Sedona Workshop: Stella Pope Duarte’s ‘The Call To Write’

Yesterday, despite dire weather warnings, three of us headed up to Sedona for a workshop. One of us was the workshop leader, writer and activist Stella Pope Duarte. I drove to Stella’s house in Phoenix, more than a little intimidated. This is the woman who won a Pulitzer Prize nomination and the 2009 American Book Award for her book If I Die in Juárez. The story describes the lives and

Stella Pope Duarte in April snow. Photo © Bonnie Barnard, 2011

violent deaths of three women who live a bare existence among the American-owned factories in Juárez, Mexico. Over 500 women between the ages of 11 and 22 have been murdered since 1993, and Duarte awoke three of the stories through interviews with the girls’ family and friends. The family’s memories are the girls’ sole memorials.

Stella welcomed me into her house as if I were family. While we waited for Bonnie, creative instigator, Stella talked about her family, the founding of Tucson, an incredible painting of temptation on her wall, and her life. I wanted to take notes–the woman is fascinating.

Stella is a writer haunted by ghosts who compel her to write. When she confessed this in the Sedona library workshop and said she hoped it was not too odd, a participant shrugged and said, kindly, “No, this is Sedona.”

Statue of Sedona Miller Schnebly at town library. Sedona was the wife of first postmaster of Sedona. The town name first suggested was Schnebly's Station, but it was deemed too long. Thankfully. © Quinn McDonald 2011

The workshop, “The Call To Write: Learning the Language of the Soul,” was an interesting collage of Stella’s personal process, instruction, exercises, and discovery. I’m interested in fiction writing, because I am a non-fiction writer and think fiction is harder to write. She guided us through a four-step process of writing. In one of her exercises, she asked us to write down the name of a boss, a child, a grandparent. We were then to choose one character and complete the sentence, “X was the kind of person who. . .” I was surprised how a memory jumped from my pen to page. I hadn’t thought of that boss in years.

When the class read their pieces, this magic had happened to others, too. Writers and non-writers alike wrote with conviction and color. Stella does that to you.

Page of my notes taken during Stella's writing workshop. © Quinn McDonald 2011

The workshop was just one she leads, and I’ll happily drive to Sedona for another, even in the snow. I was relieved to see that the road was closed  one exit beyond our turn-off, but I was not surprised to see snow in Sedona. In April, the city looked more like December. I have never been in Sedona that it didn’t rain or snow, but maybe next time I go to Stella’s workshop, I’ll luck out. I’ll luck out no matter what the weather, her workshops are a delight.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach and life long learner. She thinks that sounds better than ‘workshop junkie.’

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