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Erika Duncan

Erika Duncan

Executive and Creative Director

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.

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