Tough Language, Tender Wisdoms: Crafting the Personal Essay

Workshop (2 days): Saturday and Sunday, July 25 and 26

10:30 am to 1:30 pm

A Writing Workshop for transgressive voices led by author Amber Dawn, Tough Language, Tender Wisdoms invites participants to write under-told and boundary-pushing stories from their personal experience, and to develop strategies to creating safe and celebratory spaces for these stories to be crafted. Hosted by Queer Arts Festival for three years running, this year’s Tough Language, Tender Wisdoms will focus on crafting the Personal Essay – a writing form that combines memoir, light research, and creatively communicating values and identity.

Amber Dawn will use source material from her book “How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir” and select other text to lead participants through a series of free-writing exercises, small group work, craft and structure exercises and discussion. Participants should come prepared to share, listen and take risks.

AMBER DAWN is a writer living on unceded Indigenous land belonging to the Coast Salish peoples. Her debut poetry collection Where the words end and my body begins launched this spring 2015. Her memoir How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir traverses themes of sex work and survival, and won the 2013 Vancouver Book Award. She is the author of the Lambda Award-winning novel Sub Rosa, and editor of the anthologies Fist of the Spider Women: Fear and Queer Desire and With A Rough Tongue. She currently teaches Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia and Douglas College, as well as outside the classroom through a series of free and/or low-barrier community classes.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a progressive writing workshop. Pre-registration with an EMAIL contact is critical. Space is limited to 16 participants; only register if you can participate in both classes. Please check that dates and time carefully to ensure you can commit.

PLEASE NOTE: 6 of the 16 available spots will be reserved for new participants, who have never attended a workshop with Amber Dawn at Queer Arts Festival

Intended outcomes: a DRAFT of a 1,000 to 2,000 word personal essay
Requirements: Access to email and ability to read PDF documents online. Students must sign up with an email address. There will be some Pre and Post workshop required readings to participate.
During the workshop, students only need pen and paper – laptop or “pad” device optional.
Workshop time: 2.5 hrs + ½ hour debrief time, per class. 6 hours total
$50 to $250 sliding scale, please support art and pay as much as you can afford

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This event is scent-reduced, and fully wheelchair accessible. For more information on how to support a scent-reduced event, please visit For a full accessibility audit of the space, visit Radical Access Mapping Project.