The Stories We Tell


Program co-creators R.Clifton Spargo and Anne K. Ream

We Believe that every woman's story has power and purpose, which is why The Voices and Faces Project launched "The Stories We Tell," the country's first testimonial writing workshop for survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence and trafficking.

Workshop EdmontonThe workshop was co-created by R. Clifton Spargo, an award-winning fiction writer and Arts Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and our Voices and Faces Project creative initiatives team.

Over the course of our two-day workshop, which debuted at the Chicago Cultural Center in March, 2011, workshop participants considered testimonial writing by Sandra Cisneros, Charlotte Pierce-Baker, Primo Levi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Adrienne Rich, among others, and took part in a series of innovative writing exercises. "I am still reeling from what an incredible experience this workshop was for me," noted one of our participants in the post-workshop evaluation. "The instructors created an atmosphere of intellectual challenge and engaged and inspired learning, and a connection to a greater purpose. Most striking was how balanced the educational component was with the emotionally supportive environment."

Why testimonial writing matters.

Testimonial Writing MattersAccording to the World Health Organization, over one billion women worldwide have been victims of some form of gender-based violence. Language too often becomes a tool for avoiding this painful truth. So the devastation that is childhood sexual abuse becomes simply "a family affair," the international trafficking of women and girls merely "the world's oldest profession," and rape and torture during armed conflict part of the inevitable, regrettable "messiness of war." The stories that come out of our Voices and Faces Project testimonial writing workshop do something very different with language. They take us close — at times, painfully close — to the experiences of women who have lived through violence. They show us that behind every social injustice there is a deeply personal story.

The stories behind our storytellers: Meet our workshop co-founders, Anne and Clifton.

Anne K. Ream is the founder of The Voices and Faces Project and the author of "Lived Through This," a narrative and photographic memoir of a multi-country, multi-year journey spent listening to the testimonies of gender-based violence survivors. Anne’s writing has appeared in The New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and numerous other publications.

R. Clifton Spargo is a novelist and cultural critic. The author of "Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald," he writes the HI/LO, on the interplay of high and low culture, for Huffington Post. A graduate of The Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Clifton has taught creative writing at Marquette University, University of Iowa, and Yale University. Listen to Anne and Clifton talk to the CBC (Canadian Public Radio) about "The Stories We Tell."

This is what change looks like: Our writing workshop alums on what “The Stories We Tell” means to them.

Click on the photos to read about Tammy, Roger and Christa's experiences in our first-of-its-kind testimonial writing program.

Tammy Perlmutter
Roger Canaff
Christa Desir

Bring the "Stories We Tell" program to your community.

To find out more about applying for one of our writing workshops, or to bring the “Stories We Tell” program to your community, contact us.

Workshop Cleveland
  • 2016

    February 6-7, 2016

    San Diego, CA
  • 2015

    November 7-8, 2015

    Toronto Canada

    October 24-25, 2015

    Evanston, IL

    October 17-18, 2015

    Milwaukee, WI

    July 25-26, 2015

    Skokie IL

    April, 11-12, 2015 

    Prince Edward Island Canada
  • 2014

    November 8-9, 2014  

    Chicago, IL, USA

    October 18-19, 2014

    Milwaukee, WI
    Mount Mary University USA

    June 21-22, 2014  

    Watson Hall, Columbia University
    612 W. 115th st. , USA

    April 5-6, 2014

    Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) 300 Memorial Boulevard Winnipeg, MB, Canada

    January 18-19, 2014

    Davenport, IA, USA
  • 2013

    November 30—December 1, 2013 

    Calgary, Alberta,
    Canada (WordFest Literary Festival)

    October 5—6, 2013 

    WI (Mt. Mary College)
  • 2012

    November 10—11, 2012 

    Rape Victim Advocates
    Chicago, IL USA

    June 1—2, 2012 

    Sexual Assault Center of Edmonton
    Edmonton, BC, Canada

    April 12, 2012 

    Chicago Cultural Center
    Chicago, IL USA
    in partnership with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance and CAASE

    March 10—11, 2012 

    Mt. Mary College
    Milwaukee, WI, USA
    in partnership with the Mt. Mary Justice Department
  • 2011

    April 14—15, 2011 

    Cleveland Rape Crisis Center
    Cleveland, Ohio, USA

    March 26—27, 2011: 

    Chicago Cultural Center
    Chicago, IL USA
    in partnership with Art Works for Change

What Survivors Say

Select Workshop Writing

Here is a selection of some of this writing, from our pilot workshop at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Read Workshop Writing

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