My name is Louise DeSalvo, and I teach memoir writing in the MFA Program at Hunter College. I’ve written Vertigo, Crazy in the Kitchen, Breathless, Adultery, On Moving — all memoirs — and Writing as a Way of Healing. I’ve been studying the creative process for years; have been talking about the writing process with students and writers for decades. I believe it’s important to learn how “real” writers write when they work. And to model their methods as we’re learning to work. I believe that it’s essential for us to understand the creative process and the stages of the process so that we can work with it, rather than against it. I also believe it’s important for us, not only to write, but to write about our writing in a process journal.

My blog, Writing a Life, shares what I’ve learned as I’ve written my own work, studied that of other writers, and talked to writers in process.

18 Responses to “About”

  1. Margaux Fragoso Says:

    In response to Louise’s 1/4/10 post about audience, I find myself meditating on the private internal space of writing and the public exposed space of publishing. Since I was signed with FSG for my memoir Tiger, Tiger, I’ve naturally been reflecting on these issues.
    My relationship with my father was complex: it fluctuated between times of fatherly care and horrible annihilations of my self-esteem. My self-esteem is still recovering and I do hold my father responsible to a large degree. I agree with Louise’s logic concerning her father and her right to portray the truth about the fact that he hurt her. It’s not for revenge that this act of writing is done; it is both an act of healing and a way of taking charge of a narrative that has previously left us powerless. Furthermore, when I write my memoir I write it to reach out to others who lived the way I did, and that is very important to me. Because I felt alone for so many years and I want others in my situation to understand that, alone as they feel, they are part of a larger group of people that have experienced similar things, and that these others, though they may never connect with them face-to-face, care about their survival. If there is someone out there who is me at sixteen, hospitalized for attempted suicide, looking at a black winter sky from the window of the psychiatric unit, I want the girl to understand that her life does matter very much and that even if she’s been told she’s worthless, she doesn’t have to accept that narrative. She is very important to me; she’s so important that I choose memoir as a loudspeaker through which to tell her what I need her to know.
    As for the parents of the memoirist, if the parents are informed of the work and choose willingly to read their child’s memoir, then that’s a decision. I didn’t have such a choice. My dad had a narrative but he never wrote it down. He repeated the contents of this narrative verbally and its message wasn’t pretty: “Demon child, stupid, clumsy, you ruined my life, you destroyed your mother, you’re heartless, you’re selfish, and you make me sick.” I’d memorized it so that Poppa’s ‘book’ sometimes would read itself to me even when he wasn’t around: “you’re no good, you’re a failure, you’re worthless, and you ruined your family.”
    I needed a narrative of my own to counteract his.
    In my memoir, my father’s philosophical and charismatic nature is as real as his faults. I give my father all the beauty I remember as well as the terror. Because sometimes he gave me beauty and not terror and some of the things he gave me enabled my survival and enabled me to become a writer.
    Being a parent is essentially a job and other jobs are conducted in a public sphere. In most jobs your performance is evaluated and you’re expected to adhere to certain standards of behavior. I’m not saying that parents should strive to some unachievable ideal but abuse of children can’t be tolerated. These are growing beings dependent on us not only for basic needs but also for the construction of self. It’s vital for people to understand that parenting practices are, in fact, reflected upon, and that they exist in the context of a larger dialogue, and that children and adolescents do have a voice; through the unique medium of memoir, youth have been given a transformable subjectivity and presence like never before.

  2. Cece Says:

    Dear Margaux,
    Thank you for being brave and putting your story out there in Tiger Tiger. I just finished your book and find comfort that I am not the only one to lose most of childhood to a pedophile. I know that your story will help my healing process. Thanks again.

  3. J Kelleher Says:

    Is this the same girl whose favorite baseball player was Carl Erskine?


  4. Louise,

    I don’t know if you remember me, but you met me and my best friend Réka on a plane to Albuquerque, New Mexico back in March or April, I can’t quite remember which. I lost your email address, but I very recently started a blog on this site and thought it such a wonderful coincidence that your blog is through this site as well! You were such an inspiration to me and my friend, and I hope I can keep up with you now via blog!


  5. I just read your blog post to post. So much of what you say is useful and encouraging and thought-provoking. I hope you are doing well with your recovery. And I look forward to reading your books (just ordered!)

  6. Trudy Stern Says:

    Hello Louise, I picked up Breathless yesterday. I enjoyed reading about the writers and artists who suffered with asthma, written (really written) in a literate voice. I must have picked up the book years ago and let it collect dust until yesterday. It fell into my hands.

    Asthma crippled me for years – but not now. Now I do what I like and I take some medication. I am also a writer. I also had breast cancer which I found a minor challenge compared with the years long struggle to breathe and I am the lead nurse practitioner in asthma concerns at Buffalo State College. There are many students, young people, who are living strangled lives.

    Tonight I went to Zadie Smith’s lecture “why people write”. She is brilliant. Have you seen these?
    Two years ago, the U.K.’s The Guardian ran a series of short essays by British authors in which they attempted to distill their advice to fellow writers into a set of rules. Most responses were the familiar rote stuff of workshops and writers’ conferences, but Zadie Smith’s rules for writers proved to be the most cogent, tough-minded, and self-aware of the lot. Quite predictably, they were widely circulated and commented upon.

