Narratives of Self & Society: Writing Life Stories for Change with Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens

The TLA Network offers two self-paced classes: “Narratives of Self & Society: Writing Life Stories for Change” with Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens, and “Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Times with Poets Laureate” with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. Here is an engaging interview with Liz Burke-Cravens on her life-changing class, open for you to jump into right now. The class is set up for you to engage with at your own pace and on your own time.

What inspired you to teach this class?

My own experiences with autobiographical writing have been inspiring my own writing and my teaching for quite some time. When I was in the eighth grade, my English teacher – whom I absolutely adored – required students to write an autobiography. As I put the narrative together, writing the words in my vulnerable young voice, I felt something inside of me shift. Although I did not have the language to describe what had changed, I simply knew that I saw myself differently than I had before. There was something about the act of putting my feelings and thoughts into words, writing them down on paper, and telling the story of my own life experiences that has fascinated me ever since.As an undergraduate at UMass Amherst, I wrote my first autoethnography – although I did not call it that at the time; I called it a political autobiography. This autoethnography was a collection of poems I titled, “My Body Speaks” in which I gave voice to the stories and emotions living within my body as an act of reclamation and empowerment.

Writing that poetic autoethnography forever changed how I perceived myself and how I walked through the world.

How is writing life stories – drawing from practices of autoethnography specifically – a transformative experience? What makes the this medium different from other forms of expression?

These experiences inspired my doctoral research which explored autoethnography as a personally and socially transformative mode of inquiry and expression of life stories. I was also particularly interested in learning about the unique value of autoethnography as a platform for underrepresented voices.

The findings of my study corroborated my own transformative experience writing autoethnography. My findings also expanded my understanding of it as well. Through writing an autoethnography, participants in my study experienced:

  • Personal growth, which reflected their experiences of personal development that included increased self-awareness, self-acceptance, confidence building, different worldview, and educational process;
  • An emotional process, which reflected their experiences of a variety of emotional realities and processes including painful or difficult emotions, joyful or fun emotions, feelings of liberation, therapeutic or healing experiences, and feelings of vulnerability;
  • Social connectedness, which reflected their responses related to experiences of the self in relation to others that included social responsibility, increased sense of belonging or connection, and
  • Transpersonal experiences which reflected their descriptions of qualities beyond their control and contributed to his or her sense of wholeness and spiritual growth.

Overall, autoethnography facilitated personal growth, greater self-awareness, greater awareness of contexts and systems in which one participates, and provided a meaningful creative experience.

Who/What are some of your favorite life-story writers?

This is always a tough question. The first writers that come to mind are Joan Nestle whose work A Restricted Country was a life changer for me as a young activist. Carolyn Kay Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman: The Story of Two Lives was also pivotal for me, and anything and everything written by Dorothy Allison – Two or Three Things I Know for Sure and Bastard Out of Carolina, in particular, have been my favorites.

As far as poets who write about their lives, I think of Marie Howe, Toi Derricotte, Sharon Olds, Ada Limon, and Claudia Rankine come to mind.

What should students in this class expect?

Although this is a self-paced class, my intention was to be your guide, helping you navigate the content and the writing students will do. They will have the opportunity to do quite a bit of self-reflective writing, investigating the stories of their life experiences from a variety of different vantage points, exploring memories, learning from others on their journey, and describing places that are or have been meaningful to them.

I will also guide you through a 10-step process for creating powerful and evocative life stories for the purpose of personal and social transformation. They will learn about what that means in general as well as what it means for them in particular. They will also have the option to engage in a number of creative prompts intended to help generate more writing and to keep their creative self inspired.

Each unit consists of a brief podcast lecture by me, a few articles and book chapters for you to read, related video and audio content, writing project development instructions, and creative prompts.

Is there anything else about this class you would like to share?

One really important point I want to share is that there is no one “right” way to do autoethnography. In fact, we encounter this type of life-story writing all the time; we just don’t call it autoethnography. But drawing on certain aspects of more formal autoethnographic processes and considerations can greatly enrich our life stories, making them powerful narratives for change.

My hope is that folks will approach this course, the resources, lectures, and writing and creative prompts with a sense of curiosity and playfulness. Have fun with this and enjoy!

For more information and to sign up for class, visit https://www.tlanetwork.org/event-3173329 .

Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens is a poet, interdisciplinary educator, and writing coach. She is the founder of A Brave Space, a learning community that seeks to create positive social change and personal transformation through writing. Her work has appeared in Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History: A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia, Volume 2The Irish HeraldSoulstice: A Feminist Anthology Volume II, and Sandy River Review. Liz enjoys traveling, cycling, photography, and all things foodie. She has a deep love for language and a passion for teaching. Originally from Portland, Maine, she now lives in Oakland, California with her wife, Amber, and their two dogs, Schmoopie and Mr. Bits. You can learn more about her work, courses, and inspirations at http://www.abravespace.org.

