The International Women's Writing Guild


  • Friday, May 26, 2017 10:39 PM | IWWG (Administrator)

    by Carren Strock, IWWG instructor and author of A Writer's Journey: What to Know Before, During, and After Writing a Book

    While writing, like everything in life, is easier for some than for others, it is not so much inborn talent as persistence and desire that separate those who succeed from those who do not.

    No one sees a writer’s folders filled with rejection letters. They see only her published articles. No one sees the boxes of discarded drafts that lead to a completed manuscript. They see only the published book. No one sees the huge amount of correspondence and phone calls that eventually lead to an agent and the subsequent sale and publication of a book.

    Only the writer knows the determination and diligence it takes to have her work see the light of day.

    While writing comes easier for some than for others, remember that a writer who struggles to write is a writer nonetheless.

    Questions to think about before you start writing:

    1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
    2. What has been keeping you from writing?
    3. What materials do you actually need to be a writer?
    4. How can you juggle your schedule to find one hour each day to devote to writing?

  • Monday, May 22, 2017 12:14 PM | IWWG (Administrator)

    by Dixie L. King, IWWG Executive Director

    At my first IWWG Summer Conference in 1999, I took a workshop with longtime IWWG instructor Pat Carr. Small, slim, and soft-spoken, Pat personifies kindness and generosity in her dealings with students. She is utterly uncompromising, however, when it comes to her personal truths about good fiction writing. And her greatest truth is that you can’t write from inside the head of someone you haven’t been.

    I sat down with Pat at the 2015 IWWG Summer Conference at Wisdom House, in Litchfield, Connecticut, to learn a little more about this extraordinary writer and teacher. 

    DK: When did you decide that you wanted to write?

    PC:  Before I even knew the alphabet. This is something I wanted to do all my life. I would fold up little pages so they would make a little book, and do little squiggle lines and then anybody I could catch, I would...tell them the story.

    DK: So you were creating stories long before you could write the stories.

    PC:  Right, and I have no idea where that came from, because I don’t remember my parents ever reading to us or anything. But we did see a lot of movies; practically every Saturday…We’d drive over the snow covered little dirt roads [where we lived in Wyoming] and go to town and we would see a movie.

    DK: But you also lived next door to a Japanese Internment Camp.

    PC:  Right; Heart Mountain.

    DK: And that ended up having an influence on your writing. Can you talk a little bit about that?

    PC:  I saw the injustice, that whole horror of moving these people from the West Coast to this place. It was dusty and dry in the summer and forty below in the winter. They were in barracks behind barb wire; there were towers with machine gunners in them. It was just awful…They let some of the Japanese work in the sugar beet fields and occasionally they would go to Cody just to wander around; but “White Only” signs showed up.

    DK: You wrote a story about those years and you actually created a relationship between the first person narrator in the story and a young man who was in the camp. How much would you say, in general, do you draw on your own lived experience in your short stories and in the books that you’ve written?

    PC:  Probably at least fifty percent of everything is my experience. I usually start with an incident that either happened to me or to someone that I know very well. But usually fifty percent at least is my experience.

    DK: I know that you’re also an artist. What influenced you to decide to go one way or the other? Because obviously you’re very talented in both fields. I’ve seen your art work.

    PC:  One day I was sitting at the dining room table painting the dog and my father said, “You can’t be great in two distinct fields like that, so you better pick one.” And he said “Which would you prefer?” I was fourteen at the time and I decided that I probably wrote more than I painted, so I decided to major in English and History. Eventually I taught at Texas Southern, and Toni Morrison was my office mate. I passed for black because, “What is a white person doing there, anyway?”

    DK: You never portrayed yourself as African American but people assumed that you were because you were teaching in a black university.

    PC:  Yes. You know, I tan easily and I was darker than a lot of people.

    DK: Because people were assuming that you were black, did you experience prejudice, or not really, because you were in an
    all-black environment?

    PC:  I was in an all-black environment. But if you went downtown you couldn’t go to the movies, couldn’t eat in restaurants, you couldn’t try on clothes at Foleys. You could buy them, but you couldn’t bring them back. It was white-only. When I went to town people assumed I was black if I was with a colleague; if I wasn’t with a colleague, then I could shop anywhere. So there was a tremendous amount of guilt because I wasn’t being fair. My best friend, Mabel, just assumed I was black. One time she flat out asked, “Where did you go to college?” I never lied, so I had to say “Rice.” She went home and she told her husband, “Pat went to Rice. She’s white.” He said, “Well, she’s still Pat, isn’t she?” She came back the next day and said “You’re white, aren’t you?” I said “Yeah.” But I didn’t want to confess that, because I’d “been black” for a couple of years and our friendship never quite got back on track, because I hadn’t been truthful. I felt really bad about that. She was just a great person.

