Shedding my fear, finding my voice at the N.V.M. Gonzalez writing workshop

The author is completing her memoir on trauma and healing

The author is completing her memoir on trauma and healing

By Michele Gutierrez

A group of writers recently gathered at the University of Washington in Seattle for the 5th biennial N.V.M. Gonzalez Writers Workshop led by Filipino American author Peter Bacho.

Now a decade old, the workshop is held every two years at a university where N.V.M. Gonzalez has taught. This year was the first time the workshop has been held outside of California. The beautiful University of Washington campus was the perfect place for us to retreat into our writing for a few days and to emerge as better writers for it.

While not as large as other years in terms of participants, this year’s small group setting allowed for in-depth writing, sharing, feedback, and revision that could only be achieved in the intimate workshop space. Participants wrote and polished their manuscripts and were able to get feedback every single day of the workshop. After convening for the day, we returned to our homes or dorm rooms for more reading and writing, excited to share our work.

Because of the workshop and the talented group of writers, teachers and fellow lifelong learners, I’ve grown my writing craft and sharpened my vision as a Filipino American writer. The July 3 to 6 workshop was the first time I’ve shared my work in a space with all Filipinos. Perhaps, it was because of this that I was able to more clearly understand the story I’ve always wanted to tell.

I entered the workshop with the intention of revising a memoir project entitled “The Spaces We Fill.” I was unsure how my work would be achieved, especially since my memoir project touches upon such heavy topics as trauma, mental illness, and healing.

I was afraid of sharing, but my fears were quickly abated as Peter Bacho and my fellow workshop participants found the humor and levity in my characters and their situations. In a sense, they gifted me with a newfound ability to mine the laughter in stories I once thought were too sad to tell.

Peter Bacho gave me what may just be the most useful piece of advice in elevating my non-fiction writing to a place much closer to truth–a truth both personal and universal.

“Don’t let facts get in the way of telling a good story,” he said.

And that is what I intend to do: Tell my story as well as I can.

I will carry what I learned from the workshop along with me as I move forward on my journey as an emerging writer.

I am grateful to Peter Bacho, my fellow writer participants, the Friends of N.V.M. Gonzalez for organizing this amazing space and for the Philippine American Writers Association for the generous scholarship that allowed me to attend this year’s workshop.

Another budding writer and workshop peer is Pio de Cano who sent his review of the workshop.

He said, “My experience at the three-day workshop under the tutelage of Peter Bacho was exhilarating, challenging and most of all added to the consciousness of my own shortcomings and potential as a novice author.
Especially helpful were critiques of my efforts by the other participants most of whom are published writers. Peter’s candor and incisive perceptions added to my motivation to continue tweaking and seeking out my voice. I would recommend this workshop for novice and experienced authors/writers without reservation.”

Michele Gutierrez was born and raised in Long Beach, CA. A VONA and Visual Communications Armed With a Camera Fellow, she wrote and directed a short film entitled “11 24: A Short Film About Collecting Cans and Memories” (2011), as well as “Broken Promises” (2004), a documentary about the Filipino Veterans of WWII. She graduated from UCLA with degrees in International Development and Asian American studies, and is currently a teaching credential student in English Education at CSULB. Her current project is a memoir entitled “The Spaces We Fill” that explores trauma, healing, and the things one might turn to in order to feel whole again.

At the N.V.M. Gonzalez Writers Workshop with fellow SoCal writers and published author Peter Bacho (third from left)

At the N.V.M. Gonzalez Writers Workshop with fellow SoCal writers and published author Peter Bacho (third from left)

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