 

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TLA Foundations Certification Graduates Tell Their Stories

Curated by Joanna Tebbs Young

The very first TLA Foundations Certification applicant was accepted into the program in September 2014. To date, fulfilling the requirements through a combination of classes, Power of Words conference attendance, publishing or assisting with the editing of Chrysalis, the TLA journal, or writing a series of blog posts, over two dozen students have earned their certificate. Here, six graduates, share their experience with the certification process and TLAN in general, and how they have taken TLA into the world. For information on the TLA Foundations Certification, please visit here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/certification

Wendy Thompson (graduated April 2016)

May2015

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was a creative writing teacher in the public schools for 10 years, a published poet, and was training to become a spiritual director when I discovered TLA.  l sought professional development that combined writing, healing, and spiritual transformation and found Sharon Bray’s class Writing as a Healing Ministry. She told me about Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and the Goddard TLA program. Transformative Language Arts called to me. I applied and was accepted at Goddard, quit my day job teaching, sold my house, and ventured out into new terrain. One term at Goddard was enough to realize that I did not want to pursue yet another degree; so I worked independently through Kathleen Adams’ Center for Journal Therapy and shadowed Poetry Therapists in the northwest. Finally, when I learned of the TLAF Certification program, I jumped at the chance, almost 10 years later, to fulfill a goal.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I began my term at Goddard with the Power of Words text and ten years later read it again, as if for the first time, in the TLA Foundations class.  As a poet who knows the positive impact of repetition and a dancer who values daily plies, I appreciated the recap. It was like getting a double rainbow of light on this journey – an arching timeline, one decade atop the other, illuminating a future rich with possibility. The last ten years of exploration, introspection, teaching, and facilitation all wove together in the Foundations class. The tapestry that is my TLA work in the world is, of course, unfinished, but the Foundations class strung the warp and weft for me.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

My greatest learning in this process is that the learning is never complete. A poem I wrote many years ago, “Jump,” reflects in the third stanza this cyclical nature of learning for me where endings are actually right-of-ways into another beginning:

…I dream of dreaming a dream of falling

lingering in the time between

the between spaces where thoughts turn inside out where behind my eyes is emptiness – clean and pure

where all my endings become an entrance

into another beginning – a deeper recess

leagues beyond knowing…

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

I think it was the 2007 POW Conference that held the “Poetic Justice” workshop; that workshop title has become a through-line for my TLA facilitation.  I designed a course called Civil Writes that was originally focused on LGBTQ concerns, but has expanded to address social justice issues in other communities.

I also recall a workshop on nature writing, Eco Expressions, that was a surprising inclusion for me. I hadn’t thought of nature writing as transformative or healing, which was a bit dense on my part. Most of my poetry is nature-based infused with metaphorical messages from the flora and fauna around me. I am grateful to Jan Daniels for correcting my myopic vision and providing tools for future facilitation.

I distinctly remember the presentation in 2007 by Nehassaiu deGannes, poet, playwright and actress, of her one-woman show, “Door of No Return.” Coming from a performing arts background, I was quite taken by her integrated approach and she inspired me to begin developing my own poetic voice through movement and vocal music.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

While completing my TLA Certification, I was working as a director of a community arts center that had a focus on arts for healing. I conducted several workshops including: Watercolor, Words & Release: Poems of Surrender, yOUTh ARTS (for LGBTQ youth), Mandala Poetry, and Labyrinth Peace Arts. Last year I wrote an English Language Arts curriculum called the Gay Gothic, which included TLA-style exploration of gothic literature by LGBTQ authors and poets.

Currently, I’m back teaching full time in an elementary school. I am not teaching writing, but I coordinated two Family Write Nights where adults and children had an opportunity to animate family stories with a simple stop-motion animation app. Storytelling has lost its place in families so frequently plugged in to separate devices. This workshop allowed grandparents to co-create a narrative with their grandchild using technology that might have previously alienated them from each other.

Next year I hope to conduct family write nights in conjunction with our school’s new outdoor learning center.  I also volunteer for Write Around Portland, which brings writing workshops to people in homeless shelters, AA groups, Boys & Girls Clubs, treatment centers, and low-income senior centers. I anticipate that I will also continue my work with LGBTQ youth.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

Absolutely, I would recommend this certification program (and have) as a quality, affordable alternative to higher education.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

I would recommend the Network – it has been helpful for me to meet like-minded folks doing much needed work in this world.

My first facilitation was with children of undocumented workers. Given today’s climate with regard to immigration, I feel this is a population that could use our services. I’ve also been surprised at each conference at how few people seemed to be working with LGBTQ communities. I met Jimmy Rose and his Queering Curriculum work at Pendle Hill, and maybe there are more I haven’t met since I haven’t been to a conference in several years.

