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how the light

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Pat's poem, Barry Moser's illustration. Proceeds to AWA outreach. For the text of the poem, click here.

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Pat’s Blog

I am having a great time writing my “Narrative History” of Amherst Writers &Artists. I’m doing it as an introduction to the huge amount of Archives of AWA in the Jones Library, Amherst — newsletters, publications (We’ve published 39 books and a literary journal for almost 40 years!) — so much that it would be impossible for some grad student wanting to research our history to get a true “feel” of who we have been. And still are. I’m trying to provide the stories, my own and those of others willing to contribute their stories.

But yesterday morning before daylight I came downstairs and in the lovely dark –Kafka said even dark is not enough solitude for the writer. I came down to write, and was thinking about strangeness, how John Gardner said the most important thing in good writing is a quality of strangeness.
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by Pat Schneider

Amherst Writers & Artists is one manifestation of what came to be known in and following the 1970’s as the writing process movement. Although its deepest origins are in books by two women, Dorothea Brande, 1934, and Brenda Ueland, 1938, they have seldom been recognized as the founding mothers of a new and profoundly more humane way of teaching writing. Before the 1970’s, a competitive, negative-response method was used almost universally. Then there emerged a groundswell of reaction. In 1973, Peter Elbow’s articulation of a new approach in Writing Without Teachers (Oxford University Press, 1973) became well known in academic settings; and starting in 1979, knowing nothing of Elbow’s work, I began to develop a new workshop method, non-hierarchical, non-classist, craft-based but specifically designed to eliminate shaming, belittling, and bullying in responses to written work—all of which were deeply engrained in the teaching of writing in schools, colleges, and universities. From second grade on through a doctorate, persons were being taught, both subtly and overtly, that they could never be “a writer.” Continue reading

EPSON scanner image

Last week the count went up to three thousand on the evening news.  Three thousand children separated from their parents and removed to detention centers and foster care all over the country.  No records kept of parent/child identities.  Three thousand.  Children.

All at once I am eleven years old.  Writing these words, my stomach turns. Something deep inside wakes up, alert, afraid.  My breath gets short.

I was eleven when I stood with my nine-year-old brother in the admissions office of the orphanage, being admitted.  He would become “Sam” as an adult.  Then, he was “Samuel.”  I was “Patsy.” Continue reading

Forty-some years ago, in the early days of Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA), one of the founding editors of our literary journal Peregrine, Walker Rumble, along with Karen Donovan, started up their own small journal, Paragraph.

This magazine had many fans, and a long run. Now Editor Elizabeth George and artist Adell Donaghue, through Simian Press, will be launching LINEA, a journal of previously unpublished paragraphs of fiction.

LINEA will be similar to Paragraph, but with its own unique, artistic flair. Co-editor on the project is my good friend and another early dreamer of our work together in AWA, Carol Edelstein. Continue reading

Something quite wonderful has just happened, and it moves me to celebrate the work of my husband, Peter Schneider. Yesterday he received a letter from Poet Laureate,Ted Kooser, asking permission to use Peter’s poem, “Lost in Plain Sight” on American Life in Poetry, which “reaches 1.5 million readers in newspapers and on the web!”

To read his poem, go to: LOST IN PLAIN SIGHT

Although he has a beautiful book of poems, Line Fence, and we are in the process of publishing a new collection, Below the Remembering Mind, Peter does not think of himself as a poet. Nor does he credit himself for his 25 years of work in our farmhouse basement, managing all of the business of Amherst Writers & Artists. Continue reading

by Peter Schneider

Somewhere recently
I lost my short term memory.
It was there and then it moved
like the flash of a red fox
along a line fence.

My short term memory
has no address but here
no time but now.
It is a straight-man, waiting to speak
to fill in empty space
with name, date, trivia, punch line.
And then it fails to show. Continue reading

Twenty-two people is about a dozen more than fit really comfortably in our living room, but we were all happy to be there two weeks ago to help Jen Cross celebrate the publication of her quite wonderful book, Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma.
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Jen Cross, an AWA-certified Affiliate, has been doing break-through work in California, using the AWA method to liberate and empower persons who have suffered sexual trauma, and to give voice also to healthy, joyous sexual experience.

I have been in awe of her work for years.  Recently I was greatly honored to be asked to write a Foreword for her new book, which I was happy to do, because Writing Ourselves Whole is simply wonderful. (This foreword is included at the bottom of this post, if you’d like to read more.)