    DK: You knew Toni Morrison before she was Toni Morrison. What was it like sharing an office with Toni Morrison?

    PC:  She was very, very bright and she had gone to Howard on the East Coast. It was very posh. She took the Saturday Review and knew all the New York Times Book Reviews, so to keep up with her I had to start reading all these darn magazines. I sort of did the East Coast cultural world with Toni.

    DK: You are famous—in some circles infamous—for your opinions on point of view. You do not believe that anyone should write from the perspective of someone that they couldn’t be; so you could write from the perspective of a white woman passing as black, but you couldn’t write as a black woman.

    PC:  Exactly.

    DK: And where did that particular belief come from?

    PC:         It developed over time. My first three published stories were all from the male point of view, because I like men. I think they’re interesting. I thought women had to write about fixing peanut butter sandwiches for their kids, and I’m just not interested in people who are interested in that. I was at my house, working on a story and just really struggling with “What would this black guy think? How would he think it? And how would he word it?” A kid comes to my house and he’s bringing me a late paper and I said, “Okay, Tom, go into the den and I’ll bring us a couple of beers and I can look over your paper.” So I went and got us a couple of beers and as I come back I look in the den and he’s sitting down at my typewriter typing away on my story. He didn’t have to stop and think about it; he was a black guy. He knew what that guy thought and it was totally honest and he didn’t have to mangle it or do anything to it. And so I thought “Wait a minute, I will never be a black male; but by the same token, he’ll never be able to know what’s inside me.” And it was so transformative. and I went in and called a writer friend of mine and said, “Hey, Lynn I got a chance to be great.” I was committed to it from that moment on.

          I’m trying to save people time because in trying to write from the perspective of someone I haven’t been, all I can ever get is a stereotyped cliché. It will never be right. I don’t know gut level what a man thinks—not really. I can reproduce what a man does and says, but I could never write from inside his head.

    DK: So I’ve heard you say in class “If I’m writing it as if I’m watching a movie, where I’m not getting inside his head, but rather I’m looking at his actions to tell me what he’s thinking”—then you can do it that way.

    PC:  Right. You can do it that way or you can do it with an observer. I can follow this guy around and he can tell me, “Yeah, I don’t feel good about this.” Or, “Yeah, this is great.” I can follow him around and record his reactions, and what he said. But to get inside his head and see what he’s thinking, he’ll just come out cliché.

    DK: I’ve heard you say in class “You know I don’t want you to just be good, I want you to be great, and that’s the difference.”

    PC:  Yes and I want everybody to be great. I want them to get to the gut level truth about what they feel about what they know.

    DK: I think a lot of people would say “Well that would limit me to the one perspective of a middle aged white woman.”

    PC:  But we’ve all been kids and friends and enemies, and toddlers and teenagers, and college kids—a thousand people. That’s a thousand stories; I think that’s probably enough for anyone.

    DK: You are a Civil War buff and your collection of stories about the Civil War offers a woman’s perspective, and won a national award. How did you develop your interest in the Civil War and what kind of research did you end up doing for that anthology?

    PC:  I think my grandmother was probably the cause of my first interest; she used to tell stories about how they wrapped the sterling up in pillowcases and hid it in the well when Sherman was coming and how she and the slaves would party together on the plantation. I think that got my interest up. Turns out my grandmother wasn’t even born until about 1880. She was repeating stories she had heard from other people. But I was hooked by that time and I probably had read maybe five thousand books on the Civil War.

    DK: And yet you don’t deal with battles. You’re dealing with an incident, a moment in a woman’s life, whether it’s with a black child dying, or whether it’s with a Civil War officer dying—that moment of contact with another person that becomes transformative in the life of your primary character. How do you select those incidents? Where do you get those ideas?

    PC:  A lot of them were actual facts. There was this diary from a Union soldier found on the battlefield and I bought a copy of the diary. I thought it would be an interesting story. So I have him come to her porch and she falls in love with him as he’s dying through reading his diary, because he’s clever, ironic and kind…

    DK: When you talk about point of view, obviously you’ve been a woman; however, you haven’t been a woman in a Civil War setting. Is that where the research comes in?

    PC:  That’s where the research comes in, and you don’t want to make a mistake.

    DK: Talk a little bit about your experience with the IWWG.

    PC:  It was one of those transformative events. I saw in the Arkansas Gazette a little tiny blurb that said “The International Women’s Writing Guild is having a meeting up in New York at Skidmore College and focus is going to be mixed.” I called this number for the IWWG and I said “I’d really like to come.” Then I got a little panicky because I was a professor, a full professor; at that time, all my colleagues were men. All of my dealings had been with men. I thought “I still don’t want to talk about peanut butter sandwiches.” So I got up there and it turns out we’re very bright women. I’ve been coming back since 1983. And I’ve loved women ever since.

