"To be a person is to have a story to tell."
So said Isak Dinesen, pen name for the Danish writer Baroness Karen von Blixen. Dinesen gave us the deeply honest story of her life in Kenya during the last decades of the British Empire. You may remember Meryl Streep's portrayal of Dinesen in Out of Africa.
As someone who has spent a career teaching people how to write memoir, I'm convinced that like Dinesen we each feel compelled to share our stories. It's how we connect, how we learn. Civilizations have been built because we heeded the lessons learned from stories.
Later this month I'll be on the faculty of the International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG)'s 34th annual summer conference beginning June 24 on the campus of Yale University. The Guild's goal is, "personal and professional empowerment of women through writing," and it draws women from all over the world to this week-long conference.
More than 40 workshops are offered each day: memoir, fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, publishing, along with manuscript critique sessions and workshops on creativity and personal transformation -- all taught by some of the finest writers, teachers, publishing professionals and transformation experts working today.
This Yale conference really is mecca for women writers, the best thing you could do for your writing life this summer. Hannelore Hahn founded the IWWG almost 40 years ago and during that time, she, along with her daughter Elizabeth Julia Stoumen -- and a league of gifted women -- have crafted a presence unique in the pantheon of writing organizations. Where else can you study the intricacies of writing craft and doll making all in one day? Or the legal pitfalls of publishing and soul collage?
At root, what sets the Guild apart is its focus on holistic thinking. The Guild recognizes interconnections between people, events and emotions, as well as conventional logic.
The Yale conference helps women who might not even consider themselves writers find a way to tell their stories. Personal storytelling, preserving these moments, leads to personal transformation, so not only do the workshops at the Guild's summer conference teach the fine points of craft, they give women the chance to enjoy the company of kindred spirits and to claim the daily practice of writing as a means for personal growth.
After years of teaching the art and craft of writing personal stories, what I know is that when people write memoir they change their lives. Few things are as powerful for transformation as discovering you're the hero of your own story.
Here are just a few of the teachers at the Yale IWWG summer conference, June 24-July 1: