“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
― George Bernard Shaw
“I have chosen to honor my family but also to honor my own experience as well—reconciling our differences and needs.”
― Diana Khoi Nguyen
Writing about our families is difficult as it often invokes mixed feelings of fear, shame, love, and unresolved grief. But it is impossible to ignore the role of family in our lives; family histories comprise so much of who we are, how we love, and the decisions we make. As such, it is natural for us to avoid writing through the complicated arena of fraught family relationships not only for fear of hurting people we love, but also in wanting to avoid the work of reckoning with “the family skeleton.” And regardless of whether or not they choose to engage with our work, there is still a sense of shame in revealing the unattractive truth of a family member from your limited perspective.
So, I offer the wisdom of Emily Bernard, who believes that to write about your family, no matter how excruciatingly honest or seemingly unfair, is still an act of love.
In this online workshop, we will create a supportive environment for us to explore the breadth and depth of our complex family relationships in poetry. We will read and discuss poems that inspire us to consider multiple avenues for writing about the bounties and pitfalls of our family pasts, presents, and futures including childbirth, death, physical and mental illness, trauma, ancestral relationships, global family, diaspora, and chosen family. We will also use this space to read nonfiction texts (interviews, essays, etc.) that help us navigate and hopefully overcome the anxieties associated with this troublesome domain. Of course, there will also be room to explore the unique, unconditional love of family. Poets we will read in this workshop include Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Layli Long Soldier, Ross Gay, Hala Alyan, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Christine Garrett, Maya Abul-Hayat, BH Fairchild, jess rizkallah, Ada Limon, Sharon Olds, Mark Jarman, and many others. .
Maha Ahmed is an English Literature & Creative Writing PhD candidate at the University of Houston. She holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Oregon. Her poetry and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Grist, The Adroit Journal, 580 Split, Rusted Radishes, The Recluse, and elsewhere. Her critical and creative work explores the Arab-American diaspora, World Literature, translation, and global feminism. She edits poetry for the Beirut-based literary magazine Rusted Radishes and is currently working on a hybrid text exploring the intersections of language, spirituality, and corruption. Find her on twitter @mahaahmed81.