Writing Our Lives Workshop ~ Winter 2014


I created the Writing Our Lives Workshop in the winter of 2011 for various reasons, but at this point the question is no longer why I created it but why I continue to teach it after countless renditions and reinventions, and having taught more than 100 students. Some of the reasons are the same: I am fueled by the incendiary times we’re living in where people can still claim with a straight face that all the important people throughout history have been white; I’m fueled by the growing number of Latinos in this country and by the reality that publishing isn’t reflecting this fact; I’m fueled by people like an old boss who had the audacity to tell me “Latinos don’t go on the internet” when I told her she should start targeting Latino youth—this is the same woman who referred to me as “the single Latina mom” in a Fast Money article about the organization, no mention of my Ivy League education or having been published; I’m fueled by my sheer love for all things memoir and personal essay, and my belief that while statistics and numbers are important, what makes people care, what touches the heart, what will effect real change, is story. I agree with Muriel Rukeyser: “The universe is made up of stories, not atoms.”

The importance of the personal essay has taken on a different energy since my brother’s long hospitalization and eventual death in June last year. It’s in essay that I have grieved and released and had epiphanies about the nature of my grief. It’s in essay that I’ve taken on my memoir with new vigor. I’ve been able to write through the greatest loss of my life because essay has facilitated the structure I needed to do it, even when it felt like what I was writing didn’t make sense, like staccato, clave with no rhythm. Essay helped me find (and make) rhythm in the sometimes choppy and un-fluid writing that grief conjures.

I believe that if you if you learn something, you are supposed to share it. I’ve been enamored (read: obsessed) with all things memoir since I read St. Augustine’s Confessions in my sophomore year at Columbia University. Since then, I’ve read dozens of memoirs and hundreds of personal essays. I’ve analyzed them and chopped them up, put them under a microscope and digested them. It’s with this love and knowledge and ache that I continue to facilitate this workshop that I hold so dear, and why I reinvent it each and every time with a fresh approach and new readings.

So how does this work?

In short:
– Jan. 19th: FREE one-day workshop & first day of 7-week workshop
– Jan. 19th, 26th, February 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, March 2nd: 7-week workshop for $360 (see below for information on partial scholarships)
– Workshops from 12pm-4pm at Hunter College, 68th Street campus
– To register &/or get more information, email: vanessa_martir@yahoo.com


January 19th from 12pm-4pm is a FREE one-day workshop and the first day of the seven-week, fee-based Writing Our Lives Workshop. On this day, we go over the basics of writing a personal essay, including brainstorming topics, character development, sensory writing, voice, etc. This is also a chance to check out Vanessa’s teaching style before committing to the fee-based workshop.

The seven week workshop continues: January 26th, February 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, March 2nd, from 12pm-4pm on each day. This workshop is an intensive study of the elements of a personal essay. There will be weekly readings and writing, and the final project due Week 7: a 5 to 7 page personal essay which will be read and critiqued by the entire group. You will be provided with a syllabus.

All workshops will be held at Hunter College’s 68th Street Campus. The exact room will be provided to participants in an email.


January 19th workshop: FREE

7 week workshop: $360 (payable in pre-arranged installments, if necessary) for 28 hours of instruction and a one-on-one meeting with the facilitator, Vanessa Mártir


Need based partial scholarships available on a first come, first serve basis. To apply, send a letter explaining your financial need for the scholarship–i.e. unemployed, underemployed, etc. Also explain why you think you need this workshop, what you expect to gain from it, and why you think you are deserving of the scholarship beyond your financial need. Send the letter to: vanessa_martir@yahoo.com with “Writing Our Lives Workshop Scholarship” in the subject line.

Additional Details:

The workshop is limited to 13 students. The culminating project is a 5-7 page personal narrative due on Wednesday, February 26th at 6pm. You will be responsible for reading and commenting on the essays of all of your classmates, and will share your feedback on Sunday, March 2nd over a pot-luck lunch.

If you are interested in attending the one day and/or the seven week workshop, please send me an email at vanessa_martir@yahoo.com with Writing Our Lives Workshop in the Subject Line.

What people are saying:

“Ms. Martir teaches about writing the personal narrative in a way that resonates in the mind and the soul because she consistently speaks from a place of sincerity and personal experience. She walks you through the process week by week with applied exercises in addition to one-on-one meetings that insure you fully grasp the content while helping you to find and strengthen your own voice. This is a workshop that is a worthwhile investment for anyone that is committed to writing their story.”

“Writing our lives has impacted my life twice. It was so good for my writing the first time I had to take it a second time. It is truly an experience that has allowed me to look at my life with new eyes.”

“Vanessa Martir’s workshop was the flashlight in the dark room of my memories. It gave me my story, in the sense that I finally realized it was the one that needed to be told. Intense digging, deep readings, and a real and brutally honest facilitator…all of these may seem heavy and daunting, but trust me when I say that what would be more daunting is not opening yourself up to the possibilities that Ms. Martir guides you to. I’d tell anyone that’s committed to writing from a personal perspective to take this workshop.”

“This workshop is perfect for those trying to write the infamous ‘my life story.’ Not only do I recommend it, I plan on taking the workshop again, at a future date. Vanessa is one of the most clear-cut, to the heart of the matter instructors I have ever seen. Her method to the madness of writing this story not only prepared me for a project I have been putting off, but her guidance has allowed me to actually take on the project pen first, paper second and everything else will come as it should.”

“The Writing Our Lives workshop provided access to some of the most thought provoking articles and speeches I have ever experienced. Martir has a gift for selecting provocative and illuminating out of class assignments. Coupled with the focused and truly engaging one on one session with Martir, the truth in your writing will bubble to the surface.”

About the facilitator:

Vanessa Martir is a writer, speaker and seasoned workshop facilitator. She is currently completing her memoir, “A Dim Capacity for Wings,” and chronicles her memoir-writing journey in her blog: vanessamartir.wordpress.com. Vanessa has studied the arts of memoir and fiction writing with such greats as Chris Abani, Elmaz Abinader, Staceyann Chin, Mat Johnson and David Mura. She has penned two novels, Woman’s Cry (Augustus Publishing, 2007) and The Write Play (currently being shopped), and most recently co-wrote Do Something!: A Handbook for Young Activists, an interactive workbook that gives young people all the tools they need to change the world. Vanessa’s essays have been published in journals like Portland Review and in the upcoming VONA anthology, “Dismantle.” In 2010, Vanessa resigned from her full-time editing position to write and teach full-time. She has been teaching writing workshops for nine years and has taught students as young as six and as old as eighty six. She is a five time VONA fellow, is the VONA newsletter co-editor, and the recipient of the 2013 Jerome Foundation Fellowship.


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