Both before and throughout this crazy pandemic, I’ve been able to experience Moira Silva’s memoir writing workshops. I originally joined because while I have written nonfiction my entire professional life, I didn’t have a clue how to capture personal moments in any satisfying way … until I delved into her classes.
I’m in my fifth workshop right now, and as always, Silva sets a rich, warm, supportive, and creative tone. Some folks come because they’re working on a memoir for their children, or thinking about getting something published, or like myself, just to explore the genre.
Each of her Memoir Writing 101 classes has a similar structure, but no two are ever exactly alike. They flow with a blend of exercises, readings, and discussions that connect us to our writing and to ourselves in a deeper way; sharing what I wrote with the group, as well as listening to others, is an intimate experience.
One of my favorite parts of every class is the 10-minute “quick write” in response to a prompt. Silva reads from a published work, and we then jump off that theme and see where it takes us. Inspired by thoughts from what she just read, my writing tends to flow, and I’m always surprised by what comes out. You don’t have to share your work, but Silva has set superb boundaries to create a safe space to do so. While listening to someone read, we are encouraged to jot down sentences or phrases that strike us and then share this with the writer. It’s amazing to hear what others pick up on. Silva also adds her own supportive comments, which, by their positive nature, make me want to return to the work to see where I might go with it. There is also an opportunity to share each week’s homework assignment in a similar manner. There is a sacred nature in honoring whatever is created, and my fellow writers amaze me when their work takes the form of songs, poems, or the like.
“I am always on the lookout for fresh ideas and ways to reach students,” Silva says about her teaching. “I am proud to say that I invest myself in my students and try to meet them where they are, always encouraging and stretching them. My writing feedback is highly personalized, enabling writers to make individual gains.” She also encourages the group to share our work, with suggestions on places to submit it. I even took such a venture, and got a piece published in a zine last winter.
We also spend time talking about how to nurture our writing rituals, sharing ideas that inspire one another, and recognizing the importance of keeping the process going once the course is complete. One of my groups from last year was so inspired that they have continued to meet on their own.
Silva comes with an extensive professional background, having taught full-time at the middle and high school level. She is currently working with elementary school students at the Martha’s Vineyard Charter School on writing electives such as nature journaling, as well as offering adult creative nonfiction courses at local adult education centers, art studios, libraries, and retreat centers — all in addition to homeschooling her own children.
With more than 20 years of teaching experience, Silva says, “I think it’s really fun when you can show a new world or a new way of seeing something. Whenever I teach, I learn so much from it. This kind of teaching really feeds me.”
Silva is plunging into the fall and winter in a big way, and there’s plenty to choose from. If you’re interested in whetting your appetite, there is a free one-hour workshop, Craft and Conversation, on Wednesday, Oct. 6, from 7 to 8 pm. It’s perfect whether you’re jumping back into writing or trying to push new boundaries. During the session, you’ll respond to a prompt, get feedback, and glean insights — and leave excited about taking the next step. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom link.)
Her next Memoir 101 workshop will run on Tuesdays, Dec. 7, 14, and 21, 11 am to 12:30 pm, through the Chilmark library; email email@example.com to sign up and get the Zoom invite.
Silva is also piggybacking on a COVID-inspired endeavor she began in 2020, co-producing “Covid Monologues MV: A Project to Nourish, Inspire and Connect” that included immigrants, children, restaurant servers, grandmas, and awardwinning novelists. Now she is offering a six-week course called Writing Your Way Out of the Pandemic through ACE MV (see bit.ly/3icX422). Silva describes it as a time to process the collective trauma in a healthy, productive way. Whether your take on this past year and a half is bitter, inspirational, dark, or laugh-out-loud funny … or all of the above, she says, you have a story to tell.
“People are invited to tell a story that matters to them,” Silva says. “It’s not necessarily about me having the answers from all these books that I’ve read, but it’s about helping people slow down and realize that the stories they have are right inside them.”
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.