Dawn Garisch has been running life writing courses since 2009. She has run these for individual participants across South Africa, as part of the ASSITEJ young theatre makers programme, the UFS Academic Support programme, the UCT Art in Medicine course and the UCT Entrepreneur course. Dawn is a medical doctor, as well as an award-winning writer, having published six novels, two poetry collections and two works of non-fiction. She has also had plays, television scripts and one short film produced. Dawn is in the process of training other facilitators so that life writing, and the life skills that result, will be made available to more people.
Our life writing and poetry courses
During these two- to five-day courses, Dawn helps people work with memoir or life-writing activities through mentor and peer feedback, enabling participants to explore and discover their stories and write about their life experiences.
Over 500 people have attended the Life Writing workshops to date and they come from a wide age range and from diverse cultural groups. Participants who have completed the course can choose to meet monthly to receive ongoing support and feedback on their work.
Our life writing publications
Much of the writing that has come out of these forums is worthy of publication. Life writing allows the writer to review their own life experiences from a new perspective and reading about the experiences of people from other communities cuts across prejudice, bridges difference, creates connection and facilitates mutual understanding.
The Life Righting Collective has grown out of this initiative. We are seeking to extend, develop and nurture life writing amongst people from diverse contexts, and to disseminate affordable stories to a wide readership in the form of an annual anthology, a website and social media platforms. Our first anthology is titled, simply: “This is How It Is” and was published in May 2018.
From life writing to life righting
Dawn writes about how writing can change people: “One thing is abundantly clear from the feedback from the courses. Paying attention to the details of your life, and experimenting with ways to put your story on the page, coupled with a particular mentoring approach, is not only about learning writing skills. The tools participants must acquire in order to initiate, pursue and complete a piece of writing can assist them to live life more creatively, less anxiously, less self-destructively and with more tolerance and compassion for themselves and others.
Writing about troublesome events facilitates the healing of trauma. Past trauma makes for shaky ground. The undermining voices we carry around in our heads often mirror outer critics from the past. People who struggle with feelings of poor self-esteem, and who find it difficult to express themselves, are often labouring under devastating internal judgement. Most of us have been put down at some point; those who have been systematically devalued because of sexist or racist attitudes have a huge obstacle to overcome. Paradoxically, it is through working with the devalued body, language and culture, that we can start to address our country’s woundedness.
One of the voices against writing memoir is the charge of ‘self-indulgence’. This criticism frequently shuts people down before they have even started. We all have a need to be seen; it is a particularly brave act for an individual who has been marginalised and abused to stand up and say, ‘Here I am. This is what happened to me’.
We are all living huge stories whether we realise it or not, some handed down through family and history, some embedded genetically and visited on us by circumstance, accident, politics or natural disasters. Finding out more about the story you are living allows you to engage with it, and to live it with curiosity and attention, rather than living as the victim of your story. Sharing that story with others promotes empathy and tolerance, and can activate engagement, change attitudes and even overcome apathy where the issues explored by the writer affect a community.
In addition, our aim of promoting good quality stories at affordable prices (with the help of funding), promotes reading in a society where there is very little access to local content.”
The people who make the LRC happen
Dawn Garisch, our CEO, says:
Writing has always helped me understand myself and others better. Since I started teaching life writing in 2009, I have also seen how beneficial regular creative practice can be. Also, there is such good writing coming out of the courses that I had to find a way to grow the number of people that the course could reach, and to find ways to bring the richness of our human experience to readers.
Dawn in five sentences:
- Author, mother, doctor, dancer, teacher, hiker. I’ve never had the yen to be a biker.
- Lives in the interdisciplinary zone; starting to lose the ability to multi-task.
- Has a life riven through with pain and beauty, which I take to the page and the dance floor to help me understand myself and how to live more effectively in community.
- Needs regular internet-free wilderness experiences where my only concerns are keeping warm, fed, watered and how to best observe the exuberance of birds.
- Loves being part of the writing tribe and the LRC Exco because it reminds me why I am alive and keeps my belly-laughing muscles super fit.
