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Herstory Writers Workshop Collection

Collection Number
SC 431

OCLC Number

Erika Duncan

This collection was donated by Erika Duncan in 2005.

ExtentScope, and Content Note 
Correspondence, manuscripts, articles, brochures, flyers, and ephemeral material produced by Herstory Writers Workshop, a community memoir-writing project for women founded by Erika Duncan in 1996.
Geographic coverage: Nassau and Suffolk Counties (Long Island), New York.
Date coverage: 1996 - 2009.
Size of collection: 2.5 cubic feet.
Organization: series arrangement by subject and format.

Arrangement and Processing Note
Processing completed by Kristen J. Nyitray in November 2009.
Finding aid updated and revised by Kristen J. Nyitray in  July 2019.

The collections is organized in nine series.

Series 1: History and Background Information
Series 2: Events 
Series 3: Outreach and Publicity Material
Series 4: Correspondence
Series 5: Newspaper and Magazine Articles
Series 6: Manuscripts and Published Works
Series 7: Photographs
Series 8: Multimedia
Series 9: Oversized Items

English , Spanish

Restrictions on Access
The collection is open to researchers without restriction.

Rights and Permissions 
Stony Brook University Libraries' consent to access as the physical owner of the collection does not address copyright issues that may affect publication rights. It is the sole responsibility of the user of Special Collections and University Archives materials to investigate the copyright status of any given work and to seek and obtain permission where needed prior to publication.  

[Item], [Box], Herstory Writers Workshop, Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University Libraries.

Historical Note
Erika Duncan, founder of Herstory Writers Workshop, is a novelist and essayist whose work many Long Islanders know from her monthly front-page features in the New York Times (Long Island Weekly) during the 1990s, has selected Special Collections at Stony Brook University Libraries as the official repository for the archive of Herstory Writers Workshop and for her personal papers.

At the formal dedication of the collection on April 20, 2009, Duncan discussed the mission and work of Herstory Writers Workshop, a community memoir-writing project that provides women from all walks of life with a unique set of tools to help them turn their memories into literary works of art. More than 2000 women on Long Island have participated in the Herstory project, including women from Long Island's Latina community and women incarcerated in Suffolk County's prisons. A manual, Paper Stranger: Shaping Stories in Community (2008) brings this empathy-based approach to national and international audiences. Special Collections anticipates providing access to a sizable collection of papers from the Woman's Salon, a New York City-based network that met for ten years in Erika Duncan's Westbeth apartment, founded to give audience support and serious critical attention to works of writers who were not well known. Emerging works of now-known feminist writers such as Susan Griffin, Dorothy Dinnerstein, Blanche Wiesen Cook, and Olga Broumas were participants.

(Reproduced with permission from Herstory Writers Workshop)
"Where would you like a ‘Stranger/Reader’ to meet you, if you had to choose any ‘Imaginary Page One’ window to help her to walk in your shoes?" This is the question that novelist and essayist Erika Duncan asked in March 1996, when she found herself surrounded by a group of women who hadn’t written before, never dreaming that the dare to transform one’s most personal story to reach the heart of a stranger would begin a journey of more than a decade in which over 2,000 women and girls in community settings, universities, labor halls and healing centers would find the answers that would open into chapters of their lives, nor that the words "Stranger/Reader" and "Imaginary Page One" one day would echo in Spanish and behind prison bars.  

That dare, which eventually led to a network of guided memoir-writing workshops, was the birth of an approach where the study of what creates reader empathy replaced more traditional techniques of teaching writing.  What developed was a rather unique set of tools – a vocabulary through which what caused the reader to care became central – allowing those with little formal education to work with complex Erika had offered a week of memoir-writing workshops free to any woman in the community who wanted to write her story, following a conference in Southampton, Long Island, which she had co-organized, celebrating women breaking silences.  After years of teaching fiction and autobiographical writing to a closed group in the safety of her home, she was sure she had opened a terrible can of worms in agreeing to a set-up in which someone’s most intimate revelations would be open to any new stranger walking in, but it was too late to undo the publicity.  In asking each new writer to shape a "Page One Moment" safe enough to be met by a stranger, yet vibrant enough to keep that stranger interested, two days into the workshop she realized that she had discovered a new way to teach memoir – one with both healing and community building aspects.

Historical timing, we now believe, had a great deal to do with the rapidity of Herstory’s growth, and the number of women for whom it seemed to answer a hidden, now suddenly realized need.  With new interest emerging in memoirs of everyday experience, the reading public began to seek out the life stories and struggles of those who previously would have remained unseen and anonymous.  First-person narratives telling stories of traumatic events began to be sought, with unknown names attached to them; no longer were professionals to tell people’s stories for them as cold clinical case histories.  But still gaps remained.  For many who held stories inside them, educational deficiencies and lack of money made it impossible for them to acquire the complex narrative skills that change one’s own story – as told to a therapist, a diary or very close friend – into something that will be able to resonate more widely and reach strangers. 

While narratives of trauma were being taken increasingly seriously by the community-at-large, many of those who had experienced political or family violence did not have access to the kind of psychological support required in the documentation of their experiences, to help them discover ways to evoke the compassion and sense of being heard that they needed so badly.  They weren’t able to bridge the gap between the victim’s complaint – implicit in private outpourings of woe – and storytelling as a means of healing, in a way that would help others and themselves.