    DK: You chose to continue teaching, long after you could have chosen to retire. What is it about teaching that engages you so much?

    PC:  I think it’s that I want everybody to be great. And I want everybody to be able to tell their stories. You know. there are seven billion people on this planet and we really need them all. We need all those voices out there and all of those experiences, because I can’t write from the perspective of anyone that I haven’t been. So if they give back what they’ve been, then we can share. This is really important and I can’t keep quiet on this. I can’t back off, and I can’t say “Well, you have your opinion and I have mine.” I want every writer to be great.

    Pat has a B.A. (Phi Beta Kappa) and a M.A. from Rice and a Ph.D. from Tulane, and she’s taught literature and writing in colleges all across the South. She’s published eighteen books, including the Iowa Fiction Prize winner, The Women in the Mirror, and the Pen Book Award finalist, If We Must Die. She’s had over a hundred short stories appear in such places as The Southern Review, Yale Review, and Best American Short Stories. Her latest collection of short stories, The House on Prytania ..and other stories from the South, was published in 2014. The Death of a Confederate Colonel, a nominee for the Faulkner Award, won the PEN Southwest Fiction Award, the John Estes Cooke Fiction Award, and was voted one of the top ten books from university presses for 2007 by Foreword Magazine. She’s won numerous other awards, including a Library of Congress Marc IV, an NEH, the Texas Institute of Letters Short Story Award, an Al Smith Literary Fellowship, and a Fondation Ledig-Rowohlt Writing Fellowship in Lausanne, Switzerland.

    Pat is the 2013 recipient of The Porter Fund Literary Prize presented annually to an Arkansas writer who has accomplished a substantial and impressive body of work that merits enhanced recognition. A writing text, Writing Fiction with Pat Carr was published in 2010, and her autobiography, One Page at a Time: On a Writing Life was published the same year. Her first graphic novel, Lincoln, Booth, and Me: About the Assassination Viewed by Horatio, the Cat as told by Pat Carr was published in 2013 , and combines her skill as an artist with her skill as a writer.

    Pat currently lives and writes on a thirty-six acre farm in Arkansas with her writer husband Duane Carr, a black cat, one black and two orange dogs, and seven black chickens.  Visit to learn more about her work.

    Dixie L. King, Ph.D.  is an anthropologist, business owner, and the executive director of The International Women’s Writing Guild. She has been taking classes from Pat Carr since her first IWWG Summer Conference at Skidmore College in 1999. 

  • Friday, May 19, 2017 12:22 AM | IWWG (Administrator)

    by Maureen Murdock, IWWG instructor and author of Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory

    1. Memoir is not an autobiography but rather a selected aspect of a life. No event in your life is too small, but the details are important.
    2. There is a universality to memoirs.
    3. Honesty and Sincerity: Is the narrator authentic? When you are talking about yourself, you are talking about all of us to a certain degree; that’s the universal element. The struggle for emotional truth is central to memoir.
    4. Intimacy: The hallmark of memoir is its intimacy with its audience.
    5. Language in memoir is conversational, everyday, direct.
    6. Humor: Be willing to laugh at yourself, reveal your foibles. We all have them.
    7. Self-Reflection: The essence of memoir is the track of the writer’s thoughts struggling to understand some event in her life. What have you learned from this event?
    8. Character: In writing memoir, you have to make yourself into a believable character. What do you want to know about the people you write about, including yourself?
    9. Scenes: Vignettes, episodes, slices of reality are the building blocks of memoir. Get the reader into the scene with you. What’s happening? Who’s there? What’s the interaction?
    10. Voice and Tense: Start with the personal I (1st-person narrative). Start in the past tense. You are writing about the past in the present. This is what happened then; this is what I know now. You can write in the present tense later!
    11.  Purpose: What’s the purpose in writing memoir? Self-discovery, understanding another, healing a relationship, finding a broader perspective, telling a story that must be told?
    12.  Have fun!

  • Friday, May 19, 2017 12:18 AM | IWWG (Administrator)

    by Marj Hahne, IWWG instructor

    1.  Read as a writer.

    Read for form as well as for content: Study the text’s construction, how it was written, from macro (narrative structure, chapter/paragraph/stanza breaks, point of view of narrator/speaker) to micro (punctuation and word choices, sentence/line lengths and syntax).

    2.  Learn about other art-forms.

    Study other artistic expressions—painting, sculpture, collage, music, dance, theater, film, architecture, as well as writing genres outside your primary one—as witness and/or participant to illuminate the “process” aspects of art-making in general, which can analogously inform or be applied to the art-form of writing, to ultimately refine the “product”: exploring the possibilities and limitations of the medium, solving problems toward harmonizing content and form, overcoming beginner’s mind and fear of failure.

