Documentary Storytelling: Writing Ourselves, Writing the World


About the Course: 

In this five-week writing workshop, we will think about and practice what it means to document. We will read journalistic pieces, essays, prose poetry, and hybrids of these by authors committed to documenting, analyzing, and reflecting on the times they live in—authors like Joan Didion, James Baldwin, Maggie Nelson, Sarah Stillman, Claudia Rankine, and others.

All nonfiction writing is rooted in the self because the “I”—or eye—decides the angles explored, the questions asked, the lenses used, the information included or discarded, the subject matter and voices included. Our backgrounds, identities, and areas of interest and expertise determine what and how we write. Rather than strive for neutrality—which is itself a construct rooted in who has power, authority, airtime in a culture—we will acknowledge and address the subjective in documentary writing, engaging the more challenging work of situating the self. We will become documentarians: practicing research and reporting methods and embarking on “gonzo” missions, and experiments of documentation in different forms, to generate writing. In these times, we need the voices of writers who are keen observers and storytellers, people who are engaged with and thinking critically about the world around them. The course will include discussions of texts, in and out-of-class writing assignments, and workshopping of student work. Together, we learn methods of documentation and write into and through the issues that matter most to us.

The Details

When: Five Tuesdays, 6-8:30 p.m.

Tuesday, September 4

Tuesday, September 11

Tuesday, September 19

Tuesday, September 25

Tuesday, October 2

Where: Finalizing, downtown Tucson 


Cost: $225*

Note: This class will be capped at 12 participants so register soon to reserve your spot.


*payment plans available if necessary.

About Lisa: Lisa M. O’Neill is a writer and educator committed to social justice and moving through the world with authenticity and compassion. A native New Orleanian and current desert dweller, Lisa received her MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Arizona, where she taught writing in the English Department for a decade. She writes essays, journalism articles, and think pieces, and she teaches online and in-person writing workshops and works individually with writers, helping them discover and usher their stories onto the page. She also teaches writing with students at juvenile detention and the Arizona State Prison. She was a regular contributor to Edible Baja Arizona and received first place in Community Food and Beverage Reporting from the Arizona Press Club for 2015. Her July 2017 piece for B*tch Media was featured in the New York Times “What We’re Reading” list. More writing has also been published in Diagram, defunct, drunken boat, GOOD, Good Housekeeping, Bustle, Salon, The Feminist Wire, Talk Poverty, The Washington Post, and, among others.

Note: This class will be capped at 12 participants so register soon to reserve your spot.


Registration Closed

Words from Students: 


Lisa, the time I spent in your class was such a gift. You have such charm and wit, and an adeptness in the way you conjured writing out of me, by presenting thought-provoking short prompts or helping me see the possibility in connecting two unrelated ideas or types or sorts or breeds of things. In class, I admired your calm demeanor, the way you offered forth heartfelt respect for each student’s perspective, and gently guided the discussions in productive directions to enable us all to write more and better while learning from you and one another. I came away with places to start for new writing as well as more a fully-formed essay that would not be where it is without you having shepherded it along. A really wholehearted thank you. I hope to have the opportunity to learn from you again in the future.

—Holly Gardner

I recently had the good fortune to work with Lisa in a six-week writing workshop, which I found to be a rewarding opening to a meaningful exploration of the things in the world that I want to be observing and documenting.  Lisa’s approach combines an impressive understanding of the written word in its many forms, a gentle sense of humor, nurturing and open hearted facilitation, and a a deep reverence for the power of writing to connect us with our deeper selves.  I hope to have the opportunity to with Lisa again as I continue to explore the role of writing in my life!

—Dan Kruse

“The class, “Where I’m From,” was both fun and inspirational. Lisa selected readings in a wide variety of styles that enriched our own writing and discussion. Our class discussions were lively and recognized everyone in the group. I hope to take more classes with Lisa.”

—Christine Baines

“I highly recommend any class or workshop taught by Lisa. You can be assured her curriculum will be strong, her homework assignments challenging, and her writing prompts will jump start your creative juices. Best of all, is the warm and supportive atmosphere Lisa creates that allows everyone to always freely and safely express themselves. And isn’t that what a true artist is devoted to?”

—Tony DiRusso

“The environment that you created was so supportive, thoughtful, and challenging that I found myself growing in each class–as a reader, as a participant of the writing community that emerged, as a writer, and as a person. I left not only feeling that I had gotten great practice and feedback on my writing, but also that I was more able to affirm the relevance of the questions I am asking, which is a gift that has gone far beyond this class. The feedback you provided, the readings you assigned, and the way you facilitated the course made all of these things possible in ways that far exceeded any expectations I had.”

—Katie Sharar

“I’m looking forward to taking another class with Lisa. Her teaching style is informed, enthusiastic and relaxed. The level of participation in discussion and completing assignments was one of the highest I’ve seen in a class. Lisa made it impossible to fail or feel slighted. She kept us excited about the content of the class. It was fun and productive. I think we were all pleased with the writing we produced – and how often can that be said about a class?”

—Student, anonymous evaluation

“This was a delightful class to attend and I can’t thank Lisa enough for the growth it encouraged in my writing, and in my appreciation of others. Lisa was an instructor who gave the class her full attention from the first class to the last. A great gift to her students.”

—Student, anonymous evaluation