Soon women were traveling long distances to Herstory’s single Southampton site, so that gradually others in other parts of Long Island offered to host us, first a counseling center in West Babylon where poor people were the main clients, then to a continuing care community in South Setauket – and suddenly survivors of family violence, incest, poverty and war were writing alongside women with stories they wished to pass down to their grandchildren, stories of immigrating to a new country, stories of falling in love and giving birth or losing a loved one.  Foundation heads and other supporters became Herstory writers themselves, adding to the diversity that is a hallmark of the program.  Erika’s "experiment" had evolved into a project that was cutting across race, religion, ethnicity, age, socio-economic background, class and culture.

As the work became too much for one person alone, those who had been with Herstory from the beginning began to officially train to lead workshops, and one suggested expanding the work to include women in prison. We reached out to find bilingual facilitators whom we could train to work in Spanish, and to the heads of high school and college programs, and to student interns, until eventually Herstory became what it is today." 

Duncan, Erika.
Herstory Writers Workshop.
Herstory Writers Workshop -- Archives.
Women authors, American -- New York (State) -- Suffolk County.
Autobiography -- Women authors -- 20th century.
Autobiography -- Authorship.
American literature -- New York (State) -- Suffolk County.
Authorship -- Study and teaching.


Box 1

Series 1: History and Background Information

History and background information (newspaper clippings and articles)
The Herstory Writers Documentary Project
Herstory Writers Project (Erika Duncan, Pat Gorman, Paulette Sellers, Ruksana Ayyub)

Series 2: Events

First inaugural event (1996)
First testimonials by participants (1996)
Gala programs and benefits
12th anniversary gala luncheon journal (2008)
Archive dedication and celebration at Stony Brook University (4/20/2009)

Series 3: Outreach and Publicity Material

Brochures and programs
Announcements and flyers
Announcements and flyers (bilingual and Spanish)
Herstory Happenings (newsletter)

Series 4: Correspondence

Letters of appreciation
Letters of appreciation to Linda Coleman and Lonnie Mathis
Suffolk County Correctional Facility
Letters of support/annual giving
Greeting cards (artwork by Gwynne Duncan)

Series 5: Newspaper and Magazine Articles

Newspaper and magazine articles (3f)

Box 2

Series 6: Manuscripts and Published Works

Loving Buddha: A Daughter’s Memoir by Hazel Weiser Manuscript (2f)

Heyn, Elizabeth. The Teller in the Tale: A Half-Jewish Child in Nazi Germany. Centereach, NY: Herstory Writers Workshop, 2009.

Dust jacket (proofs)

Manuscript (2f)

"Crossing Borders/Shaping Tales" by Erika Duncan in Welcoming the Stranger: Essays on Teaching and Learning in a Diverse Society. New York: Bank Street College of Education,  2006.

"Introductory Remarks to Lost Voices/ Found Words by Erika Duncan" by Gerald J. Gargiulo in the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 3(3): 255-276 (2000) (reprint).

Herstory Writers Workshop (Suffolk County, N.Y.), and Herstory Inside (Suffolk County, N.Y.). Voices: Memoirs from Herstory Inside. Centereach, NY: Herstory Writers Workshop, 2007. (also Special Collections PS 508 .P7 V6)

Duncan, Erika. Paper Stranger: Shaping Stories in Community. Volume 1. Centereach, N.Y.: Herstory Writers Workshop, Inc., 2008.

Dunn, Sandra. Latinas write/escriben: [a bilingual literary magazine of the Herstory Writers Workshop = una revista literaria bilingüe del Taller de Escritura Herstory]. Sag Harbor, NY: Herstory Writers Workshop, 2006. (also Special Collections PS 508 .H57 L27)

Dunn, Sandra. Latinas write/escriben: [a bilingual literary magazine of the Herstory Writers Workshop = una revista literaria bilingüe del Taller de Escritura Herstory]. Sag Harbor, NY: Herstory Writers Workshop, 2007. (also Special Collections PS 508 .H57 L27)

Series 7: Photographs

Photographs taken at the Riverhead Correctional Facility for the article "Tales from the Cellblock" by Rhoda Amon (Newsday, Long Island Edition, May 3, 2005)

Series 8: Multimedia

12th Anniversary Benefit (10/19/08) and readings by Amy Gravino and Eleanor Clark

"Something of Substance." Video-magazine of Suffolk County, Division of Community Mental Health (2008)

"Herstory." Black Media Foundation, Global/Arts Media

"Herstory Prison Footage." Black Media Foundation (2006)

"UUP Front Page Discussion: Erika Duncan." (Spring 2009)

"Reception for the Herstory Writers Workshop Archive." (April 20, 2009)

Box 3

Series 9: Oversized Items

Herstory Writers Workshop posters featuring artwork by Gwynne Duncan
12th Anniversary Luncheon and Reading: "Dreams of Childhood"
11th Anniversary Luncheon and Reading: "Empress"
11th Anniversary Luncheon and Reading: "Juanita Peacock"
11th Anniversary Luncheon and Reading: "Karima’s Well"
10th Anniversary Luncheon and Reading: "Yema" (Second Daughter)
6th Annual Benefit Reading and Luncheon Party Luncheon: "Lois"
4th Annual Benefit Reading and Luncheon Party Luncheon: "Path of Dreams"

Newspaper Articles
"Building Bridges Through Their Memoirs" by Linda Leuzzi (The Long Island Advance, March 5, 2009, pp. 7, 27).

"Herstory Teaches Women How to Tell Their Life Stories" by Susan Perretti. (Times Beacon Record Newspapers, Leisure Arts and Lifestyles, April 3, 2008, pp. B11, B21).

"Sharing Their Stories" by Rhoda Amon (Newsday, Long Island Life, July 9, 2006, pp. G4-G5, G8).

"The Woman of Herstory Share Their Stories." (Networking, v.9. no. 9, September 2000, pp. 16-17).