Masha Harris (graduated October 2016)

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1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was considering a career change and was interested in teaching writing workshops. I decided to investigate degree programs, and saw Goddard College’s program in TLA. From there I learned about the Foundation’s certificate and thought that would be a good place to start.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I took a course on the business of creativity – it covered funding, promoting yourself, things like that. That was definitely the most useful, and it made me see that I could promote myself and do something with my art. The course I enjoyed most, however, was Memoir as Monologue with Kelly DuMar. We had an incredible group of people taking the course, and it was wonderful to see their growth throughout the six weeks. It also helped me in my own career: I created a memoir writing course to offer at my library.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I’m a librarian, and the biggest lesson I’ll take away from the TLA Foundations certification is that I can pursue TLA within my current profession, rather than making a career change. I was able to draw connections between my current work and the concepts I was learning in the TLA courses. I’ve thought about pursuing this further, maybe getting to the point where I could present at a conference about the connection between the two fields.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

At the end of “Memoir as Monologue,” we had a professional actor read our monologues while we listened over the phone. Hearing my own writing performed was incredible.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

As I said before, I’m interested in investigating ways to draw connections between TLA and librarianship. I would like to see people in both professions made aware of each other and the common goals and skills required. The major question now is, how do I get started?

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

I would. It’s a good way to get a feel for TLA and make connections.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Again, I think librarians, especially those in adult services, could benefit a lot from learning about TLA.

Eila Algood (graduated June 2017)

eila2

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was taking classes anyway and liked the structure of certification

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I don’t remember them all, but the Memoir as Monologue class was a stretch for me and I learned a lot.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

That classes help me to write more and write in new ways.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

I really liked the Amplify workshop I facilitated in my community; attendees loved it.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

I organize regular public readings at my local library where 6-8 local writers read their work. Certification was helpful because it encouraged that type of community work. The events are well attended and I believe gave me added confidence to continue with them.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

I would.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

Yes, to my writers’ groups and the Hawaii Writers Guild, which I am a board member of.

Tiffany Vakilian (graduated October 2017)

Tiffany Vakilian

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I believe in TLA. It has so many amazing facets, while still honoring the individual experience and expression of the world’s need for growth and change. TLA is more than just an intellectual experience. It’s dynamic in the ability to change both the mind and the marketplace of the individual’s world. Artistic output that can provoke a response in the local community, city, state, and even national level. Who says writing a song won’t change the world. Let us consider Francis Scott Key. He wrote a poem, set it to a bar song melody, and created our  national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Key’s experience of watching the flag from a boat, the morning after battle, caused art. That art unified our country. Even though the flag has changed since 1814, the TLA-ness of Key’s experience  is timeless.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

Each course brought its magic to the process. But I have to say, it’s a tie between Saturated Selfies and Leverage Your TLA Expertise: Selfies for the hands-on TLA way Angie Ebba taught it; and Leverage for the pragmatism of walking-out Transformative Language Arts as an individual. And, for the record, I didn’t find either course to be lacking in art or pragmatism.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned that TLA is a way of being in the world, almost more than a way to do things in the world. By pushing myself to find TLA in everything I do for my living, I’ve found my tribe in so many facets of life: grant writing, IT, marketing, collaborative art, etc. The best part is when it shows up from behind a corner I didn’t expect.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

Having multiple courses with Eila Algood gave rise to some awesome online conversations about her life, Hawaii, and the complications of breaking off the chains in the journey toward “freedom to be.”

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

I am a freelance editor and publishing analyst in San Diego. I walk-out my TLA whenever I get the opportunity, including writing articles about it as a guest blogger. But more than anything, I create my livelihood in a way that honors my nature. That is HUGE to me.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes. And have, on several occasions.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Because I work with authors and publishers, I feel I’m where I need to be to spread the word about TLA. Indie publishers is a great group of people to work with. I wish the Power of Words Conference would be held in San Diego one year. I think getting it over to the West Coast would grow the buzz.

Diane Glass (graduated January 2018)

dianeg

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

One of TLA’s excellent online courses introduced me to this organization. Once I experienced the interchange between the teacher and participants, I knew I had found my mentors, collaborators, and friends. It felt like coming home.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

The Foundations course enlarged my perspective about the diverse ways TLA practitioners use the written word, images, storytelling and other dramatic forms to create community, address social justice issues, facilitate spiritual growth and bring about healing. It also challenged me to think about the ethical dimensions of my work.

The class “Memoir as Monologue” opened my eyes to the potential of the spoken word to inspire audiences. That was a totally new venue for me to consider.