    “1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.

    2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

    3. Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

    4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.

    5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

    6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.

    7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

    8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

    9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.

    10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.”

    I am much more interested in writing than in asthma or cancer. I think writing saved my life. Maybe good medicine and meditation helped a lot.

    Thanks. Trudy


  7. […] difference between a victim and a survivor is the meaning made from the trauma.” – Louise DeSalvo Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our […]

  8. Marylou Says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the writing process.

  9. Laurie Sandvoss Says:

    Hi, Louise. Are you still writing this blog? I would like to read more of your writing. I was excited to find this blog but it only has a few entries and being the greedy kind, I want more. Thanks!

  10. skyeblaine Says:

    Hello Louise,
    I am loving “The Art of Slow Writing” and want to give it to my adult son–is it available in large print? He’s disabled, and part of that is poor eyesight.

    It took 23 years for me to write and publish my memoir, “Bound to Love: a memoir of grit and gratitude” about raising same son. Soon after I began my first stumbling attempts, a writer pointed out that I was standing back from my experience, and needed to learn how to make it more immediate. That sent me on a years long journey which eventually included graduate school,and a seven year hiatus while I worked on other projects and let the memoir stew and brew.

    In reading your book, I feel acknowledgement for my process. Thank you. Now I’m in the third draft of a novel, and am content to allow it to deepen more slowly. I didn’t find your book until age 70–imagine the gift it is for young writers! I allowed a cruel teacher drive me from writing for twenty-five years, so got started very late. No time for regrets, only to write while I can.

    Thanks for being you.
    Skye

  11. Barbara Frank Says:

    Hello, Louise–

    I’m hoping that you are well and still doing what you love!

    I see a lot of coincidence and commonality with my own life experiences in the above comments, too numerous to go into here. Except: 1) I found THE ART OF SLOW WRITING at the library two days ago, on the way home from a CVS Minute Clinic visit for a tick bite(!); 2) like Skye (above), I am discovering Louise DeSalvo better-late-than-never; I am 73; 3) unlike Skye, it is the memory of a former teacher–a delightfully worldly and wacky nun–that’s brought me back to writing time and again through fifty-three years of everything but writing.

    Thank you for your books! I look forward to making your acquaintance through them and learning so many things I need to know about the process. Such a gift to find you!

    Barbara


  12. […] I was staying in Port Townsend, I picked up a copy of Louise DeSalvo’s book, Writing As a Way of Healing, at The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint […]


  13. Happy Birthday Louise,

    May you celebrate many more birthdays and continue to be creative. You have inspired me greatly with your powerful writings in your books Writing as a Way of Healing and Vertigo. I am a German American, also born in the year 1942. I hope that we can meet sometime.

    Sincerely, Heide Harris


  14. […] “If we write about our pain, we heal gradually, instead of feeling powerless and confused, and we move to a position of wisdom and power.” — Writing As A Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo […]

  15. Don Fortin Says:

    I am up to my neck trying to internalize “The Art of Slow Writing” by Louise DeSalvo. Every word registers with a joyfulness that defines her perseverance. Dr. DeSalvo’s professorial manner of research and erudite forthright presenting of that knowledge, will act to assist my own writing progress, if only I will take it to heart. Just discovering from Louise’s chapter on ‘Ships Log,’ I found the relationship between Max Perkins and F. Scott Fitzgerald as well as Ernest Hemingway to be eye opening. Shows here that good editing is a certainty for completion of your book. All Louise’s pointers lead a writer to succeed and get out of their own way, so that their inward spirit can breathe and emote true refreshing ideas. Great job with ‘The Art of Slow Writing’. Don Fortin


  16. Margie died almost three years ago. We knew only each other for fifty three years. People – who never knew her – said you’ll get over it. Two years ago I began to write a blog as a “way of healing.’ It’s a distraction but it hasn’t healed.

    That Margie chose me was the miracle of my life. I could have married only Margie. “It takes time; you’ll get over it.” They mean well, but they never knew Margie.

    I’m eighty-sever years old. I cannot “get over it.’ I don’t want to get over it. Grieving Margie is my only pleasure. When I grieve her she’s near

  17. NANCY A PFAFF Says:

    Dear Louise: I just finished “Crazy in the Kitchen” and found it so powerful and moving. And, it explained so much to me about my mother Myrene Garbaccio (1/2 Piedmontese), her father and her family. Altho my grandfather’s family was from the north, they were very poor and came to the US to work in the mills in Paterson, NJ. My greatgrandmother, Amalia Strobino, never learned to speak English but spoke dialect all her life. When I read your bio in the book, I was stunned to see your birth name. I went to Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Twp, NJ with Lorraine Phyllis Schiacchetano. Could this be your sister? I hope your blog is so active and you will have time to respond. Sincerely, Nancy Pfaff


  18. Hello Louise, I read your book “The Art of Slow Writing” last year. It was so inspiring and useful, especially since I was feeling stuck and exhausted from writing a memoir. I wanted to share it with more people so I wrote a blog post about it, that has been very popular. Here it is, in case you want to read it: https://medium.com/100-naked-words/writing-as-a-meditative-act-learn-the-skill-of-slow-writing-c4368ed75e78#.8csyxjg8t

    Best,
    Isidra Mencos


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