Accepted paper:

"Our stories heal our souls": place and home in newcomer women's writings


Amy Skillman (Goucher College)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on five years of Story Circles organized among refugee and immigrant women, the Voices writing project has been an opportunity for newcomer women to tell their stories, practice English, and explore the relationship between migration experiences and each woman's sense of home and place.

Paper long abstract:

Among newcomer populations, women continue to remain both silent and invisible. This paper examines the impact of a writing collaboration with PAIRWN, the Pennsylvania Immigrant and Refugee Women's Network. PAIRWN was created to honor and enhance the lives of refugee and immigrant women in Pennsylvania. They also strive to educate others about the cultures and contributions they bring to American communities. Since 2001, we have worked together to gather oral histories and conduct monthly Story Circles as a way to share narratives about women's experiences. After seeing their recorded interviews edited and transformed into compelling exhibitions and powerful theater scripts, these women requested a series of creative writing workshops to help them write their own stories with intention. The workshops were facilitated by three local writers: a Native American poet and educator; an African American poet laureate; and a journalist/short story author who grew up hearing the stories of her Jewish immigrant parents from Poland. Using a variety of creative writing strategies, the women created poems, prose and short stories that have rooted them in their present homeland while connecting them to the places of their past. In doing so, they have found common ground between them. Embedded within the writing are explorations of family, home, and sense of place. These workshops provide an effective and engaging way to practice writing skills while learning to play with the English language. Primarily, the workshops have been about giving voice to under-represented populations. As one participant wrote, "Our stories heal our souls."

panel P217
Shaping space through personal narrative