We are all made of stories. Stories about ourselves, our homes, our friends, our families, our dreams, our obsessions, our hopes, and our lives.
This month, alongside the brilliant Refugee Trauma Initiative, we delivered a creative writing workshop at Volvi refugee camp just outside of Thessaloniki in Greece. During the writing workshop, we encouraged participants to explore the many stories that make each of us who we are.
In the workshop, we began with face-to-face storytelling and sharing. We heard about people’s perilous journeys, about their favourite places and about the things they missed from home.
Later we worked on transforming the tales we shared into the written word.
We were hugely moved by the stories, the participants, and those working hard under difficult circumstances to improve people’s lives. And we came away understanding more about the journeys undertaken by refugees, the courage and creativity of those who seek new lives far from home, and the delights of the home-cooked Persian herb stew, ghormeh sabzi.
We’ve just come to the end of our six week course on Writing, Myth and Tradition. It’s been incredibly stimulating. We were lucky enough to work with a highly talented group of writers from Myanmar and from all around the world. On the course we looked at the myths of writing and the writing of myths, from the small scale to the large.
Over the six weeks we covered a lot of ground. We looked at the stories that make us who we are. We plunged into the murky darkness of family and community secrets. We looked at the tangle of truth-telling, fabrication, memory and forgetting in the stories we tell about ourselves, each other and the world. We asked some difficult ethical questions about what it means to tell these stories. We explored face-to-face storytelling, and how this can be translated into well-crafted prose. And, in the final week, we looked at the art of self-mythologising for writers, and at the publishing world.
The course has certainly deepened our own reflections on what it means to write. And working with so many writers who are engaged in so many different projects has enlarged our sense of the world. So we’re already looking forward to starting our next course, called Remaking the World: Creativity, Writing and Activism. The six week course starts on the April 22nd, and is on Monday nights at the Parami Institute in Yangon from 7pm to 9pm. Get in touch if you are interested in joining us.
Image: Puppet Show in Myanmar, c.1897. Bodleian Ms. Burm. a. 5 fol 140.jpg
Next April, we’re starting a new course as a part of our Parami Institute writing residency. We’ve been enormously inspired by our brilliant students on the Writing, Myth and Tradition course. Many of the writers we have been working with are involved in a range of social activist projects. And so we decided to follow up this course with another six week intensive course called Remaking the World: Creativity, Writing and Activism.
Whether fiction, non-fiction or poetry, writing has the power to remake the world. It can shake us up, change how we see things, transform the way we think and feel, and open up new possibilities for action. In this six-week intensive course, we will be exploring the transformative potential of creative writing.
Participants will work on developing their ideas to produce their own unique body of work. We will be moving between genres — whether fiction, non-fiction, reportage, memoir or poetry — and honing our skills in drafting and editing to produce writing that makes a real difference.
The course is suitable everyone from beginners to experienced writers. It will be taught in English and held on Monday evenings, 7-9pm, starting on April 22. Tuition is 200,000 MMK per person.
Call the Parami Institute on 0979 303 0555 | 0977 883 9092 to register. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In his famous painting, Paul Gauguin (1897) asks “Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going” (D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous). Here in Yangon, we’ve just started our new Writing, Myth and Tradition creative writing class at the Parami Institute, using storytelling – with a little help from Gauguin himself – to explore where we all come from, what we are and where we might be going.
It is a big class, with just under twenty students. They are a hugely diverse bunch. About half of the students in the group are from Myanmar, and the other half from all across the globe. The room is positively overflowing with fascinating stories and potentially enriching conversations, and we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface.
Our first couple of sessions have taken as a starting point the poet Muriel Rukeyser‘s claim that “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” It is, of course, not strictly true; but what we’re interested in is the universe of human experience. And here, stories are the way that we can get a handle on things.
What we’re particularly interested in exploring is this human impulse to tell and share stories. So we’re starting with one of the most ancient human traditions of all, that of oral storytelling, and moving from there to the written word. So far, it is been enormously stimulating, leaving us buzzing with new ideas, new stories, and new possibilities. Stories have a way of doing that: because if the universe is made of stories, making and remaking stories is a way of remaking the world.
Our short story class at the Parami Institute in Yangon is now in full swing, and it has been a lot of fun. We have been working with a committed and talented group of Burmese writers, exploring a whole range of storytelling skills. The photo above comes from last night’s session on Aristotle’s Poetics and story structure. Into the New Year, we’re planning further courses at Parami as well as a range of projects elsewhere. We’ll keep you posted!
We’re now in Myanmar (Burma), where we’ll be for the coming months. We’ve got a number of projects in the works, but first up is a six week writing workshop at the Parami Institute of the Liberal Arts and Sciences in Yangon. Starting later in November, we’ll be teaching a course on the fundamentals of short story writing. We’ll be drawing on published stories from both Myanmar writers and writers elsewhere in the world, and will be looking at short stories in a cross-cultural and cross-linguistic context. It promises to be a lot of fun.
Today we’re leaving Ubud after a hugely stimulating few days at the Writers and Readers Festival. Our final event yesterday was our workshop on writing and ethics. We had thirteen or fourteen participants – a nice mix of Indonesian and non-Indonesian writers – for a leisurely three hour exploration of how to get in and out of trouble with words. It was a massively stimulating afternoon, with a huge breadth of experience and insight around the table. Continue reading “Talking Ethics in Ubud”→
Along with fellow writer Alexandros Plasatis, at the end of July 2018 we’ll be co-running a workshop at Leicester Cathedral to run alongside Arabella Dorman’s exhibition, Suspended. The workshop will take place on the 26th July, and then on the following day we will be involved in running a creative writing performance event in the cathedral.