Giles Griffin, our Marketing Maestro, says:
I think I may have barged my way on to the Exco with Lucy and Dawn but I don’t regret it. I have been wanting to work in the field of loss writing for a while and my first still-born life writing/righting project remains a project called The Mourner’s Cookbook. Perhaps one day… For now, as an advertising hack with a few decades of admanning under my belt, I am happy to help with designing logos (tick: hope you like), website creation (a rather hairier beast to tame, but we are getting there) and, of course, supplying high quality foodstuffs for Exco meetings.
And this is Giles in five sentences:
- Advertising copywriter, editor, proofreader, marketing strategist and aspiring course facilitator, I have worked in both the private and public sector in health education and marketing roles, but my first love and hopefully highest skill is writing.
- Writing for a living is not the same thing as writing about your life, not at all: finding time for both is a constant challenge.
- I am otherwise obsessed with food, wine, beer and theatre – and, though less so, keeping fit by swimming, biking and hiking… in nature, when I get the balance right.
- I absolutely cannot multi-task, which is why I have just boiled two lovely but now charred golden beetroot dry, wondering the while what that burning smell was…
- My dream is to make a living out of helping people process loss through writing.
Johan Jordaan, our Money Magician, says:
I was first introduced to memoir writing at a follow-up reading session hosted by Dawn. The writing was impressive and I wanted to become involved with the formation of the LRC, with the intention of working towards publishing a selection of the work for the benefit of a wider audience. I have subsequently attended one of Dawn’s courses and became a convert. I am currently exploring my own writing, which is mind boggling.
Johan in five sentences:
- I see writing as a powerful tool to heal yourself. A lot of excellent writing is produced by our members that should be seen and read by other people in order to inspire them and feel support.
- I am excited by creativity and have always worked and thrived in a creative environment.
Writing is new to me but I have found expression in other media, particularly film.
- Besides that, I love cooking, architecture and interiors.
- Fortunately for the LRC, I was schooled by the film industry and learned to cross the t’s and dot the I’s so I will be keeping an eye on my fellow Exco members.
Linda Kaoma, our Administrator, says:
When I first started writing, I did not realise that I was embarking on a journey of healing and transformation. I started blogging to track my transition from the corporate sector to the creative sector. I started Unbranded Truth, an online magazine, because I wanted a space where women could talk about self-discovery and self-love. I started writing poetry because it was one of the few mediums that quietened my overworked brain and it always gives me a different perspective. I did my first life writing course to unearth stories of my life and dissect reoccurring motifs. Joining the Life Righting Collective is a continuation of this healing and I can be a part of a much-needed process that is extended to different people from different walks of life.
Linda in five sentences:
- I spend too much time on social media platforms. But it is part of my work, so maybe I should not feel terrible about it?
- I love reading and travelling, and reading while travelling.
- People always get my age wrong, I am much older than I look.
- I need yoga, meditation, dancing and poetry to stay sane.
- If I was not doing what I do, I would have been a tap dancer.
Lucy Alexander, our Submissions Administrator, says:
I joined the LRC Exco before it existed, when Dawn suggested developing a first anthology of the life writing we were ‘listening to’ at her monthly writers’ gatherings. Much of this writing had such authenticity and resonance and yet peoples’ stories were so individually told. I’m delighted that the first anthology is taking shape with contributions from a growing group of life writers and count myself (gratefully) amongst them. Although I had had a long relationship with writing for educational purposes, I had not given much time to writing prose for myself until I attended Dawn’s life writing workshops; I had, however, written poetry for a few years at that point. Through my involvement, I have become more convinced of the healing potential of writing, but also of the value and power of being listened to (and heard).
Five things about Lucy:
- I dance as a survival strategy.
- I love nature, swimming in it, walking and driving through it.
- I work part time in adult education (public health).
- I get huge pleasure from planting things.
- I don’t feel my age.
Nina Geraghty, our Digital Diva, says:
I was excited to be invited to join the LRC Exco as, apart from it being an initiative I loved and resonated with, I suspected I might have a lot of fun. I wasn’t wrong. No other organisation I knew of burst into bouts of spontaneous and very funny haiku writing whilst exchanging emails about the serious business of creating an organisation from scratch. Nor had any Exco agenda I’d ever seen devote quite as much creativity to what we would eat at our monthly meetings. The aims and vision of the LRC speak to my mind, heart and gut!
Nina in six sentences:
- Content development writer for mission-driven eco-businesses and writing clients, I write copy for websites, blogs, newsletters and press releases, as well as create strategies for social media marketing.
