Conference Communiques

Lots of great writing advice to share, following the 2019 Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference I attended in Phoenix at the end of February. The first workshop I went to was “Writing for Change” with Yvette Johnson. According to her bio statement, Johnson is a writer, filmmaker, speaker, and the Executive Director of the Booker Writer Project. Since I’ve always been interested in writing memoir or personal essays, and in making a documentary, I was really looking forward to hearing her speak on this topic. I wasn’t disappointed!

Some takeaway messages

The personal:

  • Writing about controversial topics requires studying others without judgement. This means putting forth your best effort to really hear what they are trying to say and to recognize what they are feeling-even if it is poles apart from what you believe. Try to put yourself in the shoes of those you may find hardest to deal with. Understand that there aren’t as many monsters out there as we think.
  • Consider how you yourself may have changed or modified some of your views over the years. Try to recall what, or who, helped you be more open to various interpretations and opinions.
  • Neutral questions to ask can include “Tell me where you heard that.”, “What does that mean?”, and “What can we do about it?”
  • Remember-any true societal change requires all types of rhetoric, not just the prevailing point-of-view.
  • Maybe you can’t change the world, but you also can’t not try to!

The writing process:

  • Don’t settle for less than your best writing. Revise until you get it right!
  • Use either a narrator, or a character who may be more like your readers, as a bridge between different types of people and their messages.
  • If you feel compelled to tell a story about a group that’s not yours, go for it! Just make sure you do any necessary research first.
  • Model for the reader both the behaviors you want to see in the world, and also what it means to forgive.

Johnson’s memoir, The Song and the Silence: A Story about Family, Race, and What Was Revealed in a Small Town in the Mississippi Delta While Searching for Booker Wright, is next up in my book queue. I’ll let you know how I like it!

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