    3.  Identify your authentic writer’s life.

    Determine your endgame, your definition of success as a writer, in practical, not abstract, terms, and how that translates in your daily life, so that you can spend your resources (time, money, energy) smartly and satisfyingly—and get strategically inventive in creating that life rather than wait for the status-quo writer’s life to happen to you.

    4.  Stay in the question.

    The result of a quest is a question: quest (from the Latin quaerere) “to seek” + -ion (Latin suffix) “the result of an action.” Stay in the question of everything. Of every person, incident, perception, perspective, poem, story. Of yourself. You are the original revision. Aim to un-sense (un-see/hear/taste/touch/smell) what you’ve held to be true, static, fixed, unchanging, so that you can re-sense it, sense it freshly, newly, every time. Rainer Maria Rilke (in Letters to a Young Poet): “Love the questions themselves…live everything. Live the questions now.” Albert Einstein: “Never lose a holy curiosity.”

  • Wednesday, January 11, 2017 12:07 AM | IWWG (Administrator)

    by Marj Hahne, IWWG Instructor

    Writers, we'd probably agree that our literary expression has been informed and expanded by our engagement with other art genres—visual, musical, theatrical, etc. I wonder, though, if we've considered how our writing can be served by an active inquiry into the genres we don't care to write in.

    I remind myself and tell my workshop participants: You are the original revision. An ever-inquiring, ever-expanding you will ever-create beyond what you already know, to generate purer, more authentic expression in its first draft—out of the pen, the paintbrush, the guitar, the body. Poet Myra Shapiro says that the poet’s job isn’t to write every day but to observe every day. That’s a valuable job description for any artist, and keen observation requires an immersion in and consumption of the world as it is: a world of people, nature, politics, art.

    Our participation in other art genres can provide access to our own subjects via a mental or metaphysical pathway. Others’ paintings, photographs, films, and dances have inspired ideas for my own poems, plus I’m always motivated to write after I’ve read some good poetry. I once heard a writer say that when she can’t get her pen moving, she dances for five minutes to shift her energy and release the block. I've resolved to surrender my product-oriented sensibility so that I may paint, collage, pastel-draw with abandon—for the simple joy of creating, but also to disrupt the status quo of my own poetry-writing practice.

    More specifically, the reading (and writing) of poetry can extend a prose writer’s craft because well-written prose displays the two primary qualities of well-written poetry: words and rhythms that seem inevitable. A good writer approaches the craft of writing as a craftsperson, a technician, an artist inquiring into the medium (of language), its possibilities and limitations. The poet brings a particularly vigilant discernment to language choice because, absent of plot, characters, etc., a poem must succeed on its sense and sound jointly—what’s said and how it’s said, such that what’s unsaid and silence are also presences in the poem. 

    A now-unavailable online article cited research suggesting that readers approach a poem with a more focused attention to the language than they do a novel, that they read poems more slowly and re-read individual lines. Whether this is due to the poem's density or the reader's perception of difficulty, the invested reading of poetry can enhance a prose writer’s line-by-line craft (even though the prose writer’s building block is not the poet’s line per se). 

    A rewarding case in point: poet Edward Hirsch's beautiful prose in How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, the first chapter of which is available here:

  • Tuesday, July 07, 2015 9:27 PM | IWWG (Administrator)

    By Kristin Rath

    My first introduction to Myra Shapiro was at IWWG’s 2012 Summer Conference at Yale. In our short conversation, as I led the way to her assigned dorm on check-in day, we found commonalities in place—Tennessee (she raised a family in Chattanooga; I attended university in Nashville)—and in our current residence of New York City. I was instantly drawn to this quick-humored woman with a lively step and a southern tinged accent that belied her Bronx, New York origins.

    I entered her classroom that week with an adolescent experience of poetry, but exited with a deep appreciation for the genre and some valuable tools upon which I have continued to build. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that was the beginning of my poetry life. I not only unearthed my need to write poetry, I established the goal of bringing poetic language into everything I write.

    Myra’s influence on the lives of many aspiring writers like myself has been profound. As a long-time IWWG faculty member, she has mentored and inspired dozens of women writers—many of whom return year after year to continue working with her. So, it was a delight to have a chance to interview her recently, in advance of this year’s summer conference, to understand more about the influences and ideas that shape her poetry and teaching. 

    One of her most important influences is place, and the one at which we met is especially so: Poet’s House, a national poetry library and literary center at the southern tip of Manhattan. In a room with a view of the Statue of Liberty, chatting poetry with the woman who had contributed to unlocking my poetic freedom…well, the congruence of time and place was not lost on me.

    Undeniably, poetry and Myra made a wonderful match—once they discovered each other. Myra’s awareness that she is a poet didn’t come until she was in her mid-forties. Like another IWWG instructor, Susan Tiberghien, (whom Kelly DuMar recently interviewed), her chance at building a writer’s life materialized after her children left home and domestic demands lessoned. Once Myra realized she could be a writer, her life dramatically changed into “the life that fits.” When I asked if she could write in any genre and be wildly successful, what it would be, she replied, “Poetry. It just suits me. It’s not about the content. It’s the world it places me in.”

