Teaching Memoir

12 Jun

Every Tuesday morning from 10 to noon I teach a memoir writing workshop. My class is a group of 11 grown women. Grown meaning they’re aged the early 40s to 80 and they’ve seen some things. The class has shifted and grown over the years from about 4 to 5 students–including the occasional male and non-cisgender– to a steady maximum capacity. The table comfortably seats 12.

I love teaching memoir.

I love doing it in a way I’ve never loved work before. Even in my longed-for career as a full-time author, there’s plenty that I don’t like: the unrelenting, necessary aloneness, being both labor and management, listening to my inner critic yapping like a terrier, and critics. I do love having written. Back when I was writing fiction exclusively and steadily, I used to love to get revision letters from my then editor, the wonderful Dominick Anfuso. I do realize these are First World problems.

But this is the only “work” I’ve ever done that I love doing without reservation.

With each term, I grow attached to my students and my stalwarts who’ve been with me for a few years hold a cherished space in my life.

I’ve taught writing at colleges and while there were parts that I like and certainly students of whom I became very fond, I didn’t love it. I hated grading papers and even more so dealing with the pushback from the rare student, about grades.

I’m rarely so clear about anything, which is why I ‘ve been trying to understand what is it about this that I love doing this so much. I think it’s simply that what they’re writing about is their souls, their passions, heartbreaks, desires, despairs. Life. I get to listen, scribble while they’re reading and feel and convert feelings into words, to tell them what I hear that isn’t on the page. I get to be moved, engaged, humored, to testify. I love helping them find the key and then, eventually, to turn the lock to what’s really in their hearts, on their minds; what the piece is actually about. I don’t always know what that is, but I usually know what questions to ask to help them find it. I get to play shrink, to dissect emotions and psyches, which I love more than anything.  I love hearing them help each other with their thoughtful critiques. I love that I’ve created the space for them to feel safe.

I get to help people construct their pathos and their joys into poetry, into a symphony into rhythm and blues.

After class today one of my students, a poet, told me she loves the class because we talk from our hearts. Yep, that’s it. Heart talk. Heart writing. Heart work. I’m in that heart space and it’s exactly the neighborhood where I want to live.

 

6 Responses to “Teaching Memoir”

  1. dianejh713 June 12, 2018 at 10:37 pm #

    Benilde,
    Can I join your class. I began writing in my journal the week Reggie died. I have clearly written 200 pages and I need feedback on putting it all together – and I am free on Tuesday from 10 – 12 . 🤗👍🏾

  2. mykitchenmemories June 13, 2018 at 12:22 pm #

    As someone who has been in that “heart space” with you for several years, I’d like to thank you for being the creator of the space. Every session I worry that the addition of new writers will change the dynamic of the group. How can I open my life and my heart to more people I don’t know? But then you do your magic. You create such a “safe space,” that within no time at all, everyone reveals their true self…from the heart. Not only do you create a “safe space,” but you also create a bond amongst your writers that encourages candidness and honesty. For almost four years now, these two hours a week have meant the world to me and changed my life in ways that only a writer can understand. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Silvia

    • Benilde Little June 14, 2018 at 3:37 pm #

      You’ve made me so proud! You’ve worked hard and gotten your heart and words on the page.

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