What I Learned Teaching a Class for Seniors

Memoir writers from one of the Chicago classes I lead

Beth (pictured second from the right) with her memoir writing class.

In addition to my job moderating this blog for Easterseals, I also lead four different memoir-writing classes every week for senior citizens here in Chicago.

Each week I assign these writers a topic, they go home, write 500-word essays, and bring them back the next week to read aloud. After weeks, months, years of hearing each other’s stories, these writers have come to know each other very well. “It’s not a therapy session,” one of them told me with a laugh. “But it sure is therapeutic.”

Writers in those classes tell me that writing a story down on paper for class each week keeps their brains working. Sitting down to write provides a person with time to think, and then to search their brain for just the right word. If that fails, searching through the dictionary can solve the quandary and expose writers to new words, too.

Writing a story down on paper makes it feel more official, and because I have every writer read their story out loud in class, they think hard about what they write.

The cover of Beth's book, "Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for Seniors"

The cover of Beth’s upcoming memoir.

Writers in my classes tell me how important they think it is to stay active, both in body and in mind. One writer said she thinks about her brain as a muscle. She tells me, “The more you use your brain, the stronger it gets!”

These writers are such an inspiration to me that I’ve written a book about them, and now Golden Alley Press, an independent publisher outside of Philadelphia, will be publishing Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for Seniors next month.

It’s astonishing how comfortable Nancy Sayre, my editor there, has been with my blindness: together we’ve puzzled through ways to include me in decisions on everything from cover design to branding. During a meeting over the phone last week we thought hard about how many photographs to include in Writing Out Loud, and I was flattered when Nancy credited the “clear imagery” my writing creates. She wondered out loud whether it might be better to use very few photographs and let readers imagine what everything in Writing Out Loud looks like.

I heartily concurred with that thought. “That’ll help the readers get right into my head, they’ll have to imagine things the same way I do.”

The folks at Golden Alley Press continue to help me shape my writing for the better, and you can get a sneak peek of a short chapter online now: Just complete the form here. The book includes a bit about how an internship I had at Easterseals ten years ago led to my part-time job here, so stay tuned, there’s more to come!


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