“Our stories live in our bodies,” says Dani Shapiro, the best-selling author, who will be hosting a powerful, five-day writing and meditation workshop with Indagare in Sedona this Fall. “To be in a place that allows you to focus on your body and mind, that gives you the luxury to sink into your own experiences and memories—it’s just full of possibility.”
Anyone intimidated by the idea of writing under the tutelage of Shapiro—who has chatted with Oprah and whose most recent memoir, Hourglass, was published by Knopf—can rest assured that the author is as lovely, approachable and wise as she comes across in her prose. “It’s all about the desire to connect,” she says. “That word is really important in this: to connect to oneself, and to connect to others through the act of writing.
How will the days of the retreat be structured?
In the morning, we will have a meditation and writing session. I’ve developed a style of teaching that moves between guided meditation and what I call ‘writing prompts.’ Leading people to a place of interior quiet, I will read them something: a poem by Donald Hall or Wislawa Szymborska, a bit from To The Lighthouse. And this is followed by a writing prompt based on what I just read.
Do I have to be a writer to join?
No. The writing prompts are designed to be very low-threshold in terms of accessibility. You do not have to be a writer to plumb the depth of your own memory. That’s the beautiful thing: a group of people all engaged in the endeavor of trying to understand both themselves and what it is to be a human being. All that is required is curiosity and a desire to explore.
Do I have to share what I write with the group?
I would never force anyone to share, but what I’ve found is that there is something meaningful for people to hear their own voices in the room and to be received by others. I always let the group know whether I intend for a writing prompt to be shared or not. But no one needs to be anxious or worried. My job is to cast a safety net over everything, so that each person feels empowered and safe.
Related: Mii amo: An Addiction
Will I discover something through writing that I don’t already know?
I often say this to my students: If you know what happened, why write it? Why lock yourself in a room when everyone else is out there enjoying the sunshine writing about what you already know? The satisfaction is in the discovery. And that discovery is not limited to people who are far along in their journey as writers. It’s what happens when you put pen to the page.
Is that what you mean when you state that “Writing saved my life”?
I have come to know myself, always, by facing the blank page. It’s that act of discovery but also the satisfaction of taking what is chaos in my own life and history, especially the painful bits, and assembling them so that they mean something greater. To quote Joan Didion who said in one of her essays: ‘Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Currently reading: The latest issue of Tinhouse; How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, a collection of essays by Alexander Chee; Abandon Me, a memoir by Melissa Febos.
Paper books or Kindle: Paper books.
Literary mentors (dead or alive): Grace Paley, Jerome Badanes; Virginia Woolf; Anne Truitt.
Favorite destination for relaxing: Sag Habor, in the off season.
Favorite destination for exploring: Florence.
Dream seatmate for a long-haul flight: An empty seat.
Next on my reading wish-list: Salvage the Bones, by the extraordinary Jesmyn Ward. In the Darkroom, Susan Faludi’s memoir about her father. The House of Broken Angels, by Louis Alberto Urrea.
Next on my travel wish-list: Iceland.
Most excited about Mii amo trip: I’m looking forward to the deep dive into a community that I know will happen. To venture into memory and stories together, to think and talk about our lives and what’s important; and then the luxury of time to sink into our own individual experiences.