    Living A Writer’s Life

    As the author of two books of poetry, a memoir, and many pieces that have appeared in literary journals and anthologies such as The Best American Poetry (twice), it is clear that Myra has shaped a writer’s life that suits her needs. She uses her mornings to write new pieces or edit works in progress. (It is also why you won’t find her workshop in the first morning slot of our conference schedule!) I was surprised to learn she doesn’t experience writer’s block. She attributes this to being able to find the way to herself. Within her, and within all of us, she believes, is a whole world about which to write. “What turns you on? What makes you happy?” she asks anyone who is blocked. Whatever “plugs you into your source” is what will inspire your words to flow, she explains.

    Myra doesn’t have a concrete process in how she writes her poetry. If anything, her approach is “living like a poet.” Experiencing her life through this lens keeps her paying attention to the details that feed her writing.

    Another way Myra keeps her writing life strong is by surrounding herself with those who share her love for words. She is drawn to earthy people who have a sense of humor, a passion for poetry, and understand at heart “what fools we mortals be.” One such person was American author, poet, and translator Robert Bly, who edited her first book of poems, I’ll See You Thursday (Blue Sofa Press, 1996). The two bonded through their similar qualities, one of which was scrappiness. Myra recounted one example of the dynamic discussions she and Bly had over her poetry:

    “[Robert said:] ‘Why don’t you put in something about your child here?’ And I said, ‘I can’t do that….I cannot write anything that is scary that might happen because I wrote it.’ Well, he listened to that. And he talked about it later. He said, ‘Myra feels the power of words to the extent that she thinks if she writes it, it will become so. And so she wouldn’t let me talk her into writing that.’ I wouldn’t dare write anything that would put a person in jeopardy….And he understood. That was a wonderful thing because he could listen.”

    Listening is a skill enhanced by studying poetry, which Myra considers essential in this highly visual world. “Going back to poetry increases our ability to hear what’s going on. It slows us down. That’s so important to know what you’re tasting.” A lesson all writers could use, for inviting every one of our senses into our craft will inevitably result in richer writing.

    Listening is a key aspect in Myra’s workshops. For every Summer Conference session, she brings in a poem for the group to read together every day. “Poetry forces you to use the word you mean to use,” Myra explained. “Not just in meaning, but in sound.” Hearing those poems read out loud results in a greater understanding than only silently reading it on the page. By the end of the week, the class is reciting the poem by heart, which Myra believes is of great value. “A poem is embodied. When you memorize a poem, you’re taking in the breath of the poet.”

    [Note: Myra Shapiro’s workshop, Poems of Joy and Grief (and what’s in-between) at the 2015 Summer Conference, July 24-31 will be using the poem, “The Black Hen” by Robert Bly for the daily class reading.]

    The (Old) Age of Inspiration

    What inspires Myra’s poems these days? Old age. “Now, I’m obsessed by old age,” says Myra, who was never consciously concerned about getting older until recently.

    “I have a poem that starts, ‘My job is to live’ and that was always the case. What’s next, what’s next, what’s going on now, what’s next….So it surprises me…and it doesn’t surprise me because I’m getting old, so no wonder. If you can open your eyes at all, you’re going to realize one of these days you’re going to die. No kidding! But that’s how it feels. Surprise! No kidding! You mean Galway Kinnell died last October? If Galway Kinnell could die, I can die. I can’t believe it!”

    Myra writes about what is happening to her and what she experiences through all senses. So it is natural that she is bringing her awareness of and questions about growing (chronologically) older into her poetry. “Now, [old age] is real. And what is it about? And what do I think about it? And how does it feel to think about it? And what does it want of me? What am I supposed to do about it? That’s what’s coming into the poems.”

    One such poem—that placed in the top four in the 2014 River Styx International Poetry Contest—talks about how she’s living this time of older age with her husband, titled, “Put the Kettle On.” Myra explained:

    “It’s about putting the kettle on and asking my husband if he wants tea in the evening. He’s not a tea drinker and I never used to ask him but he’s begun to say yes,” Myra said with a laugh. “The second stanza starts with, ‘It’s an old marriage’ and [goes on about] how we’re beginning to merge. It starts with the tea….and  ends with, ‘...the new year. March/ is here, and we’re living it.’ ”

    Another of her poems that addresses her age is “In a Room at the Marriott Marquis” (June, Rattle #48). Myra wrote the poem about being in a room high up in NYC’s Marriott Marquis hotel looking down at the activity of Time Square: “To die/ in Times Square/ is a fact to contemplate/ since I am old and here/ on 44th Street in a vast hotel/ 40 floors above the earth." While Myra observed some people “sitting fixed like a star” in the square below, she had the thought, “stars never die.” In the finished poem, she declares instead, “There is no death. Wake up!”

