continuing to write and polish a project you are in the midst of; this workshop is a great resource.