You are invited to join Jen Cross and I in Amherst to celebrate the release of Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma (Mango, 2017).


The afternoon will include a reading, book signing, an opportunity to write in community, and a time for Q&A.

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Today two very nice things are happening for me and my poetry!

The first is that an interview of me by Daisy Mathias and reading of my poems is being broadcast at 5 p.m.on WMUA, 91.1 FM., the radio station of UMass.

For eleven years, Daisy Mathias has produced a weekly radio program on WMUA-Amherst, 91.1 FM, the student and community radio station of UMass-Amherst. Poetry à la Carte features poems both ancient and modern, commentary, and interviews with local poets. The program is streamed live at, Mondays, 5 pm EST.

In her spare time, Daisy consults as a pediatric speech-language pathologist at Shriners Hospital, Springfield, MA.

And the second is that a poem of mine is being featured on Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry.

Newspapers carrying the column download it as a PDF and run it on their usual print schedules.

People in 71 countries now receive the column in Nepal, Indonesia, Uganda, Bangladesh, Egypt, Tunisia, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, most of Europe, Mexico, India, The Philippines, Turkey, China, Viet Nam, South Korea, Canada, Myanmar, Argentina, Tarawa Atoll, the U.K., and U.S. Readers from Maine to Hawaii. It’s amazing to think of people in all these places reading the work of contemporary American poets each Monday.

Current readership is about 3,500,000 per week. Subscribers receive it electronically.


Additional info:

My mother telling stories on her last Christmas day

Yesterday I received a card from my daughter, Bethany, that was beautiful. On the cover, the words: When Peace, Like a River.

A rush of memories came, as she knew they would. My mother, whom I have finally written myself into forgiving and loving truly with all my heart, had a hard, hard life. And countless times I heard her singing to herself an old hymn, When peace like a river, attendeth my way . . .

Her father was a southern Missouri fundamentalist Christian who walked the floor at night struggling with what he perceived (rightly) were contradictions in the Bible — which to him meant the whole thing was worthless. He gave it up, embraced Darwin, and told my mother as a young girl, “I’d rather see you in your grave than baptized.” When she was an early teenager, she put Sunday clothes in a paper bag, changed into them behind bushes alongside the country road, walked to a Methodist camp meeting and got herself secretly baptized. Then in her late teens she joined a deep-down fundamentalist sect called “Mount Zion Holiness community.” Women there never cut their hair, wore their skirts to their boot tops, their sleeves to their wrists – almost unimaginable in those hot, southern summers. Their belief was that there are “two works of grace — salvation sand anctification.”
After sanctification, it was impossible for believers to sin.

My mother, Lelah Ridgway Vought, in earnest discussion with our theologian daughter, Laurel Schneider

Then she married my father, had two kids, and four years later divorced him for his drinking and whoring. (Another telling, for another time: he, too, has his story.)

She returned to the holiness community, rented a farmhouse on their land, across a two-track dirt road from their tabernacle. They considered her a fallen sinner for divorcing; they loved her and set themselves to trying to redeem her. She told me they were “the little, stingin’ kind,” and to stay away from them. But on summer evenings she sat on the porch during camp meetings in the tabernacle, and sang along as they sang hymns in four-part harmony – the music that Garrison Keillor has called the most sensual music in the world. Only once, in her entire life, did she ever again go to a church.

Granddaughter Sarah’s first violin

But she had a favorite hymn. Only the first verse, as the others are full of the theology she had fled. The words she sang are remarkable, given her story. It was written by Isaac Watts, who wrote some 600 hymns, among which is “Joy to the World.”

The card from Bethany brought my mother so strongly back to my mind and heart, I looked for a recording of the song, and was surprised not to find only one poor one in English, but a good number, both sung in Korean and instrumental. (Inserted at the end of this post). I chose a beautiful instrumental recording: When Peace, Like a River, Taiwan Gospel Book Room, Hymns of Praise 6.

Here are the words:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows, like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul!


Bless your heart. Whatever your tradition, may you be able to find joy in it, or in the memory of it, in this holy season. May it be well with your soul. May you be blessed with music and with peace, like a river.


Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) is the organization that is carrying on the work Pat established and carried on for more than 30 years. To discover how you can write with an AWA Method Group, or become trained as an AWA facilitator, please click this link.