    While humor is a common thread in her poetry, she also addresses the sadness of loss that accompanies older age. One example is “The Alteration of Love” (Rattle #43, Spring 2014 Tribute to Love Poems), which is accompanied by a recording of Myra reading the poem.

    A Legacy of a Well-Lived Life

    I asked Myra what impact she wanted her poems to have on readers, what legacy she hoped to leave behind:

    “That I lived,” she replied with no hesitation. “That I was lucky to live now, not my mother’s time…. it’s what I wrote in the beginning of Four Sublets, I owe this book to the Women’s Movement. That the Women’s Movement happened when I could take advantage of it. When the world could be different so I could be different and give myself the life that fits.”

    The women of Myra’s time—no matter how smart or energetic they were—couldn’t take for granted the opportunities and new life/career choices that became available. Women gained the vision to see their roles differently. Myra realizes how hard it is for younger generations to understand the importance and gains of the Women’s Movement, and the struggles women writers such as Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton had to face, their work deemed too personal and domestic (usually by male critics). “I feel very lucky to have lived at this time and I want my writing to convey that. To tell its story.”

    Myra has accomplished that goal. Even if I hadn’t the pleasure of knowing her face-to-face from my years at IWWG, I would still feel I knew her. Myra’s spirit is in her poetry.

    “It’s alright to be whatever kind of poet you are passionate about being, and for me….I call [myself] ‘A poet with a life.’ Whatever is happening in that life that I think is good to convey….whatever conveys a life that happens to be my life…. I don’t shy away from the personal and maybe I wish it could be even more honest than it is, but, you know, I’m not over with yet so maybe that’s what one tries for—to be better and better at what matters, to get stronger and stronger. What matters to me may not matter to the next person, but you count on it mattering to enough people that it matters.”

    Isn’t that what we all strive for as writers? That our words mean something? That others connect to us? That we matter?  

    This is why IWWG is home for me, Myra, and the many others who make up our community of women who write. It’s not just about the quality of our instructors and workshops. It’s about the connection among women where everyone’s voice matters. Women who value words, value your words. Women who are experienced in their writing, believe in your ability. Women who have lived, recognize you have lived and have something to say.

    We all have something to say. The risk of honest, intimate writing is that people will know who you are. This can also be the greatest reward. To write is to be brave. So write on. And, as Myra Shapiro shows us, seek out the poetry in life.

    [For more about Myra’s latest book, 12 Floors Above the Earth (Antrim House, 2012), including samples of her poetry, visit]

    About the author

    Kristin Rath, originally from Florida, has loved living in New York City for 15 years. She has a background in Communications, East Asian Studies, and Japanese language. 

    In addition to her work with IWWG as Director of Operations, she is a freelance consultant and holistic health and wellness writer for online websites, including her own site Words Are Food. Kristin is well into writing her first novel, and is also working on a memoir that she was inspired to start during her first IWWG conference. Following Myra’s workshop at the 2014 Summer Conference, Kristin wrote a poem that was published by an online magazine, The Voices Project.


  • Thursday, April 16, 2015 9:29 PM | IWWG (Administrator)

    Article by Kelly DuMar, IWWG instructor

    Susan Tiberghien, internationally successful writer, teacher and IWWG luminary, is celebrating the simultaneous publication of two non-fiction books about love this April.  Footsteps: In Love with A Frenchman, shares her personal story of falling in love with her husband of fifty-seven years, Pierre, while Side by Side: Writing Your Love Story shows us how writing our own love story can show us the secret to a lasting and satisfying relationship.

    As Susan enters her eighties, and her fourth decade of being a writer, she seems to be speeding up her output, rather than slowing down. And her age-defying energy, enthusiastic risk-taking and receptivity to change are leading her confidently into new and rapidly evolving publishing models.

    Despite her previous success with more traditional publishing routes, Susan is helping launch a new publishing imprint, Red Lotus Studio Press, founded by Melissa Rosati, based in New York City. They met initially in the IWWG and then Susan asked Melissa to present on a publishing and marketing panel at one of the Geneva Writer’s Conferences (which Susan founded in Switzerland with a group of other ex-pat writers). “To have someone so passionately interested in bringing out my books is a dream for me,” Susan says.

    And dream is not a word she uses lightly.

    The significance of dreams illuminates the spiritual core of Susan’s process of becoming a writer. Originally invited to attend the IWWG summer conference at Skidmore in1990 by founder Hannelore Hahn, this was, as Susan describes it, “A life-changing experience, and I haven’t missed one conference since. . . which is amazing because I still had kids at home, and it wasn’t exactly right next door.” Indeed, home was abroad, in Geneva, Switzerland, where she was raising six kids in a foreign language – French. “IWWG built a bridge for me between my homes in Switzerland and U.S.,” she says.

