The students say....
“Sara Taber creates a supportive environment for aspiring writers to be, and do, their her best. She’s a master psychologist, a master of constructive criticism, and a master at giving you courage and encouragement. On a scale of 100 I’d give her 130.”
"Sara is absolutely extraordinary! She helped me realize abilities I never knew I had and appreciate aspects of the writer’s craft I had never previously considered. I would recommend her class to anyone who wants to take their writing to the next level."
"Sara is fabulous—great feedback, insightful comments."
"I must say that Sara’s workshop and the would-be writers it attracted were the best I’ve experienced in a long and frustrating search for a constructive writers’ support group."
"Sara’s insights, support, and constructive contributions made this course a wonderful learning experience. Her ability to foster and facilitate positive contributions similarly lent considerably to the learning experience. Frankly, I wouldn’t change a thing."
From M.F.A Students:
"Sara Mansfield Taber has been a stellar fourth-semester advisor. She has been insightful, encouraging, focused. Sara has been enthusiastic and perceptive in regard to the collection of essays I am building. Her astute comments and insights—apparent in both lengthy cover letters and in line edits—have helped me shape more than 100 pages of prose into a creative thesis that I hope will become a collection of cohesive essays. In addition to her critical eye, Sara sustained me with a nurturing spirit. She made sure to offer encouragement in every packet, as well, making me feel my hard work was paying off. I am thrilled that Sara served as my adviser during my final semester."
"I found Sara to be a thoughtful and thorough reader, producing many questions for me to ruminate over in regards to my creative work. Her inquiries helped me to further clarify what my intentions were in a given piece, to think about psychological arcs, and consider expanding on an idea to bring it more fully into the light."
"Sara Taber was an excellent advisor. Her comments were very encouraging, precise, and thoughtful. I could tell she’d really engaged with the material I’d sent her, and was spot-on in her critiques. Sara was a real listener to the words on the page. I appreciate the honesty, clarity, and lack of pretense in her mentoring. I think she is an extremely valuable member of the faculty."
"I see no weaknesses in Sara as an instructor. She is attentive, gives awesome feedback in class and on the manuscripts, and encourages everyone to give feedback to help a student. She doesn’t allow students to just beat up on someone’s work. She makes sure feedback is constructive. My stories became more polished, and Sara’s comments helped me refine new work and work in progress. I feel much more confident sending it out for possible publication."
Sara's Teaching Philosophy
As poet Jane Hirschfield has said, “what a writing workshop offers participants is the rare opportunity to find out how their words are living in others’ minds.” In her workshops, Sara cultivates a warm, safe, and adventurous atmosphere for participants. She guides workshop members to act as collaborators with one another, helping the manuscripts that come before the class to “fulfill their promise.”
Sara’s primary goal is provide encouragement to aspiring writers—encouragement, along with detailed and specific feedback on what would enrich, deepen, and strengthen the work at hand. She gives close attention to all matters of craft, including: voice; concrete detail; figurative language; characterization; structure & plot; balance of scene, summary, & reflection; and sense of time & place. Use of observation and interview material; and incorporation of historical, political, and factual information are also given attention.
Sara Taber offers private, on-going seminars on the writing of literary nonfiction: personal essay, memoir, travel, literary journalism, and portraits of people& place. On a periodic basis, she teaches courses in creative nonfiction writing at the Writer’s Center, in Bethesda, Maryland; at universities; and in Europe. She also offers small classes and tutorials upon request.
"Sara Taber is the writing coach we'd all create if she didn't already exist. She's a gifted writer whose continuing success in the publishing world gives authority to her practical advice. A gifted teacher who artfully relates theory to published examples appropriate for each student, she's generous with her time and praise, but demanding in her expectations."
Sara offers the following workshops at different times through the year.
THE MEMOIR CLUB
In the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis’s Inklings and the Bloomsbury Group’s Memoir Club, this workshop offers participants the opportunity to read their work aloud in the company of other writers. The primary purpose of the workshop is to provide members with a forum for the enjoyment of one another’s writing; to supply encouraging, sensitive responses to the work at hand; to let the writer know how the work plays in others’ minds; and to tender suggestions to help the writer meet his/her purpose. Along the way, the instructor offers tips on the non-fiction writer’s craft, and put forth her thoughts as to enriching each person’s work and helping it fulfill its promise.
