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Webinar - Writing This Moment: From Thoughts of Despair to Words of Witness w/ Nana-Ama Danquah



WHAT: A webinar and six-week workshop led by acclaimed writer Nana-Ama Danquah.


WHEN: Webinar—Saturday August 1st 1-3PM PST. Workshop—6 weeks beginning Sunday August 2nd. (Detailed breakdown of workshop available below.)


WHERE: Webinar—ZOOM. Workshop—ZOOM plus WetInk, our online learning platform.


HOW MUCH: Webinar—$100. Workshop—$350. (Please note, to purchase a seat in both you will have to choose each enrollment category from the drop-down menu separately and press the Sign Up button, then check out. The webinar is not required for the workshop, but would complement it nicely!)


SCHOLARSHIPS: As always, scholarships are available. Apply for the webinar here, and the workshop here.


In the dark times, will there be singing?

Yes, there will be singing.

About the dark times.

--Bertolt Brecht


These are difficult days with an alarming array of critical issues: a global pandemic, the need for quarantine and social distancing, daily protests, racial injustice, police brutality, mass shootings, misogyny and sexual assaults, climate crisis, homelessness and income inequality, legalized discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, xenophobia, loss and death…so much death.


Despair is a normal adaptive response to circumstances that are catastrophic, traumatic, disillusioning.  This year alone we have seen and experienced some major atrocities. Many of us, despite our best efforts to remain positive and hold on to hope, are feeling some level of despair.


The feminist author Audre Lorde wrote: “Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.”  This workshop facilitated by Nana-Ama Danquah is based on that premise, on the belief that artists are truth-tellers, society’s conscience. In addition to imagining new worlds, we also see this world as it is and create works that can serve as a mirror for those who have lost sight of our reality, and of all our possibilities.


In this workshop we will translate our feelings, our thoughts of despair about what is happening in the world and in our lives right now, into words of witness.  We will document our dilemmas, whatever they may be—sleepless nights, the loss of a loved one or pet, unemployment or underemployment, racism, sexism, illness, isolation, fear of an uncertain future. We will craft those emotions and experiences into poetry, fiction, essay, memoir or hybrid forms as a testament to our perseverance and survival.


In his book, The Witness of Poetry, the Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz wrote: “What surrounds us, here and now, is not guaranteed.  It could just as well not exist—and so man constructs poetry out of the remnants found in ruins.”


So, let’s come together in this workshop—a community of writers, of humans, existing in turbulent times—and over the course of the six sessions, let’s search our lives for those remnants and use them to make literature.  Let’s write to assuage the pain, the rage, the feelings of helplessness. Let’s write to invite the process of healing.  And let’s write, also, to bear witness.

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language.  That is how civilizations heal.” —Toni Morrison


Nana-Ama Danquah is an author, editor, freelance journalist, ghostwriter, public speaker, actress, and teacher. She earned her MFA at Bennington College. Her groundbreaking memoir, Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression (W.W. Norton & Co.) was hailed by the Washington Post as “A vividly textured flower of a memoir, one of the finest to come along in years.” A native of Ghana, Nana-Ama is the editor of four anthologies: Becoming American: Personal Essays by First Generation Immigrant Women (Hyperion); Shaking the Tree: New Fiction and Memoir by Black Women (W.W. Norton & Co.); The Black Body (Seven Stories Press); and, Accra Noir (Akashic Press), which will be published this December.


As a ghostwriter, Nana-Ama has written numerous New York Times bestsellers for celebrities and other high-profile individuals. For four years, she worked as the International Speechwriter for the President of Ghana. In that capacity she wrote four U.N. General Assembly speeches, several State of the Nation addresses, and other speeches that were delivered at various conferences, meetings and panels.


She has taught at Otis College of Arts and Sciences, Antioch College’s MFA in Creative Writing program, the NYU in Ghana program, and at the University of Ghana’s School of Communication Studies as a Visiting Scholar, and in their Department of English as a Senior Lecturer. Additionally, she taught Creative Writing for the City of Manhattan Beach, California as a California Arts Council Artist-in-Residence, and Poetry to grades K-12 in the Los Angeles Unified School District as a California Poet-in-the-Schools.


6-WEEK WORKSHOP BEGINNING August 2nd

In addition to her two-hour webinar, a small, intimate 6-week workshop with Nana-Ama Danquah is available that will begin the following day, Sunday August 2nd. This workshop, limited to 20 people, will consist of six weekly lessons and assignments, and include a once-per-week Zoom session on Sundays with Nana-Ama. Writers will be expected to provide feedback each week for at least two other writers in the group. (Please note: The August 1 webinar is not required for the workshop, but would complement it nicely!)

  • Week One ::  Introduction :: We will discuss the act of witness—what it is and what is means to witness—and its resulting actions or inactions (e.g. fight or flight; bystander apathy). We will consider what Czeslaw Milosz described as “the dimensions accessible only to direct experience.”

  • Week Two :: Writing in the Now :: Many writers primarily document past experiences and are not familiar with writing events as they are occurring, revealing emotions that are still very much new, raw.  How does one craft literature in the now that can retain its urgency and relevance well beyond the moment?

  • Week Three :: The Personal/Body :: We are going to explore the body as a place of resistance and struggle, reconciliation and redemption.  We are going to learn to write from that place, and about all that it holds.

  • Week Four :: The Social/Friends and Community :: We will talk about our friends, social networks and community.  Where and how do they exist in relation to us in our role as witness?  Does that relationship inhibit, inform, or inspire the writing of our experience of “the now”? How is it shaping our relationship to ourselves, to our awareness of “the now”?

  • Week Five :: The Social/Family :: We will discuss the wonders and challenges of using the page to confront our families and our emotional inheritance we’ve gained from them, the things we have kept and the things we have—or would like to—release.  We will also discuss perspective and how to present opposing ideologies in one’s writing—e.g. with the pandemic, with politics, with protests, etc.—in a balanced, though not necessarily unbiased way.

  • Week Six :: The Political/Authority :: We’re going to explore the concept of freedom—our own—and the role of authority in our lives.  How do the two come together, be it in unison or in conflict, in our daily lives?  We will also explore that in the lives of others.  How do we go about writing these ideas and revelations in language that does not sound cliché and slogan-filled, or like stilted political lingo?

  • Week Seven :: Conclusion :: In our final Zoom session, we will share our work.  Nana-Ama will answer any remaining question or address any additional issues the class would like.

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