    As it turned out, the vitality and camaraderie of IWWG attendees gathering in the inspirational setting of the Skidmore campus, was the ideal setting for dreaming the dream that would launch her career as a published author. In the middle of the night, Susan found herself dreaming the chapters and title of what became her first published book at age sixty, Looking for Gold: A Year in Jungian Analysis. She had been enthusiastically telling her friends about her analysis - how life enriching it was, having finished one year, and how analysis was taking her writing to a deeper level. This “soul work,” she says, opened the door to decades of writing, publishing and teaching workshops after raising her children.

    After interviewing Susan, it occurs to me how fascinating it would be for an IWWG faculty member to propose a course for next year’s conference: How I met Susan Tiberghien and Her Influence on Me as a Woman - Writing. Undoubtedly, the class would be oversubscribed. Because, whether you’re a long-time member or a newer one, it’s highly likely you’ve met Susan, been mentored by Susan, or had your writing encouragingly critiqued by Susan. You’ve read at least one, if not all of her four non-fiction books. You’ve probably attended the workshop she originated in 1991, Writing the Personal Essay, which she has been teaching every summer since.

    Susan has guided many of us, literally and figuratively, to find an exceptional community of women writers and literary friendships we’ve been seeking, consciously or unconsciously, to take our writing and personal development to a new level.

    My own experience of being inspired to join the faculty of IWWG, was the direct result of a literal, and figurative, tap on my shoulder by a stranger in a crowded book market during Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace in Boston. Hundreds of books and noisy writers swarmed the tables I browsed. Instinctively, I picked up a title that seized my attention - Looking for Gold: A Year in Jungian Analysis. I was a writer, a mother home full time raising children, who also happened to be seeing a Jungian analyst at the time. A moment later, I felt the tap on my shoulder – the smiling author greeting me, in the flesh, introducing herself. I eagerly accepted Susan’s, and IWWG’s, contact information. Magic? You might call it that. Jung would call it synchronicity, which he said is:

    “The coming together of inner and outer events in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect and that is meaningful to the observer.”

    In Looking for Gold, Susan calls synchronicity, “A common chord that vibrates.” For women writers in IWWG, Susan is the common chord who vibrates for us.

    Indeed, Susan’s course, Writing the Personal Essay, endures so successfully because, for aspiring women writers, experiencing her as a role model is a eureka moment - the sudden, unexpected realization that Susan, starting from scratch at age fifty, solved the problem of learning to be a writer, seeing herself as a writer, and living a satisfying and authentic life as a published author. After having devoted thirty years to marriage and raising six children in a foreign country, her workshop students can’t help but admire her courage to adapt; her willingness to take risks to build the support circle she needed to develop as a writer. She models the necessity of vulnerability, asking for help, being open to growth and change. Above all, the tenacity to mine the gold in her dreams.

    Students and readers of her books identify with her candid struggle to believe in herself as a writer. In Looking for Gold, she recounts this dialogue with her analyst, which demonstrates the daunting – and familiar to many of us - process of changing role identities - defining and stepping into a new role:

    “Am I a wife and a mother and a writer?” 

    “Yes,” he answered.

    “Or a woman writer?”

    “Also,” he said.

    “Or could I be just a writer?”

    “Why not?” . . . .

    Like many IWWG members who long to write and be published after playing other-focused, dominant roles, it wasn’t until age fifty that Susan challenged herself, in a trip from French speaking Geneva to New York City, to participate in her first writing workshop at Hofstra. There she discovered that writing for the first time in years in her native language, English, her stories poured out. Her struggle to see herself as a writer, of course, didn’t end there. I fact, it was just beginning. She needed to make a leap out of her habitual comfort zones, acquired during years of domesticity. In Looking for Gold, she recounts her insight about her need to regain her psychic independence:

    “I thought back to when I was a child, often I went off on my own, into the fields, the woods, alone, liking the feeling of danger. I’d stay home alone and explore the house in the dark. I went off to school alone, choosing to leave home at thirteen years old. I went to college alone, and to Europe alone.

    “I went to Grenoble and met Pierre. I fell in love, for the first time fully in love, with someone not speaking my language, someone as different from the blond, crew-cut brazen American boys, as night from day. 

    “Then I had children. I was a mother. I was no longer my free self. I stopped doing things alone. I stopped stepping into the darkness. . .”

    Leading the Geneva Writer’s Group

    So, at fifty, she joined, in Geneva, a writer’s group – which she soon led for ten years. She began sending out short stories and getting them published in the London Financial Times, then republished most of them as personal essays in the Christian Science Monitor. This gave her a lot of experience that she could share in her teaching and a backlog of stories to develop as a book, (which became her third book, Footsteps). Soon, so may others wanted to join her writer’s group there was no room, so she started the Geneva Writer’s Group with seventeen friends, in 1993, which has since grown to two hundred and thirty members.