- Business owner, sometime jazz singer, ceramic artist, mother of two young grown-ups.
- Working on a memoir about growing up foreign and uncovering the invisible forces that shaped my life.
- I long to visit Iceland.
- Writing is a way of eavesdropping on myself.
- Filling in tax returns is my voluntary area of helplessness. I know I could do it if I tried, but instead I submit willingly to being rescued annually by my tax consultant.
Anna Drinka, our Fundraising Fundi, says:
I always knew I wanted to work with non-profits but after hearing the exciting and meaningful work that was being done at the LRC I knew I had come across something special. At my first course, I was able to delve into my personal history and understand events that have shaped my life in previously unobserved ways. Just as impactfully, I was also able to listen to other writers share their own stories of their challenging, encouraging or traumatic past, bringing me insight into the immense value of the work the LRC is doing by allowing me to see through the eyes of others. I am now working hard to raise funds to ensure that this great process is accessible to even more people and that even more stories can be shared to an even broader audience.
Anna in five sentences:
- I am an anthropologist, an athlete and an optimist.
- There is nothing I enjoy quite as much as sleeping under the stars.
- My life was forever changed the day my elementary school teacher picked Harry Potter to read to us for story time. I am still shamelessly obsessed.
- A favourite pastime is sitting in the hammock in my garden and watching the neighborhood cats run through the trees.
- I have lived in Cape Town for only one year but feel that I have found my home.
Philippa Kabali-Kagwa, our Storyteller on the Board, says:
Why the Board? Giles was unrelenting. But on a more serious note I believe in the mission of LRC. I feel my work is to help people tell their stories, and sometimes re-story their lives – change the narrative, tell a more complete narrative. I want to see more Africans telling their story their way. Another reason is writing has always been a centring, meditative practice for me. It’s a practice I want others to share.
Philippa in five sentences:
- Storyteller. Poet. Facilitator. Coach. Dreamer. Holder of space to be.
- Mother. Sista. Womxn. Daughter of Africa.
- As a facilitator I hold spaces for people to have the conversations they need to have. My hope is the processes I facilitate enable people to breathe, to listen, to speak the unspoken, to see each other.
- Lover of trees, sunsets, rivers…
- Sometimes I think in pencil, sometimes in pen… and sometimes my shoes and earrings must come off so I can think…
Simon Sephton, our Legal and Publishing Fundi on the Board, says:
It’s not entirely clear to me why Dawn invited me to join the board, but I trust her instincts and no doubt purposes will reveal themselves in good time. Life writing has indeed proven to be life righting for me in difficult times and I endorse the LRC’s objectives based on this experience. My own writing is currently somewhat in hibernation but I suspect my involvement with the LRC will awaken it.
Simon in a few sentences:
- I grew up on a mountainous farm in the Eastern Cape and the mountains remain in my bones. You’ll find me on a peninsula mountain somewhere most weekends.
- A planned career in journalism was hijacked by publishing, an industry I have been involved in since 1981. I currently own and run a small publishing house specialising in legal and business titles.
- I am a passionate photographer, an interest developed in childhood. My particular obsession at present is photographing water and my work is exhibited annually.
- I paint a bit.
- I am a husband, father of two and person of walking choice to two poodles.
Zuleiga Adams, our Social Historian on the Board, says:
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by catastrophes and how they shape people’s lives, creating ‘survivor personalities’ that carry a psychic archive to help cope with daily life through warding off imminent danger, whether from hunger or disease or the ‘Group‘ (Group Areas Act) or the ‘boere’ (police). I decided to join the LRC Board because I think there is a strong connection between historical writing and life writing. Also I think life writing can perhaps help to shed the survivor personality for one that is more conducive to embracing the possibilities that life offers.
Zuleiga in six sentences:
- To date my writing has been academic, but I have always kept journals of my thoughts and feelings that are generally excised from my academic writing.
- I love baking, but not the fancy kind: simple, traditional fare.
- Walking is my first love: I love hiking, but don’t go enough. My walking habits tend to follow my dogs’ well-being.
- I also cannot multi-task and think it is over-rated.
- I have been accused by many people of being ‘unconscious’: I am not sure what this means, or whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but it is a constant complaint.
- In former lives I have been a socialist activist, high school teacher and NGO resource centre librarian.