Monday, January 20, 2020

Trauma-Informed Writing: Why Writing through Grief and Other Trauma Matters

Watercolor, Reilly, 2017.


I open a recent issue of JAAL and the first article, "Humanizing the Practice of Witnessing Trauma Narratives," by Rossina Zamora Liu has me thinking about the partial stories I heard by Board of Education members a previous night. Several were recounting  time spent with young girls in high school who have experienced trauma.  There were large spaces in the retold stories; partial expressions of what remains unknown, unspoken. How to get told the stories that must be told is a salient question.

Liu (2019) who founded and facilitated the Community Stories Writing Workshop (CSWW), at a local shelter house explains that through personalized correspondence, she helps "writers negotiate the layers of vulnerabilities that come with revisiting painful memories." (p. 347).  She says she does so with the "hope to illuminate the importance of recognizing writers’ emotional labor as a humanizing practice of witnessing (Paris & Winn, 2014) trauma narratives and how we, as writing teachers, might reposition ourselves from that of presumed authorities on writing to that of “worthy witnessing” (Winn & Ubiles, 2011, p. 296) of writers’ drafts—if they grant us admission" (p. 347). Each week homeless adults gather for 90-minutes at the center to write.

Reading the article,  thinking about the recent conversations, as well as the thousands of pages I wrote in the months leading to my husband's death and the years that have followed, I wonder how we might leverage writing workshop for trauma-informed work.


Stories have always mattered. Telling stories in the months after Rob died surely kept me grounded as it afforded me a process to work through the terror and then the sadness of grief.  Liu succinctly states, "Writing helps us uncover our past, labor with it, and move toward other possibilities" (p. 347). For  me it was part word, part image that helped. Creating helped me to make sense of what was largely inexplicable.

How might we afford the gift of expression to young girls at high schools? What might that process look and sound like?  


  1. A beautiful and healthy step. This past year I created small intention cards every Tuesday morning. The original intent was to consciously put into life what I wanted to be there. Without much planning, the very first card I created was "Live. Create. Tell the story. Repeat." I found sometimes that creating small pieces of art helped me make small fragments of inspiration. Later, I was able to go back to my cards and easily see the threads to begin fleshing out more thought to journal later. Both the cards and the writing have allowed expression of thoughts I do not believe I would have unlocked other ways.


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