Writing Workshops

Herstory Writers Workshop & Madwomen in the Attic Present:

Memoirs to (Re)Imagine Mental Healthcare:

A Writing Workshop Held Virtually

Wednesdays, 4:30 – 6:30 PM EST

This workshop, a partnership between Herstory Writers Workshop, the Humanities Institute at Stonybrook University, and Madwomen in the Attic, invites people who have been affected by the mental healthcare system, who may identify as mad, psychiatric survivors, psychiatric consumers, or neurodivergent, to write their memoir in a mad-affirming, human rights-driven, supportive environment. In this workshop, we will combat stigma and discrimination through the power of storytelling to change hearts, minds, and policies. We invite you to join us to use the power of your voice to (re)shape our mental healthcare system and (re)imagine care. To register for this free virtual workshop, please send a message of inquiry to Jessica Lowell Mason (jlmason1@buffalo.edu) and Janelle Gagnon (jgagnon@herstorywriters.org), including some basic information about yourself and your interest in the workshop.

Workshop Facilitators

Janelle Gagnon

Janelle Gagnon is the disability program coordinator for Herstory Writers Workshop, where she facilitates memoir-writing workshops centered on disability, mental healthcare reform, and health justice. She is also a doctoral student in psychology at Stony Brook University, where she studies the cognitive science of narrative perspective.

Jessica Lowell Mason

Jessica Lowell Mason is a network facilitator for the Herstory Writers Workshop through which she facilitates memoir-writing workshops related to mental healthcare. Mason earned her master’s in English in 2014. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Global Gender Studies at the University at Buffalo.

Erika Duncan

Erika Duncan is the Herstory Writers Workshop founder and artistic director. In addition to leading Herstory and continuing to develop its unique methodology, which arose out of the tradition of literary salons in New York City in the late 20th Century, Duncan trains Herstory fellows and future facilitators.

“Madwomen in the Attic Advocates for Change in Mental Health System” – Spectrum News, Pride Edition, June 2022

“I came to this group to be among other Mad people who wanted to write their stories with the purpose of critically examining, protesting, and shining a spotlight on the indignities, inequities, and injustices of what passes for mental health care systems in the societies we live in. I thought it was an eight week class but I am very glad I was mistaken. It is actually the warm blanket I spoke of when in the first meeting of the group we were asked “What would your words do , if they had the power to do anything?”; a little community that is passionate about writing, sharing stories and supporting each other in the face of systems that have purported to help and heal us but where each of us has experienced or been witness to harms, trauma, loss and grief. I am thankful for the members of this group and for the warmth, wisdom, humour, and encouragement I’ve found there, especially during these cold pandemic times. “

~ Anna Quon

“If I had to dream up a writing group, it would look like this group.  In 2019, I experienced a series of traumas. My reaction was never allowed to exist as a valid thing in the world – instead it was labeled delusional and I, the deluded person, lost my status as a knower. It was no longer possible or safe for me to share anything I perceived. I was no longer an okay member of the community. Anything I did share was cordoned off as evidence of a diagnosis that seemed to bring a reduced human status. The wrong words, I knew, could lead to my being drugged against my will.  In the last two years I’ve struggled to get anything of my old life back. What I’ve missed most of all is the sense that it’s safe for me to speak and that I have a voice and a story that might be worth listening to. That might be heard sympathetically, or even just in context. The “Writing to (Re)Imagine Mental Healthcare” group is a little miracle – it is a space where the acoustics are uncommonly good. When I speak, when I share ideas in this group, they’re not distorted. They resonate somehow. They are heard. Better still, they’re engaged with seriously. 

The group facilitators, Jessica and Janelle, give the most subtle, unobtrusive, magical masterclass in editorial feedback.I love observing their enthusiasm for our work. Listening  to their gentle, empathetic comments. Learning from their ear for when a piece is not quite itself yet. Absorbing their ideas about how to crack the writing process open.  I’m still struggling to let myself write.  Shame and silence win many weeks. But knowing this group is there — and telling myself I might have a place in it —  help me so much.  Somehow it feels like having a home.” 

~ Debra Shulkes

“I have always loved writing and I have been actively working to leverage my mental health experience for the greater good, but until I was introduced to the Writing to (Re)Imagine Mental Healthcare ongoing group, I had no idea that these two interests could amplify each other. The group is held in such a supportive way that I always come away inspired. And the Herstory method is so simply powerful that it has inspired a whole new way of writing for me. Thanks to this work I have a new vision for how to express my voice in the world.”

~ Summer S.

“The re-imagining mental health writing workshop with Jessica Mason and Janelle Gagnon, and group of talented writers, has really helped me in a number of distinct ways.  It has alleviated isolation.  It has provided a community.  It has allowed me to recall the good parts of my declassroomed teacher’s past.  It has given me a space to practice “thereness” versus “aboutness,” in order to make my writing accessible to the “paperstranger.”  Intellectually, I certainly understand the need to tell, not show, but some of our stories are very complicated, long and painful.  It takes time to find the structure and the power of one’s storytelling for a reader, which I don’t think I could have done/don’t think I could be doing now without this experience.  So thank you!”

~ Gina F

“Carrying a label of serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI) for 59 years and writing and publishing for 56 years, with many creative writing programs on my resume, absolutely nothing has been as rewarding as the experience of writing with Madwomen in the Attic and Herstory Writers Network, in the workshop ‘Memoirs to (Re)Imagine Mental Healthcare.’ I have never admitted in any writing group that I was not considered ‘normal’ like the rest of the class. When I wrote stories about other patients and survivors of psychiatry, they were called ‘character pieces.’ There was no medium in which I could say that psychiatric treatment is seldom healing and the side effects of medications are disabling. In the safe space provided by Madwomen in the Attic and Herstory, I feel accepted for who I am. Other Mad Creatives do not judge me as ‘less than’ or peculiar, but instead offer helpful suggestions to make my writing strong enough that readers will care. The experience and expertise of the two facilitators, Jessica Lowell Mason and Janelle Gagnon, is always an encouragement and inspiration for me to stick to the work.”

~ Bonnie Schell

Join us in writing a different mental healthcare system into existence.

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