I got some great news this week. My paper proposal was accepted at the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice at the University of Wyoming. I will be giving a fifty minute presentation at the conference on April 8th from 2:30-3:20. Registration is free. The theme this year is CREATE: Activism Toward Social Justice. My talk (and the corresponding paper) is titled “Writing Trauma: Building Community, Resistance, and Resilience through Personal Narrative.”
So let’s talk a bit about conference proposals. To apply to present at a conference, you typically need a proposal. The word length varies and will be listed on the call for entries. In my proposal (see below), I started with a narrative. I did this because the group I am presenting to will be mixed. If I wrote something academic, it would not be accessible to many of the attendees. I guess that is the first step: consider your audience. If you know your audience, it will help you figure out why your work is important and to whom. Mind you, this is a proposal and not an entire paper (that comes later).
In the first paragraph, I focused on my interest in the topic which gave me a way in and also gave my writing authority. In the second paragraph, I summarized the key points of the paper and tried to emphasize why it was important and who would benefit from it.
They also required an abstract. Mine was limited to fifty words as it would appear as a description in the bulletin. I tried to be very clear and direct so my topic and tone would be very clear. There isn’t anything worse than someone walking out during your presentation because they thought it was about something else. Well…I guess no one showing up at all would be worse. Typically your abstract is a summary of your subject, research, and results. Someone should be able to read your abstract and get a sense of your paper without actually having to read (although you want them to read it).
Here is my proposal. I hope you find it helpful. Speaking at events like this is a great way to start building your platform. Now I have to write the paper (thank God the research is done), prepare my presentation, and get a photo taken so I can put it on my business cards. At the poetry workshop I gave last week, a woman handed me her business card. It had her photo on it and I was surprised by it. It made total sense though. I can’t count the number of times that I have a card but can’t remember who the person actually is (I’m better with faces rather than names). Instead of just putting author on your business card, consider other ways you could put your writing to work. You could do workshops, editing, and public speaking just to name a few. My last piece of advice is to always ALWAYS have a business card on you. People will ask for it and it looks unprofessional if you don’t have one.
At a conference in September of 2010, I attended a group discussion session titled “Trauma, Crisis, and Society: Where Do We Begin?” The purpose of the group was to discover ways to be conscious contributors and to use our own creative endeavors to push the audience from trauma to resilience. When trauma, and its relation to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), were discussed the session quickly went off track. Most of the group wanted to talk about their experiences with trauma. Others wanted clear definitions of trauma, PTSD, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Survivors of all types of trauma wanted it made clear that PTSD includes but is not limited to those with war experiences. When I left the session, I felt traumatized. A lot of painful experiences were brought up for me but there was no discussion of community or recovery so I had no way to channel those feelings. Upon reflection, I realized the majority of the attendees had two things in common: they wanted to tell their stories and they wanted their experiences to be acknowledged.
The breaking of silence is not only an act of resistance but a call for community. Trauma is experienced differently by everyone but it is particularly influenced by one’s cultural traditions such as race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Trauma can result from harassment, discrimination, hate crimes, physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse, and many other painful experiences. By defining and talking about trauma, one is seeking connection which can create new cultural traditions that bring survivors together in a way that intersects traditional cultural boundaries. Author and activist bell hooks wrote, “It is never an easy decision or task to write about one’s emotional landscape.” In writing down such experiences, whether for private or public use, an additional set of challenges faces the writer. Writing the trauma narrative can be a painful experience as it brings up emotions in survivors such as anger, guilt, fear, shame, and sadness. By focusing on not only the trauma, but also on recovery, the writer works toward expressing and overcoming these emotions. This paper will focus on ways to understand personal trauma and how to write the trauma narrative. Self-care is an important aspect of this kind of writing. Methods of self-care, as well as ways to presenting the trauma narrative in a way that does not retraumatize others, will be discussed. Craft elements of trauma writing, along with examples from recent memoirs, will be presented as a way to help the writer move such writing from sheer self-expression to communication. By writing in a way that communicates trauma, the writer’s work can help build community and resilience in others. Community awareness leads to the developing of inclusive support systems and methods of prevention. In this way, the sharing of the trauma narrative leads toward social justice and inclusion.
This presentation will discuss writing the personal trauma narrative in order to build inclusive communities and promote resistance and resilience.