About AWA

Because AWA is an informing force in my life, I want to tell you a little about it.

Amherst Writers & Artists is an international, nonprofit organization with more than 1400 trained leaders whose workshops help writers find their voices and build their craft – across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, India, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Greece, Turkey, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Norway, England, and Ireland.

We are not endowed, but rely on fundraising activities donations, and the dues of our affiliates to support our work. Many of our affiliates reach out to groups whose voices are traditionally silenced: to the Vuntut Gwit’chen people north of the Arctic Circle, to First Nations’ peoples in British Columbia, to teachers and AIDS orphans in Malawi. To inmates of jails and prisons. To the homeless, the mentally ill, the recovering, the blind. To teenagers, assisted-living residents. Others offer entrepreneurial workshops to mainstream populations. Research is beginning to back up what we at AWA have known: writing is art, and writing heals.

In our workshop leader trainings, participants learn (and practice) the workshop principles developed by our founder Pat Schneider, and described in her book, Writing Alone & With Others (Oxford University Press).

The AWA approach to writing is based on five essential affirmations, and five essential practices. I’ll paraphrase them here, based on p. 186-7 of Pat’s book.

The Affirmations:

  • Everyone has a strong, unique voice
  • Everyone is born with creative genius
  • Writing as an art form belongs to all people, regardless of economic class or educational level.
  • The teaching of craft can be done without damage to a writer’s original voice or artistic self-esteem.
  • A writer is someone who writes.

The Practices

  • We maintain a nonhierarchical spirit; at the same time, we follow the rules we create to keep everyone safe.
  • All writing is confidential; all writing is treated as fiction (unless the writer requests otherwise); reading is voluntary.
  • When someone reads a first draft, the group does not criticize; rather, we share what we find strong, what we will remember about the piece.
  • Learning craft is our goal; we will share prompts and exercises that invite experimentation and growth.
  • The leader writes and reads with the group; risk is shared.

I believe everybody has a story;
everybody has a voice to tell their story;
an AWA workshop is an ideal setting for finding that voice, telling that story,
and practicing the craft that makes that voice and story into art.