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Looking Back, Moving Forward

Writing about Grief, Loss & Trauma

Looking Back, Moving Forward


Robert Frost wrote, “no tears for the writer, no tears for the reader,” but how do we create effective stories from emotionally difficult material?

Writing well about loss requires more than capturing slippery memory on the page: the act of ‘looking back’ must create forward motion on the page.

In the first half of this day-long workshop, we will examine elements of renowned trauma memoirs and undertake writing exercises that will help us examine how conflict and joy are put to work in powerful narrative.

Our afternoon will be dedicated to facilitated, craft-focused discussion of our writing, with personalized responses to material written in class. Participants will explore strategies for writing about loss and trauma in pursuit of insight, wholeness, and connection to readers. We will end our day with a new understanding of the little-known continuation of Frost’s quote: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

Participants will:

  • GENERATE new material in response to workshop prompts;
  • EXPLORE the narrative balance of research, memory, and imagination;
  • DEVELOP confidence in your right to write your version of events;
  • RECEIVE reading recommendations applicable to your writing goals.

The workshop is open to writers of all levels.

* Additional written feedback from the instructor is available for an additional charge. 

Participants who choose to add a manuscript review (up to 1,500 words) will receive margin notes plus 400-500 words of written commentary from the instructor no later than 1 month after the workshop concludes. Or, so that you can revise your work-in-progress after the workshop, add the manuscript review now and submit your piece for review no later than April 29, 2018, and you'll receive personalized feedback from Jessica within one month.

Handler will give up to five manuscript reviews; these reviews are available for purchase on a first come, first served basis.

Saturday, March 31, 2018
10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Advance registration strongly recommended.
The workshop is limited to 20 students.

Location // 5119 Coral Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

The lower level of our workshop and gallery space is wheelchair accessible. Free on-street parking is available.

Doors open at 9 am, event begins at 10 am. Breakfast and coffee will be provided. The workshop schedule includes a mid-day break for lunch at area restaurants, but boxed lunches can be provided for a nominal fee (advanced notice required) and a kitchenette, with refrigerator and microwave, is available onsite for packed lunches or snacks.

Jessica Handler is the author of Invisible Sisters: A Memoir and Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss. Her nonfiction has appeared on NPR, in Tin House, Drunken Boat, The Bitter Southerner, Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and More Magazine. A founding member of the Decatur Writers Studio in Decatur, Georgia, she teaches creative writing and coordinates the Minor in Writing at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, and lectures internationally on writing well about trauma.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Woods for SuperLux.

Questions? Please call us at 412-404-2975 or email our events manager, Lauren Boehm, at boehm@creativenonfiction.org