Writers gather monthly at Eagle Rock Library to focus on the craft of memoir. While the group is currently on a summer hiatus, they’ll have room for another few writers as they get rolling again in September. Susan Mason hosts the group, and she offered a little background on the group as a little encouragement.
BOOK CITY ★Roanoke: How did the writing group get started?
Susan Mason: Our group at the Eagle Rock Library began last summer as part of our adult programming. We kicked it off with a seven-week workshop which presented the concepts of life writing. In lifewriting, we use techniques for prompting and triggering memories and writing personal stories. We offer ideas for dealing with difficult memories as well as suggestions for the organization of materials. After the workshop concluded, the writers decided to continue meeting monthly.
BCR: Who guides the group?
SM: I am the group’s facilitator. I have been facilitating lifewriting workshops since 2004, shortly after graduating from Hollins University’s Horizon Program, while still employed in their International Programs office.
I am an enthusiastic advocate of group writing. Memoir writing is a daunting task which requires desire, commitment, and action. In my experience, a community of writers, if guided appropriately, refreshes each writer’s memories, encourages participation and supports each other’s efforts.
BCR: How did the name emerge?
SM: The name of the group is a tribute to my grandmother who died 13 years ago at the age of 105. She was a tailor and instructor for the Singer Sewing Company, and a lifelong handicrafter. You couldn’t visit my grandmother without departing with some small project she’d completed—a mug rug, an ornament, a bookmark. She crocheted into her centennial years. During one of our last visits, as she stood, bits and pieces of thread fell from her lap and clung to her clothing. “I’m always trailing loose threads,” she remarked. I’ve been using that name since I began leading workshops.
BCR: That really sets a tone. What can a newcomer expect?
SM: You can expect a warm, welcoming community. We do share a few handouts about the format of the group including the group’s goals & guidelines, the “Mason Doctrine” of participating in story circles, and a model for group critiquing. Each member is expected to read at least two pages of their current writing and to participate in offering suggestions for other members’ writing. Sometimes we’ll do in- class writing and provide prompts to take home.
BCR: That sounds beneficial on a number of levels. Why is it important that we tell our stories?
SM: There are a myriad of reasons why it is both important and beneficial to participate in group lifewriting. The American Association for State and Local History developed the document The Gift of History to answer just this question. Writing your personal history is a gift to your family and your community. It is key to future generations learning about our culture and society.
BCR: What are some titles you recommend inspiring memoirists read?
SM: For those who think their life is too ordinary to record, I suggest they read Lucy Breckenridge’s journal written during the Civil War or the book by Anne Ellis about her life in the mining camps of late 19th century Colorado. Every life is extraordinary in its unique perspective of the times in which the writer lived.
Other memoirs I recommend to the group include Sue Grafton’s Kinsey & Me, Ann Hood’s Morningstar andComfort: a Journey Through Grief and Reeve Lindbergh’s Under a Wing. For craft I believe the best are Lois Daniel’s How to Write Your Own Life Story, Alexandra Johnson’s Leaving a Trace, Susan Wittig Albert’s Writing from Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story, and Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Life.
BCR: Thanks, Susan. Have a great year of writing.
Are you interested in joining Loose Threads? It meets again at the Eagle Rock branch of the Botetourt County Library beginning in September on the third Thursdays at 1 PM. Please call the library at 540-928-2800 to register for the group, and mark September 20 on your calendar. The library is located at 55 Eagles Nest Drive, Eagle Rock, VA 24085.
The group is supportive and encouraging, and there is a culture of confidentiality. You’ll be expected to share your writing—your stories—but not the stories of others. They’ll do the same for you. ★