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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Herstory Writers Workshop Brings Healing For Women

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The idea of one woman has changed the lives of countless others over the past fourteen years and has taught them how to heal.

The Charles B. Wang center was host to a celebration gala event for the fourteenth anniversary of the Herstory Writers Workshop on Sunday, Oct. 17.

Herstory is a nonprofit organization that offers classes and workshops for women in the community, as well as women in  prisons and correctional facilities. The group teaches women about the empowerment and healing that can be found through guided memoir writing. The event, in the Wang Center, was held to honor Ann Marie Thigpen for her dedication to expanding and growing the program, as well as a “celebration of the Herstory community and the writers themselves,” said Sylvia Clark, Herstory executive director.

The event began with speeches welcoming the audience which was comprised of women who have participated in the program and Herstory partnership organizations. Clark explained the purpose of this event was to “potentially expand beyond Long Island,” and following the speeches was a workshop simulation to show the recent partnership organizations and potential partnerships that  Herstory does.

Gathered around the front of the room in a semi-circle was a group of women who have participated in the program. With the founder of the program, Erika Duncan, the group simulated the “Page One Moment.” Each woman took a turn talking to the audience. They gave examples of what their “page one” would be. The purpose of the “page one moment” is to be in the “here,” or the now of a situation, one which had some significance in the woman’s life. By writing about that moment, the idea is that it will offer some form of healing for that woman.

Herstory is “therapeutic, not therapy,” said Venus Downing, a recovering addict on disability who has been a part of the program for about one year.

“[The program] helped me free myself, feel more honest and gave me a higher sense of self-esteem,” Downing said. She is proof that the program has an impact on the lives of the women that participate in it. “I thought I could only do things well while on cocaine,” Downing continued. “I’m seven years clean and this class taught me how to write again without having to take a substance.”

Following the workshop simulation were readings of stories that were written by five previously selected women. Each story was the completion of the “Page One Moment” demonstrated earlier in the event. Some of the stories were read in English, while others were read in Spanish. After each woman finished, she received a standing ovation. By reading stories out loud, Herstory was able to demonstrate to its partnership organizations what it has accomplished through its classes.

Doris Hawthorne, an administrator of the Nassau County Youth Board, recently began partnering with the program. She described the program as a “wow moment.”

“For women to express themselves in the way I’ve heard these women express themselves is beautiful,” Hawthorne said.

She said she views the program as a vehicle for young people with challenges to be given a chance to express themselves. She said she plans on setting up a workshop soon.

According to Clark, there are four facets of the program that make Herstory what it is. “One, we are a literary art organization,” Clark said. “Two, we educate women. We are teaching expression. Three, we are about community, connecting people and the group process. And four, we give women a sense of empowerment.”

Clark also makes a point of saying that “we are not social workers.” The program was designed to be a catalyst for women to begin to heal.

Hawthorne said the event was a success in demonstrating the goal of the Herstory Writers Workshop.

“We can struggle and triumph and still overcome,” Hawthorne said. “That is the human experience.”

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