University of Iowa

Truth Be Told: Writing the Essay of Social Witness

Weeklong June 24 to June 29 2018

Some essays look inward; others look out, drawing attention to disturbing social concerns. Through writing, the author gives witness to an injustice, bringing it to light so that readers will become more aware and more likely to respond. In the 1930’s George Orwell described a Burmese man being hanged, exposing the failure of the colonial British system. In the 1990’s Terry Tempest Williams wrote about cancer in her Utah family as a way to expose the damages of U.S. nuclear testing. In 2009 Eula Biss wrote about white looters after a tornado in Iowa to throw light on the double standard used regarding black looters in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Whether you are concerned about racial profiling, gender politics, health issues, body image, environmental degradation, gun violence, refugee treatment, dwindling resources, the cost of health care, or something entirely different, this workshop is your chance to act as a witness, drawing attention to what matters. Of course, most of the essays of this sort come from genuine eye-witnesses, involving a degree of direct experience, but in all cases they shine the light outward onto what needs exposure. This is an intermediate workshop. We will critique one essay in progress, and we will begin at least one new essay of witness. Participants are invited—but not required—to bring a draft of an emerging social witness essay.