3.  What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned to place my own work as a spiritual director and teacher in a larger context. That work was no longer defined by a title or role. Yes, I served as a spiritual director and, yes, I offered workshops on storytelling as a transformational experience. But after studying TLA, I saw myself as mission driven—bringing about compassion and peace on an individual and societal level. Spiritual direction and storytelling became two of my tools, among others, for doing that. That was an important shift in perspective.

4. Is there are particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc., that stands out for you?

In “Memoir as Monologue,” Kelly DuMar arranged for an actress to perform our finished monologues. The power and insight that actress brought to the words I wrote amazed and intrigued me. “I want to do that,” I said to myself. “Write for performance by others and potentially myself.” I had a pretty fixed way of defining my skills up until then. This experience caused me to question that definition and to open up to new ways of expressing myself.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

Currently, I am capturing the stories of adults with spina bifida, publishing them as part of an ongoing series on my website, and facilitating performances of those stories for the benefit of others. When an adult with spina bifida recently told her story of believing she would never marry and have children, and then marrying and having children, a mother in the audience with a young girl with spina bifida spoke up. “Would you talk with my daughter? She believes no one will ever want her.” It was then that I knew I was a TLA practitioner. Through this performance, I saw the power of using words and images to connect people in ways that energize, educate, and create hope.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes, pursue this TLA certification! You will meet people who share your passion for bringing about peace, community, social justice, and healing using words and images. You will be amazed by the diverse, creative ways they do that. Hopefully, you will feel like you’ve come home to the friends, collaborators, mentors, and teachers you’ve been looking for. I do. I love this sense of belonging.

7.  Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people you believe would benefit?

I have recommended the TLA Network to my colleagues and friends in the field of spiritual direction and social ministry. For those spiritual directors called to group work, the TLA tools and practices can be useful ways to engage people in reflecting on their lives and finding commonalities with others.

I wonder too about nurses and other healthcare professionals open to storytelling as a way to understand their patients more deeply. Narrative medicine is gaining acceptance. Our organization could play a significant role in that field.

The Power of Connection at the Power of Words

We believe in making the Power of Words conference, our annual gathering, a time for building community, helping participants make meaningful connections with each other, and opening up the space for all voices to be heard.

To facilitate this, we’ve developed a variety pack of ways to meet and re-unite, listen and be heard, and discover and recover our insights and visions, including:

Talking Circles: Participants meet with the same small group each morning of the conference to share responses and questions, integrate discoveries and express themselves in a safe, confidential space. Many past participants say these small group meetings are a highlight of the conference for them.

Martin Swinger performing in Kansas City

Open Mics: Two open mic sessions of our Coffeehouse of Wonder allow you the opportunity to share poems, stories (excerpts), songs, dances or other expressions of the arts aloud with one of the best-listening and most attentive audiences anywhere around. This is a great place for the seasoned performer as well as the person ready to do his/her first reading.

Large Group Keynotes & Performances: Together, we experience magic and connection, witnessing astonishing stories, songs, talks, readings and more.

Rhiannon leading us in song on the beach in Maine

TLA Network Council Meetings: We invite you to join the open sessions of the TLA Network’s governing council, a non-hierarchical body that meets monthly by phone to help guide TLAN, and we invite you to consider joining us on the council or one of the committees.

Intimate Performances and Hands-on Workshops: Our conference offerings give you a chance to make, tell, write, or otherwise create something new as well as to engage with storytellers, spoken word artists, writers, and other performers in relaxed and intimate settings.

A talking circle taking a walk in Kansas City

Opening and Closing Sessions: Many conference-goers experience the opening and closing sessions as the highlights of the conference. In each session, we cultivate an atmosphere of community, connection, deep listening and powerful sharing. The opening sessions features several powerful performances, and the closing session allows us to speak as we feel so moved about what we’ve experienced and what we’re bringing home with us.

Here’s what some of our 2018 Power of Words participants had to say:

The Power of Words conference provides a home for artists, writers, and musicians who want to help create a peaceful world. I go to learn, I go to contribute, and I go to sustain hope. ~ Diane Glass, Iowa

Come and meet some seriously interesting and diverse people with a love of transformational politics, poetry, and language. I loved the whole experience! ~ Barbara Bloomfield, Director of Groups, Lapidus International, England

In the midst of the unpredictability of daily life, for a few precious days, I found myself surrounded by beauty, reminded yet again how art and woodcraft are not luxuries, to paraphrase Audre Lorde, but tools for survival. ~ Shomriel Sherman, Massachusetts

Joseph Galata and friends in Vermont

As an artist and philanthropist who participants in artistic/humanities conferences and festivals around the world, I’m very impressed with the diverse workshops and performances, supportive audiences, memorable keynote speakers, and magnificent staff. A genuine pleasure! – Joseph Galata, Nevada