The Memoir Club is a lovely way to share work, get responses and support, and to have a writing community—such as Virginia Woolf and her friends had in their Memoir Club. Each member is invited to arrive with five double-spaced pages of work to read aloud. About five people’s work are heard each meeting.
The Memoir Club is open to writers of all forms of creative nonfiction—memoir, personal essay, travel, literary journalism, and blogs. Tolkein suggested that the Inklings was for “people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink.” Come with your dabblings and intimations, and hear how your words sound and resound.
THE WRITER’S TOOLBOX
This is a workshop for students who wish to hone their skills in the elements of writing that make for fine literary nonfiction of all kinds. We examine short excerpts from beautiful published work by memoirists, essayists, diarists, travel writers, and journalists, and then students practice various aspects of the writer’s craft. Over the course of the class meetings, we focus on the important building blocks of good literary nonfiction such as: concrete detail; balance of scene, summary & musing; structure; sense of place; etc. This class provides a jump-start for beginners and refreshment for long-time creative nonfiction writers.
This class is offered on a regular basis at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
8 ESSAYS/MEMOIRS, 8 WEEKS
Sandwiches, Truth, The day you wanted to kick your brother…Come receive stimulating prompts each week—or come with your own idea. Workshop time will be spent writing, sharing work, and discussing craft. By the end of eight weeks, eight pieces on their way to completion!
READING AND WRITING WOMEN'S LIVES
In this workshop we will read and discuss memoirs, stories, essays, letters, and poetry written by women about their lives as girls and mature women. Mining these readings for perspectives on what it means to be a woman, we’ll sample a variety of approaches to writing about our lives. Each session will be devoted to conversation, with discussion of craft and a writing prompt included. The short readings will include such authors as Heilbrun, Woolf, Olds, and Walker.
OTHER WORKSHOPS SARA OFFERS FROM TIME TO TIME, AND UPON REQUEST:
THE WRITERS WORKSHOP
This workshop is designed to offer support to writers of all kinds of creative nonfiction: memoir, personal essay, commentary, travel, and literary journalism. Set up to address a need among many writers for ongoing support and editorial guidance, the workshop provides writers with regular feedback on their writing by other writers attuned to and familiar with their work. The class has a lovely spirit of encouragement and camaraderie; the main aim is always to help each writer achieve his/her intent, and help each piece of writing fulfill its promise. The class is suitable for both experienced and aspiring writers.
In the workshop, each member has the opportunity to present his/her work at least once a month. During each 2 1/2-hour class, the beginning minutes are spent discussing general book-writing conundrums, and elements of craft. An in-class writing exercise is also offered. The remaining bulk of the time is devoted to considering approximately four people’s work. Members may submit up to 20 pages each time for review.
WRITING AND CONVERSATION: A supportive group for women who would like a time each week for creative expression and processing their lives
A new kind of writing group for women! Many women crave both time to create and time for good conversation. This group will fulfill both desires at once. At each weekly two-hour meeting, I will provide a writing prompt, we will write for 20 or 30 minutes, and then everyone will have an opportunity to share what they’ve written, as well as related thoughts about life. The focus of the group will be on the content of the writing, rather than the way the words are put together.
Writing and Conversation is perfect for:
• women writers who want to assure they get some writing done each week
• women who would like a regular time to feel free, relax, and ground themselves
• women who want to release their creativity
• women who would enjoy the chance to talk with others about their lives as women
This new free-writing group is neither a formal writing workshop nor a therapy group, but offers some of the pleasures and benefits of both. Come release your creativity, share your unique experience, enjoy the conversation and company of other women, and find your life enriched. Tea will be provided.
Two or three things I know, two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that to go on living I have to tell stories, that stories are the one sure way I know to touch the heart and change the world.
It is the laughter of women together that is the revealing sign, the spontaneous recognition of insight and love and freedom.
ADVANCED WORKSHOP FOR WRITERS OF BOOKS OF LITERARY NONFICTION: Memoir, Essay Collections, Travel and Literary Journalism
This workshop is designed to address a need among many book writers for support and help, on an ongoing basis, with their long-term book projects. This workshop provides writers regular feedback on their writing by other writers attuned to and familiar with their work. Manuscripts are the main focus, but each session includes some time for free writing and discussion of the various problems and issues that arise for the participant book writers.
