Getting ready to write with survivors



I’ve been reading like a madwoman and researching poetry, writing to heal and memoir in preparation to work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual exploitation. The workshops won’t begin until June 1 but I want to make sure that everything I bring into the workshops serves to heal and to allow these survivors to tell their stories in healthy ways.

I’m also looking for short pieces of writing — poetry and prose — that will introduce these writers to survival stories. The more I read, the more I understand that no two people are going to respond the same way to the stories of others. But we can all use our responses to create our own testimony to hope.





I’ve written before about an amazing book called Storycatchers. It has made me keenly aware that it is a sacred moment when we capture someone else’s story.

Here are three more books that I’m finding most helpful in guiding the creation of these ten workshops.








I’ve been thinking a lot about what writing to heal does for us even if we choose not to share our stories. I think we’ve all packed away a few of our own stories of trauma and tragedy. So we’re all survivors. Writing our stories is a lot like going into a dusty attic and pulling out the boxes from all the corners. We don’t always recall everything inside those boxes, only that we set them aside because we weren’t sure what to do with the contents. As we write, we pull out tattered memories. We can either look at them and then hide them away again where they’ll probably continue to take up space. Or we can turn those memories over and study the texture and feel — the seams and fabric of the memory. In doing this, we might also recall why we boxed those memories up and put them aside. Only now we have the opportunity to see that we have little or no use for some of the memories. Or we can see that we can use the memory to see that we’ve changed our lives, or we’ve grown so that the memory no longer wears on us. Or we see that we can still change our own lives and let the memory guide us but never let it own us. I’m not sure this metaphor makes complete sense yet. It’s taking shape. But I am sure this is what I’ll encourage over the weeks I work with this group.






Here’s to changing community perceptions of sexual exploitation and domestic violence

People who know me are aware that I’ve been working on research for a book addressed to teens that focuses on trafficking, sexual exploitation and the domestic violence issues that come with the territory. My goal is to educate my young adult audiences so that they can protect themselves and to encourage their advocacy and activism.

You might not be aware that I’m also involved with a program at Mount Mary, the college where I teach, that focuses on helping survivors use writing as testimony to change law and cultural perspectives about sexual exploitation and domestic violence.


untold stories




Untold Stories was begun by the college’s criminal justice chair, Rachel Monaco-Wilcox, and it has grown to partner with the Illinois-based Voices and Faces project.  The Untold Stories series which has been running for about a year has included lectures on how the arts can heal, a two day writing workshop which led to the development of smaller writing groups focused on healing throughout the campus and beyond and yesterday’s luncheon, lecture and panel discussion about efforts to change laws and awareness in Wisconsin.

Yesterday, I volunteered at the luncheon. The lecture and panel discussion brought information about relief and legal efforts to community members and to members of community organizations. For instance, did you know that the FBI is working to get teens involved in soliciting off the streets and to treat them as victims rather than criminals? They are.

But there was so much more to hear and see at this event. We displayed some of the survivor writing from workshops coupled with illustrations by Mount Mary’s graphic design students and by Wauwatosa East art students. The writing was also projected on a screen and set to music. If I can get permission I’ll post some of this because it was so incredibly powerful to see and to experience. A Tosa East teacher, Elaina Meier,  worked unbelievably hard to make this collaboration between the ages happen and I couldn’t help wonder if bringing survivor poetry to her students helped her students understand the scope of acceptance of violence in our communities. Did it encourage them to rethink their own responses? I hope so. Untold Stories, I realized has wings that reach out and educate.

As people came in for the Untold Stories event, they tended to wander from one essay or poem coupled with art to the next. There was a constant murmur as people took in the meanings, the layers, the honesty of each survivor’s story. People were engaged and energized in a way that will carry them into their communities to raise their voices against violence and exploitation. Wow!

In that spirit today, I posted on facebook asking people to petition the New York Police Department to stop doing warrant and background checks on victims who call in Domestic Violence reports. This is what I wrote when I called on people to respond to the petition:

Dear Friends,   Most of us know all too well, especially after this violent year in Wisconsin where an estranged husband gunned down his wife and clients in a local hair salon and spa, that victims of domestic violence risk their lives in th…e process of trying to leave violent marriages. Please consider the following situation in which the NYPD runs warrant and background checks on victims who call them in these situations. Let’s help make it easier, not harder, to take that first step to get out of a violent situation. Because I believe we need to help victims get out quickly, I just signed the petition “NYPD: Stop running warrant and background checks on victims of domestic violence” on It’s important. Will you sign it too? Here’s the link: