To say that these are emotional times is an understatement, almost patronizing. Yet, here we are: an upcoming election, several months of a disastrous federal response to the worst pandemic we’ve seen since 1918, and ongoing protests against police brutality and racial injustices. Anger, rage, fear. Nana-Ama Danquah is feeling it all, which why she partnered with the Portland-based Corporeal Writing to host a six-week creative writing workshop, Writing This Moment: From Thoughts of Despair to Words of Witness.
Danquah says she’d see friends and family, writers and artists, struggling with how this moment was impacting their mental health. They recognized it was affecting them negatively, but Danquah says “they felt that what was happening with the protests or what was happening with COVID sort of overshadowed what they were going through, and they said, ‘Oh, there’s more important things going on right now.’”
“What I wanted to make clear is that we are writers, and it all is part of the whole. Bearing witness to this moment is part of the whole.… We’re not just interested in facts and political movements and government decisions. We also really want to know how people handled it,” she says. “These are all personal testimonies, and ultimately that’s what creates a society. Not just the big stuff, but also all of the individual experiences.”
Danquah, a writer, editor, and freelance journalist, says that writing about this moment is not only important for future generations to look back on and reflect, but for us as a way to bear witness, process, and, ultimately, heal.
“So many of us are inhaling and not exhaling. We’re just sort of taking it all in, and we’re just being burdened and stressed and our bodies literally cannot take it. That’s why yoga and meditation are good, but that’s also why journaling is good,” Danquah says. “From a therapeutic aspect, not even in terms of craft, documenting and releasing these things, giving them life on your paper and out of your physical body where you’re holding all of these emotions in … that [was] of primary importance to me.”
While Danquah’s workshop is currently sold out, there are plenty of other workshops and classes around Portland to join to help you process your emotions at this moment. Here are just a few.
Every second and fourth Friday of the month, 4 p.m., Free (donations accepted)
This workshop focuses on folks who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color. At a time when COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting BIPOC communities and protests against systemic racism continue in Portland, the workshop, hosted by Write Around Portland, offers participants a chance to build their writing skills while connecting with others. Pre-registration is required.
Tuesday, Aug 25, 2 p.m., $65
This workshop, hosted by PDX Writers, examines writer and activist Francis Weller’s “five gates of grief.” According to its description, “We are experiencing collective grief now in addition to our personal grief, both past and present.” Jennifer Springsteen, co-founder of PDX Writers, will help participants map their stories of love and loss, tracing memory and connection through writing and feedback. All genres of writing and skill levels are welcome.
Sept 13—Nov 1, $359 (cash/check); $370 (PayPal)
Although not solely focused on the current state of the pandemic and the protests, this workshop, according to its description, explores “how writers such as Kevin Young, Yiyun Li, Ai, Roland Barthes, Maggie Nelson, and others write and respond to three of the great fires of human experience: Adult Romantic Love, Violence, and Loss.” Through explorative and generative processes, participants will read, talk, write, and share.
Sept 23—Oct 14, $185
Hosted by Perrin Kerns, former director of writing at Marylhurst University, this generative writing class will focus on writing via prompts. Following in the tradition of poet Ross Gay, participants will focus on writing about joy amid protests, the pandemic, and the looming election, exploring lyric essays and offering feedback to each other at the end of the sessions.