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After Las Madres: The Intertextual Collaboration

At Las Madres, we experienced an “intertextuality” by working off one another’s stories. The sharing of stories produced an awareness of our interconnectedness and our responsibility to one another within the writing group. Such connectedness and responsibility seemed a perfect antidote to a certain distance and alienation I felt between myself and my students, between myself and other members of the community, and between the academy and the community. What emerged from my work at Las Madres and my sense of alienation and distance were the elements of a writing process that would become the Intertextual Collaboration (ITC).

While the ITC has many aspects and elements, a central feature directly related to the Las Madres experience is that it demands that writers listen to and value every voice. In the post-modern conversation that results, a play of voices replaces the attempt of one voice to dominate all others. Here, briefly, is how the ITC works:

  1. Together participants brainstorm a broad theme (neighborhood, family, work), and then select five to six sub themes around which to structure the conversation.
  2. Participants select the subtopic with which they wish to begin. They go home and write a draft of their first paper.
  3. The following week, they bring this draft and three copies to the group. In small groups, each person reads aloud, and discussion follows, which is guided by the writer. The focus is on the ideas, not the writing specifically. In other words, participants use the writing as a vehicle to exchange ideas on the theme. Each person takes a turn reading and sharing.
  4. At the end of the first session, each participant takes home copies of all group members’ writing. During the following week, participants select something from each draft (a phrase, a word, an idea, a style) and integrate it into their work, producing a second draft. In addition, each writer must create and keep an acknowledgments page citing the source of the borrowed material and explaining the reason for using it.
  5. Participants bring a second draft to the group, meet in small groups with different writers, and repeat the process reading aloud, discussing and listening to the ideas that arise from the writing, integrating those ideas into subsequent drafts, and acknowledging them.
  6. This pattern is repeated throughout the ten weeks that a group meets, until each person has worked with everyone in the large group and borrowed something from each to produce texts that reflect the multiple voices and perspectives of the group.

Now I want to stop here and examine what I think makes the ITC a unique experience, what is particular about it as a collaboration, and what it can teach us in terms of creating and healing community. While the postmodern dimension is somewhat obvious the play of voices and the affirmation of diverse perspectives the ITC does not invalidate existentialist or humanist positions. Both have their place within the process. The ITC contains both individual expression and the interface with and experience of community that most individuals cannot escape.

While each writer joins this community and must work within its boundaries stealing language and ideas from the other participants as a way to sustain and re-examine experience he or she also has complete freedom in terms of how this is carried out. A writer may adopt a very minimalist approach to the intertextual community, choosing to use as little of the language of the other group members as possible.’ Such an alienated individual can choose to remain alienated, can keep any stance he or she wishes, but not without an intensive examination of that position brought about by the continuous movement back and forth between individual perspective and the joining of voices with others through both spoken and written conversation.

The acknowledgments page serves as an important record of the influence others exert on each writer’s work and illustrates how we are always influenced by those around us, whether we accept or reject one another, how we make gestures toward one another, and how we reshape other people’s ideas and make them our own. The acknowledgments page is thus one of the most important aspects of the ITC process because it allows each writer to honor each voice, to see his or her own voice honored in the written landscapes of others, and to retain his or her individual position within this community. In the ITC, we are not after consensus but an integration of diverse perspectives in a revelatory moment. And this revelatory moment, however fleeting, can be healing.

Florence, Sandra. “Las Madres, Upstairs/downstairs: From Soul Maps and Story Circles to Intertextual Collaboration.” Writing and Healing: Toward an Informed Practice. Ed. Charles M. Anderson and Marian M. MacCurdy. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2000. 416-48. Print.