Writing Our Lives Fall 2016 Schedule of Classes


We’re back in September for a new nine week class—9 weeks of instruction with Vanessa Mártir! Y’all ready?


FREE One Day Writing Our Lives Class:

September 10th, 12pm-5pm

To sign up for the free class, send an email with FREE One Day Writing Our Lives Class in the subject line to writingourlivesworkshop@gmail.com.


Nine-Week Writing Our Lives Personal Essay Workshop

September 17th & 24th

October 1st, 8th, 22nd

November 5th, 12th, 19th

December 3rd

Tuition/Cost: $620 — Payment plans are available. There is a nonrefundable $100 deposit required to reserve your seat. The deposit goes towards your tuition. If you are interested in a payment plan, you must arrange this BEFORE class begins.

Financial Aid: Need based, partial scholarships are available on a first come, first serve basis. To apply, send a letter explaining your financial need—ie. unemployed, underemployed, etc. Also explain why you think you need this class, what you expect to gain from it, and why you think you are deserving of the scholarship beyond your financial need. Send the letter with “Writing Our Lives Scholarship” in the subject line to: writingourlivesworkshop@gmail.com. (Note: Students who have not received a scholarship in the past will be given first dibs for the fall scholarships.)

Project: A maximum 1250 word essay is due on November 26th at 5pm. All essays will be workshopped by the students and facilitator on the last day of class, December 3rd. More details will be provided in class.


The Story of Writing Our Lives

I created Writing Our Lives back in 2010 and taught my first class in winter of 2011. Over the past five years, I’ve led several hundred writers through the journey of writing personal essays and memoirs. Many have gone on to publish and attend reputable writing programs and residencies like VONA/Voices, Cave Canem, Tin House and Hedgebrook.

There was so much going on in the country and in my life when I created the class. It hadn’t been a year since I quit my editing job and threw myself heart first into writing and teaching. The climate of the country was contentious, to say the least—Prop 8 had just been ratified, anti-immigration legislation was sweeping the nation and the Texas Textbook wars were gathering steam.

In 2009, I attended my first VONA/Voices workshop and I walked out of there knowing I wanted to help bring our stories in the world. Stories by writers of color like me who didn’t see themselves in the American canon, in the books they read in school or the ones that made bestseller and must-read lists. Writing Our Lives is my way of helping to bring our stories into the world.

Recent events continue to fuel my belief that it’s time we write our stories, that we write them in our voices and we do so unapologetically. The massacre in Orlando, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the murder of so many young black and brown women and men by police, the reality that Trump is actually a candidate for the presidency (like, for real?)…all this has served to convince me even more that the we need, the world needs our stories.

I’ve been enamored with all things autobiographical since I was a kid. I ate up the Laura Ingall’s Wilder Little House on the Prairie books (which I know now are very problematic but was too young to know that then), reading the series at least three or four times, but it was reading St. Augustine’s Confessions in my first year at Columbia that really grabbed me up and didn’t let go. Known as the first memoir in history (which is questionable but that’s a conversation for a later time), that book started this personal writing obsession that years later I used to create this class: the Writing Our Lives Workshop, which I’ve reinvented several dozen times and am now making into a nine week class.

Why nine weeks? Because you think five hours once a week for six weeks is enough to teach the layers of the personal essay but it’s not. I want to give my writers more time to sit with the lessons and practice them at length, to dig into the stories that haunt them to find the one they want to delve into for their project: the essay we workshop in the last week of class. I want to give my writers time to practice what it means to write in their own voices—you’d be surprised how many of us write in these voices that are not ours because we’ve been told for our entire lives that we are not enough and our stories are not enough and our language is inferior. I want to give my writers more time to be with themselves and their conviction to write these stories that gnaw at them…so I’m adding three weeks.

As per usual, I offer a one day FREE five hour workshop each semester. Why? Because I believe in paying it forward. I believe that when you have a gift, you are supposed to share it with the world. I believe there are people out there who want to write personal essays but don’t know how and can’t afford to take a class. This is my offering to them and to you.

What you need to know:

* This class is designed for people who are new or fairly new to the personal essay/memoir and know they want to take on the challenge.
* Perhaps you are interested in writing a memoir and want to get your feet wet in essay. As a memoir writer myself, I can tell you that the personal essay is the micro of the macro that is memoir.
* Maybe you’re a seasoned writer who wants to brush up on the essentials. There’s room for you too! Legend has it that Alvin Ailey used to take a basics dance class periodically even after he created his now renowned dance school, “to remind myself,” he said.
* In the class we will dig into the fundamentals of writing personal essays: how to decide on a topic, how to start, how to read essays like writers (because reading like a writer and reading like a reader are not the same thing), how to build well-developed characters, how to write dialogue, etc.
* We will be reading essays (lots of them) and dissecting them, analyzing why the author made the decision(s) he/she made. We’ll also be doing tons of writing, including a 1250 word essay as a final project. What I’m saying is you must be willing and able to do the work. The writing life you envision requires it.

Still not sure if this class is for you? Ask yourself this:

* Have you read essays and wanted to write your own but the thoughts get lost in translation, somewhere between your brain and your fingertips?
* Have you tried to write essays but find them hard to finish?
* Have you wondered how writers write their amazing essays but think you just don’t have the chops and wish you did? (Side note: you do have the chops!)
* Do you write religiously or sporadically in your journal and wish (maybe even know) you could make those streams of consciousness into essays?
* Are you a writer (perhaps you’ve written poetry and/or fiction) who wants a refresher on the techniques you take for granted so you can take a stab at essay writing?
* Have you heard some great things about the Writing Our Lives Workshop and want to see Vanessa in action?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this class is for you. Here are the details one more time for good measure:

FREE One Day Class: September 10th, 12pm-5pm

Nine-Week Writing Our Lives Workshop Dates*: September 17th & 24th, October 1st, 8th, 22nd, November 5th, 12th, 19th, December 3rd

*All classes are 12pm-5pm unless otherwise specified.

Have questions? Interested? Want to talk to me further about it? Holler at me at writingourlivesworkshop@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you.


How is Vanessa Mártir qualified to teach this class?

Vanessa Mártir is a writer, public speaker, educator and mama. . She is currently completing her memoir, A Dim Capacity for Wings: A Relentless Journey, and chronicles the journey in her blog: vanessamartir.wordpress.com. Vanessa’s essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies, including The Butter, Poets and Writers, Huffington Post, Kweli Journal, Thought Catalog, and the VONA/Voices Anthology, Dismantle, among others. Vanessa has penned two novels, Woman’s Cry (Augustus Publishing, 2007) and The Right Play (unpublished), and most recently co-wrote Do Something!: A Handbook for Young Activists (Workman Books, 2010). In 2010, Vanessa resigned from her full-time editing position to write and teach full-time. Vanessa is a five-time VONA/Voices fellow and now works on staff. She created the Writing Our Lives Workshop in 2010 and has since led more than 200 emerging writers through the journey of writing personal essays and memoirs. Vanessa is the recipient of the 2013 Jerome Foundation Fellowship, and works as a teaching artist for community organizations like East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) and Teachers & Writers Collaborative. Most recently she was accepted to Tin House’s Winter 2016 Nonfiction Workshop where worked with Lacy B. Johnson and spent enough time with Dorothy Allison that she wishes she was her grandma. Vanessa attended Columbia University and is an A Better Chance (ABC) alumna.


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