There has never been a time when Herstory’s founder and artistic director Erika Duncan wasn’t doing what she could to give voice to stories that might not otherwise have been heard. Her early novels, A Wreath of Pale White Roses and Those Giants: Let them Rise, look at those who are trying to break out of silence and fear, while her portraits of writers (written when she was a contributing editor for Book Forum and collected in Unless Soul Clap its Hands: Portraits and Passages) touch on whatever brought each into voice. This search is picked up in her front page series for the New York Times Long Island Weekly, where for four years her portraits of Long Island writers, artists and musicians, thinkers, dreamers and doers appeared every month. She has published numerous articles in various journals and anthologies, among them explorations of mother/daughter and sister relationships, the art of effective listening and works about teaching writing. Click here for some of Erika’s articles, which appeared in various psychoanalytic and educational venues.
By the time she was 30, she was pioneering new ways to teach writing that would leave no one behind, based on her belief that there is no such thing as a person who cannot write – that if one can find a way to skip over the differences in educational backgrounds and opportunities that so often set us apart though designing a new set of tools, we would all be much richer. This led to numerous experiments in what caused blocks and breakthroughs, including a five-year period of work at New York University where she took 11 classes and six student teachers into a new way of personalizing the long research paper. This project ranged into experiments with parallels between the ways students approached writing and mathematical thinking, culminating in a Ford-funded project that took this work to some of Brooklyn’s most troubled high schools.
At the same time, with five other writers living in New York City, she started the
Woman’s Salon, an alternative literary network to give audience support and serious critical attention to the works of writers who were not yet known. You can read the archives here. Over a 10-year period, this Salon brought in up to 200 women a month to listen to such then-beginning writers as Dorothy Dinnerstein, Olga Broumas, Susan Griffin, Blanche Weisen Cook and becoming in many ways the seed for what Herstory is today. While raising her three daughters, Rachel, Gwynne and Jane, she worked with projects such as the Rural Education Program in Orland, Maine, and a workshop for quadriplegic writers at Goldwater Hospital. Her work always had an active connection to healing, which she never formally studied, but which came as a natural legacy from her therapist mother.
Those who have supported Herstory’s work have often remarked that while there are many charismatic teachers, few are able to codify their approach. The first volume of Erika’s manual, Paper Stranger: Shaping Stories in Community, creates a vibrant window on that approach. While continuing to train Herstory facilitators to take our work into an ever-increasing variety of venues, she is working on an expanded volume, even as she is completing her own memoir, Dreamer in the Play Yard: The Therapist’s Daughter.