Posts Tagged ‘Allyson Latta’

Allyson Latta Interviewed on TVO’s The Agenda: “The Art of Memoir”

If you missed the original airing of this interview on August 8, 2016, or wish to share it with family or friends you think would be (or should be) interested in memoir writing, you can watch here. It’s also on YouTube.

Of the many lovely comments I received on this, the most meaningful to me were from viewers who said my words inspired them to begin writing their own stories, or to talk to older family members before it’s too late to ask the important questions.

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Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Coming Up: Writer to editor, Michelle Berry interviews Allyson Latta

Me with Sheryl Gordon, guest speaker for Turquoise Waters Writers' Retreat in the Kawartha Lakes, July 2016.

Me with Sheryl Gordon, guest speaker for Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat in the Kawartha Lakes, July 2016.

My students have always enjoyed asking questions of the guest authors I’ve brought to my online courses and writers’ retreats (such as Sheryl Gordon, pictured at left), but at the end of the spring session, a few of them said they’d actually like to interview me and find out more about what I do and why — editing, teaching memoir writing, and organizing residential writers’ retreats. In all my years as a creative writing instructor, it never occurred to me to let students “interview” me.

I’m not currently running my courses Memories into Story I and II*, but when I mentioned the students’ comments to novelist and fellow UofT online  instructor Michelle Berry, she admitted she was curious too. So here’s what’s happening: she’s sending me  some probing questions (not too probing, I hope), and I’m going to answer them here soon.

She’s not getting off that easily, though. This fall, we’ll reverse roles: I’ll interview Michelle, instructor to instructor, editor to writer.

This is going to be fun.


*I continue to be an adviser for Final Project Tutorials, the final course required for the UofT SCS Creative Writing Certificate.

Monday, August 8th, 2016

Allyson Latta Talks Memoir Tonight on TVO’s The Agenda

This is kind of exciting. Journalist Nam Kiwanuka of TVO’s The Agenda  interviewed me as part of a weeklong series on  memoir writing.

My interview airs tonight, August 8, 2016, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. There will also be a link available on the TVO website for later viewing.

I hope you’ll tune in.


Journalist Nam Kiwanuka with editor and writing instructor Allyson Latta


Monday, August 8th, 2016

A Sense of Place: Mystica Writing & Yoga Retreat

Guest post by Sandra Shaw Homer


Photo by Rick Brazeau (

Photo by Rick Brazeau (


The theme of this year’s writing retreat (a series of workshops — we all worked hard!), a Sense of Place, was perfectly chosen, as it was my strong sense of place that inspired me to suggest that Allyson Latta hold it here on Lake Arenal.

Photo by Allyson Latta

Ever since her first Costa Rican workshop in 2012, to which she invited me to speak about my writing, I have wanted to be a participant. I was so impressed by the creative energy and goodwill flowing all around me. But Allyson had her next couple of winter retreats in Grenada, hard for me to get to.  The only solution . . . to tempt her to Lake Arenal in April of this year.

Fortunately, just ten minutes from my house, there’s a lodge cum restaurant cum yoga centre cum place-to-connect-to-your-inner-truth, Mystica Lodge, overlooking the lake and Arenal Volcano. It’s run by Francesco Carullo, his wife, Lori Myles-Carullo, and Barbara Moglia. Everyone at the retreat agreed it was perfect (excellent food, impeccable service) — with the minor exception of the screaming midnight cicada in Sara’s room (soon gently dispatched). And my house, with its open spaces, broad verandas, and view of the lake and volcano, proved a conducive venue for several of our sessions and a lunch.

Photo by Rick Brazeau

Photo by Rick Brazeau

Each session opened with a five-minute writing prompt. The first time, I, for one, sat speechless (or wordless), but in just a few days, what initially seemed like forever grew to seem much too short, and all of us were begging for more time. The quality of light. Windows. First impressions of Mystica Lodge. A place that scared you. Some of these we would read aloud. Then Allyson would read to us — a description, a poem — and get a lively discussion going.  One day there was a stark and evocative video from Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows to write about.

I think we all agreed that our favourite — and perhaps most challenging — exercise involved pair work, in which each of us had to describe a place to a partner in a way that the partner could then write about it.  We were all surprised — and moved — to discover how a place so familiar could be so well “perceived” by another after only a half-hour’s conversation.

