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Duncan, E. (2006). Lost Voices/Found Words: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on a Writing Workshop. Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Stud., 3(3):256-276.

(2006). International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 3(3):256-276

Lost Voices/Found Words: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on a Writing Workshop Related Papers

Erika Duncan

In this article I would like to describe a growing organization that addresses women's needs — women who have not had a voice and who are struggling to find words to express their life stories. I want to speak about parallels to the psychoanalytic process I discovered when I founded Herstory Writers' Workshop, a grassroots memoir writing group for women living on Long Island, in March of 1996. It was a time when the reading public was hungry for stories of trauma and triumph, told by those whose lives often remained anonymous and unsung. I had offered to give a free week of workshops open to any woman who ever dreamed of writing a book, never imagining that 10 years later we would have 14 branches on Long Island, including three weekly workshops in the Suffolk County prisons.

Until that March morning when I opened the doors of the Village of Southampton Cultural Center, where I would be holding my first free workshop, I had felt that especially when stories were intimate or painful it was absolutely necessary to have a consistent audience and a certain amount of privacy, which workshop members could count on, as they were opening themselves up on the page. I hadn't realized how my thinking would change in a setting in which there was nothing to prevent a new stranger from walking in just as a participant was in the middle of crafting an intimate revelation.

By the time I had second thoughts about whether such a public format would work for material so private, it was too late to turn back. To make the best of what I assumed was a bad situation, I found myself helping each speaker to playact how she would most want to be heard by the “stranger/reader” walking in on her life on whatever “page one moment” she would choose. What I didn't take into account when I first devised this exercise was the profound effect that asking the stranger to care would have on victims of severe trauma, who had not yet developed much caring for themselves.

Among the first women attracted to our project were victims of incest, family violence and poverty, and children of war.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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