BORN UNDER AN ASSUMED NAME: A Book Discussion Group
For those interested in the Cold War & espionage, the global nomad life, the development of girls, and literary memoir
This is a workshop for those who wish to come together with others and the author to discuss Sara’s book, BORN UNDER AN ASSUMED NAME: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter. The memoir brings to light many rich issues for discussion: issues psychological, historical-political, global nomad, and literary. In the psychological arena, the book prompts discussion of such issues as girls’ emotional and social development; introversion and shyness; the father-daughter relationship; and the challenge of mobility for children. In the historical and political realm, the book provokes discussion of the Cold War; of spies’ lives and work; and the ethical issues associated with espionage. The book is replete with material pertaining to the lives of global nomads: identity confusion; love of cultures not one’s own; loss and grief; problems of re-entry into the “home” culture, etc. Finally, the book lends itself to conversation about literary issues associated with the writing of memoir: structure, inclusion of the child and adult points of view, use of dialogue, etc.
Note: This discussion group may be one session long, or extend over more than one session. It may also be combined with writing exercises for participants.
EXPERIENCE AND IMAGINATION: Memoir and Personal Essay
As memoirist Patricia Hampl has written, autobiographical writing is the place “where memory reaches out its arms and embraces imagination.” The purpose of this workshop is to give class members the opportunity to shape memories and personal experience into a variety of forms of creative nonfiction, including personal essay, memoir, and tales of childhood and family. The emphasis of the class is to help writers refine their drafts, attending to all the important elements of the writer’s art.
WHEREABOUTS: The Traveler’s Notebook
This is a workshop for travelers who wish to keep a colorful record of their trips and/or write for publication about their travel experiences. Participants will read excerpts from published work as they hone the skills used in the creation of lively travel pieces. Each session will focus on a particular aspect of travel writing, such as gathering history and facts, recording details of place, chronicling encounters, conducting interviews, creating portraits of people, jotting down personal reflections, identifying the story, and turning notes into finished pieces. Open to all.
THE FOREIGNER’S NOTEBOOK: A Writing Course for Anglophone Residents Abroad
Alastair Reid has written in Whereabouts: Notes on Being a Foreigner, “In a foreign country, the pattern of days is less predictable—each one has its character, and is easier to remember. So, too, the weather; and so, too, the shape and feel of newspapers, the sound of bells, the taste of beer and bread. It is all rather like waking up and not knowing who or where one is…quite ordinary things take on an edge; one keeps discovering oneself miraculously alive.” This is a course for expatriates, for Anglophone residents of foreign countries, who wish to write for publication about their experiences abroad, or who simply want to keep a colorful journal or “notebook” of their travels and experiences. During this workshop, students hone their skills in the elements of the writer’s craft that make for fine memoir, essay, and journal writing, as well as for lively travel pieces and portraits of people & place. This is an opportunity to learn to write as richly as possible about your experiences as a resident in a foreign country. We all know the vitality of life abroad. By learning more about the writer’s craft students may find that their writing about that experience comes “miraculously alive.”
LITERARY JOURNALISM: PORTRAITS OF PEOPLE & PLACE
This is a course for writers who wish to create evocative portraits of individuals or peoples within their cultures or geographies. Here classes focus on the use of a variety of kinds of journalistic or anthropological material (interviews; field notes; descriptions of people and places; anecdotes; historical information; exposition; and personal reflection) along with the skills of a creative writer to write vivid portraits of people in their contexts. Works by literary journalists (ie., McPhee, Kramer, and Kapuscinski), memoirists (ie., Ondaatje and Norris), oral historians (ie., Berger), and nature writers (ie., Lopez) are examined for clues to craft. Writers who have in-depth interview and participant observational, and/or personal experiences that arise from immersion in a particular place may find this course of particular interest.
OF MANY LANDS: Writing the Nomadic Life
This workshop is designed for students and adults who have lived in other countries and feel pulled to write about their culture-traversing lives. Through writing exercises and assignments, participants are given the opportunity to make rich records of their experiences and shape these into personal essays, memoir, travel pieces, and family stories. This workshop draws upon Sara’s workbook, OF MANY LANDS: Journal of a Traveling Childhood. Part of the workshop time is devoted to the examination of lively published works by other global nomads. A workshop especially for those of us at home everywhere and nowhere.