Poem of the Week, by Tadeusz Dabrowski

For details on my one-day workshops, including Memoir in Moments on March 30 and The Art of Writing Picture Books on April 3, please click here.

When he was eight, my son –known in the family for his rare, uncanny pronouncements–looked at me one day and said, “Mom, what if we’re all just people in a book, and someone somewhere is writing us?” 

A few months ago, inside a little free library, I saw a hardcover copy of my first published novel. I pulled it out and looked through it –it was like an artifact from a previous life–and an airplane ticket fell out. That too was old and faded, but I made out the name of an acquaintance from many years ago. I pictured him on a plane, high above the clouds, carrying the secret lives of my people with him as he turned the pages.

Secret Reading Matter, by Tadeusz Dąbrowski, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

I take the books left for free recycling mainly for their smell, 
I stick my nose among the pages, into business not my own, 
then stroll around someone else’s home,
peeping into their kitchen and their bedroom. But once 
their smell has faded and the book’s imbued with mine, 
I leave it at a bus stop or in a mailbox.
Busy nonstop with their crimes, their love lives, 
good and evil, keeping an eye on the time
and the setting, the characters haven’t a clue how many books 
they’re carrying away in their clothing

Please click here for more information on Tadeusz Dąbrowski.


Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Claribel Alegria

To sign up for one of my spring writing workshops, including our Tuesday evening five-week session that begins March 22, please click here.

Moments: the tray of baked chicken and peas and applesauce that quiet night in the hospital. The first grade teacher who kept me in from recess but refused to tell me what I was doing wrong. How I tried to pick the green nail polish off my fingers at my grandmother’s funeral. That day on the train when he silently put his hand over mine. The morning the phone rang and I knew, I knew, I knew. The look on his face when he saw me standing by the hockey rink. My best friend’s green waitress apron with its deep pockets filled with tips. How we sat on the floor late at night counting them up. When I think of my life it’s only the moments that come shimmering up.

Summing Up, by Claribel Alegria, translated by the author and Darwin J. Flakoll

In the sixty-three years
I have lived
some instants are electric:
the happiness of my feet
jumping puddles
six hours in Machu Picchu
the buzzing of the telephone
while awaiting my mother’s death
the ten minutes it took
to lose my virginity
the hoarse voice
announcing the assassination
of Archbishop Romero
fifteen minutes in Delft
the first wail of my daughter
I don’t know how many years yearning
for the liberation of my people
certain immortal deaths
the eyes of that starving child
your eyes bathing me in love
one forget-me-not afternoon
the desire to mold myself
into a verse
a cry
a fleck of foam.

For more information about poet and “voice for the voiceless and the dispossessed” Claribel Alegria, please click here.​


Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by W.S. Merwin

For details or to sign up for one of my spring workshops (which begin THIS WEEK!) click here.

The other day I searched for someone who died decades ago, and found nothing. No obituary, no images, nothing. Then I looked for the book I made about him, and that, I found. He looked so young in the few photos in it, and somehow this surprised me, as if wait, but what does he look like now?

I sat there thinking how weird it would be if I’d opened up this book of memories and photos and old movie tickets and old notes –everything in the book is both old but young—and somehow found a photo of him as he would be now, if he’d lived. What would he look like? Would we still know each other? If we had fallen out of touch, and decades later ran into each other in an airport or on the street, would he even recognize me? Would the young me even recognize the me I am now?

Voices Over Water, by W. S. Merwin

There are spirits that come back to us
when we have grown into another age
we recognize them just as they leave us
we remember them when we cannot hear them
some of them come from the bodies of birds
some arrive unnoticed like forgetting
they do not recall earlier lives
and there are distant voices still hoping to find us​

For more information about W.S. Merwin, please click here.

Words by Winter: my podcas

Poem of the Week, by Muriel Rukeyser

I’d love to see you in one of my spring workshops! Details here.

Observation: anyone who thinks it’s an insult to describe someone as a “former comedian” has clearly never stood alone in front of a crowd of people with the intention of making them laugh. Doing so takes crazy courage, along with smarts, empathy, compassion, and an ability not only to sense but to change the energy of the room. Go to a Moth show sometime. Stand up on stage and tell a story. Put your heart on the line.

When you do that, you’ll likely be terrified. You’ll look out at the packed room and all you’ll see is the glare of the spotlight. You won’t see all the people cheering you on with the kindness it’s possible to show a stranger who’s putting themself on the line.

I don’t know what will happen in Ukraine. I do know that Zelenskyy, the former comedian, is brave as hell.

Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars), by Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
the newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
the news would pour out of various devices
interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
they would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
we would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
to construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
to reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
to let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

Building a Story: a five-week workshop


My spring five-week online creative writing workshop, Building a Story, has five spaces available. This is the same workshop that has sold out immediately in the past, and I love teaching it. The weekly format (offered on Tuesday evenings, 6-9 pm CST) allows us time to dive into all the essential elements of storytelling, from unforgettable characters to great dialogue to the most powerful iterations of tense and point of view and narrative arc. The workshop is lively and exhilarating and always, always supportive. Over many years I’ve developed my own unique style of teaching (based in part on what I disliked in workshops I took as a student), and I welcome writers of all genres and all levels of experience. Our workshops are illuminating, exhilarating and unfailingly supportive. (See sample testimonials below)

I’d love to see you in this five-week workshop. Email me at alisonmcghee@gmail.com with any and all questions.

Building a Story meets on Tuesday evenings via Zoom: March 22, 29, April 5, 12, 19, from 6-9 CST. The workshop is strictly limited to eight participants, with detailed weekly individual feedback from me. Fee: $400. Bonus: Writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class.

Registration and payment: To register (for either this five-week Building a Story class or any of my other individual workshops, email me or simply send payment and note which class you’re registering for. Registration is tentative until payment is received. You may send payment via Venmo to @Alison-McGhee-1, via Paypal to alison_mcghee@hotmail.com, or by personal check.

Testimonials from past participants

New and experienced writers alike who are lucky enough to take an Alison McGhee class will find their writing explored and uplifted, examined and celebrated, but always, always improved, in her skilled and gentle hands. (Tara G.)

Alison’s writing programs have been a revelation. I’ve taken writing programs in the past that made me swear I would never write another word, but Alison has a knack for bringing out the very best in the writers who study with her, even when “the best” is something they never knew they were capable of. Her teaching is fiercely intelligent, fiercely gentle, empathetic, deeply informed, and never patronizing or condescending. Take a leap of faith and try one of her classes. You’ll never look back.  (Janet M.)

Alison’s teaching has this amazing after-effect, an echo, a vibration, that comes from her voice, her sympathy, her encouragement of good words. (Tim N.)

Alison brings to her role as teacher an impressive combination of skills – passion, knowledge and depth of experience in the craft of writing, expert facilitation skills that creates a safe space for participants, and a seamless ability to keep the group moving. But what sets Alison apart is her unique ability to support people in their frailty as they explore sometimes difficult material in their lives or the lives of their characters. Alison’s immense humanity never makes a writer feel like they are going somewhere entirely alone. There’s always the feeling that she’ll catch you if you fall, and guide you back to the work at hand – the gift of storytelling.  (Tessa V.)

Alison is so very kind and responsive.  Her prompts are the most inventive I have ever seen. She gently guides you into new territory and eases you into taking writing risks without you realizing it. Take one of her workshops and reap the benefits. (Keyan K.)