This class explores the profound connection that the act and art of writing have to the work of increasing social justice, and transforming self and community.
We will locate in our passion for justice a powerful engine to drive our writing; to reveal, witness, commemorate; to explore language, character and story. Potent in freeing and deepening our writing is work to re-examine and reframe the craft and concepts of good writing, whether poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction, by exploring craft not as an abstract set of rules from on high, but within its political and historical context. The work of association, for instance, revealing the connections between things that seem not to be connected, is basic to the political as well as the poetic (and the spiritual!).
This workshop offers concrete tools to support our coming to voice—an intrinsic part of the process of overthrowing personal, group, and societal censors and tyrants to recover what has been silenced, and empower each writer in their creative approaches.
Through a series of writing explorations, and the inspiration of authors who have grappled with writing that makes an impact, this course offers ideas for and practice in ways of writing for social change that expand your writing craft and creativity. We go further, examining what is at the heart of writing that can break the social silences, recover peoples' histories, reveal connections among all things and beings, and re-dream a just world in your writing and community.
Week 1: Introduction to the relationship of creative writing craft and concepts for prose and poetry, to social justice, and to a dynamic writing process that increases and expresses social consciousness.
We'll examine the relationship between individual “writer’s block” and the larger forces of internalized censorship and political silencing. We’ll use the practice of microscopic truthfulness to begin writing images that reveal, and support a shift in, power relations; as well as images that commemorate and celebrate; go beyond stereotypes; bring hidden stories to life; and counter historical amnesia.
Week 2: Expanding our writing’s context, and our language’s associative networks.
We’ll work on rediscovering and freeing language from the limits of a “colonized” and exploitation-based language into its fuller historical, social, and personal context. Each writer will work to expand their language’s hidden context, and their creative networks of association for writing in any genre. We’ll examine association simultaneously as the essence of poetry and as part of how we structure story; as a road into unexpected political and historical content; and as a path to deepen our narrative and poetic work.
Week 3: Essential concepts of craft that open the content of your writing.
Our further investigation of associative work as a route into widened context and increased content reveals a process deeply political and powerfully imaginative. We’ll work with the political and creative implications of the juxtaposition of events and of images, including by way of “surreal” images of oppression that move us through use of juxtaposition. We’ll practice specific craft concepts to further open content, and break out of superficial linear narrative to make way for fuller histories and deeper personal connections to enter the telling.
Week 4: Associative wandering, fueled by the compassionate imagination, to bring you into fuller knowledge of your subject and characters.
We’ll develop fuller characterization through associative wandering into the hidden sources of events and behaviors. We’ll explore what’s at stake in your writing, what sustains you in the work, and how to move from “not knowing” into “imaginative knowing”. We’ll enlist the desperately needed power of the imagination as ally in the work for social and personal justice; as vehicle to bring the power of history and memory, the invisible and the silenced, into our writing.
Week 5: How to work with what haunts the present and inhabits the literal; how to develop powerful characterization and dynamic narration grounded in justice.
Use of repetition and return to write what haunts the present; discovery of the engine that drives your search for truth in writing. Use of lists in prose and poetry to arrive at deep truths that burst out of accumulation of the literal. Expand the complexity and range of your characterization through your connection--and opposition--to your characters. Explore dynamic narration; shifting points of view; multiple narration; and political/real life implications of the narration we choose or develop.
Week 6: Images; humor and oppression; self-compassion; re-dreaming a just world.
Images and witnessing: images that haunt us; that move us. Further techniques to expand the context of our stories, poems, articles, including concentric circles. Work with humor to reveal/critique the outrages of oppression. Lift the social overlay that deforms our vision, and go beyond stereotype—into self-compassion that further frees our writing. Further discussion of narration in motion with film, literary, and other references. Powerful culmination of class into re-dreaming the world.
Writers across the genres at all levels of experience would benefit, since this course works through radical refiguring of creative writing across the genres, reframing and recontextualizing writing craft. The course resonates not only with experienced and professional writers, and participants well-prepared academically, but has also been taught with at-risk/dropout young adults; working adults; activists in a range of struggles; immigrants and refugees; university honors undergrads; practitioners in religious settings; psychotherapists; attendees at conferences on “overcoming racism”; historians at any level. Useful for educators to help integrate their class content with their students’ experiences and issues. Useful for anyone wanting access to fuller context of self and others.
Because the course works simultaneously to teach craft beyond conventional views, and integrate local and global issues and work on personal growth into the art of writing; it benefits people with an eye on the world and a desire to more fully grapple in their writing with the weight of history and the challenges of the present. With space for productive, sensitive expression and discussion, the course allows a range of issues—global, local, and personal; historical and current—to come forward as an integral part of the opening up of writing craft. Issues of race, class, gender and sexual orientation; disabilities; issues of refugees, immigration and diaspora; effects of historical and current traumas; mass incarceration; constant war; and more, are part of our work’s context. Beneficial for writing in a variety of genres, especially story (fiction or memoir), poetry, personal essay.
This is an online class. Each week, a new week will open full of resources, reflections, discussion questions, and writing prompts. Students should expect to spend 3-5 hours per week perusing resources and readings, answering a discussion question, engaging in several writing prompts, and responding to peers’ work. From our interactions, we sustain a welcoming and inspiring community together.
Anya Achtenberg is an award-winning writer whose publications include novel Blue Earth, novella The Stories of Devil-Girl, and poetry collections, The Stone of Language, and I Know What the Small Girl Knew. Prizes awarded her include those from Southern Poetry Review; Another Chicago Magazine; Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story; New Letters; and the Minnesota State Arts Board. Recent poetry and prose published in Tupelo Quarterly; Malpais Review; Hinchas de poesia, Poet Lore; Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art, and an essay in the anthology, How Dare We! Write: A Multicultural Creative Writing Discourse. History Artist, a novel almost completed, concerns a Cambodian woman born at the moment the U.S. bombing began. She just completed poetry chapbook, Advice to Travelers. Nonfiction includes articles on creative writing, including the relationships between trauma, placelessness, narration, and language. Anya teaches creative writing workshops around the U.S.; online around the world; and consults with writers individually.
"The Transformative Language Arts Network" is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. P.O. Box 873 Lansdowne, PA 19050 USA