Who We Are
Herstory Writers Workshop brings unheard voices into the public arena, transforming lived experiences into written memoirs powerful enough to change hearts, minds and policy.
“Where would you like a 'Stranger/Reader' to meet you, if you had to choose any 'Imaginary Page One' window to help her to walk in your shoes?” This is the question that novelist and essayist Erika Duncan asked in March 1996, when she found herself surrounded by a group of women who hadn’t written before. She never dreamed that the dare to transform one’s most personal story to reach the heart of a stranger would begin a journey of more than a decade in which over 2,000 women and girls in community settings, universities, labor halls and healing centers would find the answers that would open into chapters of their lives, nor that the words “Stranger/Reader” and “Imaginary Page One” one day would echo in Spanish and behind prison bars.
That dare, which eventually led to a network of guided memoir-writing workshops, was the birth of an approach where the study of what creates reader empathy replaced more traditional techniques of teaching writing. What developed was a rather unique set of tools—a vocabulary through which what caused the reader to care became central—allowing those with little formal education to work with complex notions of narrative structure, side by side with professors of literature.
First-person narratives, telling stories of traumatic events, began to be sought, with unknown names attached to them; no longer were professionals to tell people’s stories for them as cold clinical case histories. Still gaps remained. For many who held stories inside them, educational deficiencies and lack of money made it impossible for them to acquire the complex narrative skills that change one’s own story—as told to a therapist, a diary or very close friend—into something that can resonate more widely and reach strangers.
Soon, women were traveling long distances to Herstory’s single Southampton site. As the work became too much for one person alone, those who had been with Herstory from the beginning began to officially train to lead workshops, and one suggested expanding the work to include women in prison. We reached out to find bilingual facilitators whom we could train to work in Spanish, and to the heads of high school and college programs, and to student interns, until eventually Herstory became what it is today.