Writing Our Lives Workshop – Spring 2014

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March 23rd: FREE One-Day Writing Our Lives Workshop 12-5pm

Six week workshop dates (12-5pm):

March 30th

April 6th, 13th, 27th (take off the 20th for Easter)

May 4th, 18th (take off 11th for Mother’s Day)

Why “Writing Our Lives”?

I created and have been teaching this workshop since the winter of 2011, so the question now is no longer “Why did I create this workshop?” but rather: Why do I continue to facilitate this class? Why do I continue to reinvent the class after so many renditions and having taught more than 100 students?

  • 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. And my memoir, “A Dim Capacity for Wings,” reflects this—the new structure that emerged during my mourning is “a memoir in essays.”

I believe that when 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 ColumbiaUniversity (and even earlier when I read and reread the “Little House on the Prairie” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder). 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?

March 23rd 12pm-5pm is a FREE one-day workshop. On this day, I give you an overview of what goes into 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 dates of the six week workshop are: March 30th, April 6th, 13th, 27th, May 4th, 18th from 12pm-5pm 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.


March 23rd workshop: FREE

6 week workshop: $360 (payable in pre-arranged installments, if necessary) for 30 hours of instruction and a one-on-one meeting with the facilitator, Vanessa Mártir.

How to reserve your seat: Send an email of interest to Vanessa_martir@yahoo.com and provide a $100 deposit no later than March 30th.

Scholarships: 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, May 14th 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.

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: A graduate of Columbia University, Vanessa Mártir is a writer, speaker and seasoned workshop facilitator. She is currently completing her memoir, A Dim Capacity for Wings. Vanessa chronicles her memoir-writing journey in her blog: vanessamartir.wordpress.com. She 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. She has had essays published in various journals and anthologies including the Fall Issue of Portland Review and the upcoming VONA/Voices Anthology, Dismantle. In 2010, Vanessa resigned from her full-time editing position to write and teach full-time. She has been teaching writing for the eight years, and has taught students as young as six and as old as eighty six. She is a five time VONA/Voices fellow and is the editor of the VONA/Voices newsletter. Vanessa is the recipient of the 2013 Jerome Foundation Fellowship. She works as a teaching artist in NYC public schools and for community organizations, and created the Writing Our Lives Workshop which she facilitates at HunterCollege.


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