    Her Second, Third and Fourth Published Books

    After the publication of Looking for Gold, by Einsiedeln, a Jungian publisher near Zurich, Susan hoped that by teaching writing in Jungian Society workshops she could encourage people to write their stories. But she discovered they first had to go within and deepen what they wanted to say, which led to her decision about writing about prayer – her second book, Circling to the Center, published by Paulist Press.

    Susan decided to publish her third book, Footsteps, a collection of the personal stories previously published in the London Times & Christian Science Monitor, herself with Ex Libris, selling them at workshops and using stories from them as examples in her workshop.  She ordered 1,000. They have all been sold, and she could have sold more.

    One Year to a Writing Life, her fourth book, was sold through her New York City agent, Susan Schulman, whom she met at in 1998 at the Geneva Writers Conference. Schulman asked her if she had a book about writing after she saw her teaching and leading a conference. She did, and it sold very quickly, in 2007, to Marlowe & Company, U.S. It has sold over 20,000 copies.

    Her Fifth and Sixth Books Published with Red Lotus Studio Press

    Now, in 2015, Susan is excited about Melissa Rosati’s publishing venture, and her decision to move from a traditional publishing paradigm into indie publishing. “It has just been a delight and a learning experience to work with her,” she says about bringing out her new books with Melissa.

    Footsteps: In Love with A Frenchman, is about her first thirty years of marriage in Europe (now fifty seven years) and the hardships of living in another culture and changing countries every two years for the first ten years; learning to love this person, Pierre, with opposite ideas about raising children. “The book starts,” she says, “with a kiss in Bellagio – one of those moments that if we’re fortunate enough to live it, it illuminates your life.”

    Side by Side, Writing Your Love Story is a writing book focused on how writing about the highlights of your love story becomes a tool for happiness in a long-lasting relationship. “When you make writing a habit,” Susan writes, “you change your life story.” She teaches readers how to transform their personal story as a couple into a marriage memoir, a kind love letter written in answer to the question: what is your secret of lasting love? 

    Susan’s Enthusiasm About Indie Publishing

    Susan appreciates many aspects that independent publishing with Melissa offers. Her books will be in electronic & trade (paper) formats, using Create Space to produce them for digital and print. Melissa has an entire publishing team working for her, including a designer, an editor, a computer person and graphic designer. Copies will be distributed through Amazon, and her books will be readily available for sale in her workshops and readings.

    But what matters most to Susan that’s different from previous publishing experiences is their communication and collaboration. “Being in touch regularly; being able to bounce our ideas off each other; enthusiasm and complete trust. . . [Melissa’s] taking a risk also, perhaps. We’re taking a risk together; which is interesting at my age.”

    Why She Recommends Melissa Rosati’s IWWG Spring Big Apple Workshop

    In addition to presenting a daylong workshop in April at the IWWG Big Apple conference in NYC, Susan is delighted that Melissa Rosati will also be presenting an excellent workshop on Sunday. Because, as a resource in publishing and marketing, Melissa, “meets people where they are; she’s not overpowering. And she loves her work, like I do; she’s passionate about it.”

    Susan’s Words of Wisdom From Decades of Writing, Publishing and Teaching Writing

    • ·      “We have to sit down and write; it’s not easy. . . It’s practice that involves circling to the center, going within.”
    • ·      “A writer has to discover who she is, and this takes time.”
    • ·      “I feel very fortunate. It took me a long time to say I was a writer.”
    • ·      “It took me so long because I glorified what a writer was. And then I learned we’re all writers and it became less frightening, and I became more encouraging. And I don’t separate myself from the people who come to my workshops. I’m always learning. I love to go to other people’s workshops.”
    • ·      “Writing has given meaning to my life, and that’s why I’m so passionate about sharing it.”

    Another Tap on the Shoulder

    In anticipation of her pub date in April, Susan asked me a few weeks ago if I would be interested in interviewing her about the publishing process of her new books. It was a figurative tap on the shoulder this time. Of course, I immediately agreed. And, once again, struck gold. Particularly because Susan ended our interview by announcing, “I still have another book I want to write,” And, as a writer and writing workshop facilitator, and a woman in her fifties, whose youngest is preparing to leave home for college, Susan embodies a powerful, hopeful vision for my future - supporting my dream of decades of my own writing and publishing and teaching still to come.  

    About Kelly DuMar: Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and workshop facilitator from the Boston area who joined the faculty of the IWWG Summer Conference three years ago. Kelly is honored to serve as a member of the IWWG Advisory Circle, and she’s looking forward to teaching a workshop on Memoir as Monologue at the 2015 IWWG Summer Conference. You can reach her at

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