Alex and LindaIndeed, “perception” is what it’s all about. A sense of place is more than a scene, a theatrical backdrop; it’s how place is perceived by someone. All the senses come into play here. While I was describing to Rick my tour of the engine room of a freighter, he asked, “What does a freighter smell like?” That was a great question, because he made me call upon a sense I had not consciously used when I was there. Interestingly, we don’t forget (memories beget memories), and after a moment of putting myself back there, I was able to come up with a few “smelly” sensations that were nonetheless true for my not having noticed them at the time. This “not forgetting” is something all writers need to tune in to when setting a place down on the page.

And, of course, what I perceive (smell, taste, hear, touch, taste, feel emotionally) in a particular place won’t be anything like what another person does — so that sense of place can tell us a lot about who a character is. It can also convey mood —  cobwebs and creepy noises in the dark, anyone?

Photo by Rick Brazeau

Photo by Rick Brazeau

Place itself can be a character. In Evelio’s Garden, my forthcoming memoir (with Allyson’s help, it seems that it will finally come forth), Evelio feels personally set upon by the unpredictable weather. And the wind and rain surge back and forth through the book like waves on a beach, pounding relentlessly, taking on a personality of their own. This is the classic Man against Nature theme, and Allyson reminded us that place can illustrate theme. Without a theme — in memoir as well as fiction — a book can just flounder around without going anywhere.

A strong sense of place will take the reader out of herself, and as readers we all want to be transported to the writer’s world, where things might make a different kind of sense, but sense all the same. We want to see through the protagonist’s eyes and even beyond, to those things the protagonist may not even be conscious of and which also reveal character.

Allyson brought us through all of these points, and more, in our conversations and assignments (including daily homework, even a poem!) in a way that made us all much more conscious of how we can use a sense of place to make our writing more alive, more real, more truthful.

I was powerfully impressed with both the teaching and the writing that resulted from that intense, very special week here on the lake. When can we do it again?

Photo by Rick Brazeau

Photo by Rick Brazeau


♦     ♦     ♦

SANDRA SHAW HOMER has lived in Costa Rica for 25 years, where she has taught languages and worked as a translator and environmental activist. For several years she wrote a regular column, “Local Color,” for the English-language weekly The Tico Times. Her writing has appeared in Oasis Journal 2014 and on a few websites, notably Allyson’s Memories into Story, Off the Beaten Track, and her own blog, Writing from the Heart. Her first travel memoir, Letters from the Pacific, is available in paperback and as an e-book. She is working on a memoir of her life in Costa Rica, Evelio’s Garden, an excerpt of which can be found at Miss Move Abroad.


From Allyson:

Lori and Francesco (photo by Rick Brazeau)

Lori and Francesco (photo by Rick Brazeau)

Muchas gracias to all the writers whose creative writing and sensitivity and mutual support made this year’s retreat special; to Sandy for suggesting it, helping with the planning, and opening her home, and for the gift of that yummy catered meal; to Lori Myles-Carullo, Francesco Carullo, Barbara Moglia, and their wonderful staff at magical Mystica Lodge for their smiles and warm hospitality (not to mention scrumptious food, stunning gardens, restorative yoga with Lori by the river, massages, swimming, and all the guidance and trouble-shooting that contributed to the week’s success); to our amazing driver, Eliecer (Flaco) Carvajal, for getting us where we needed to go on time — including to that stunning lakeside restaurant right at sunset — and entertaining us all the way; to Natalie McDonald of Sapori Antichi for her elegant catering at Sandy’s; and to guitarist and singer-songwriter Hannibal Chévez for his beautiful performance on our last evening. From start to finish, this really was a memorable retreat.

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Memoirist Cea Sunrise Person to be my guest for Memories into Story I (online, Spring 2015)


C_Person photo

Cea Sunrise Person, author of the bestselling memoir North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Counterculture Family, and How I Survived Both (HarperCollins Canada, 2015), will be guest author for the upcoming session of my online course Memories into Story I: Life Writing, offered by the University of Toronto, SCS, Creative Writing Program. The course begins May 4 and runs for 10 weeks.

You can find out more here: Memories into Story I. (Interested? Register soon as space is limited.)

North of Normal serves to expose counterculture realities, illuminate family relationships that juxtapose love with torment, and illustrate the power of forgiveness,” the Toronto Star says of the memoir that some have compared to Jeannette Walls’s bestseller The Glass Castle. I had the pleasure of copy editing North of Normal, and I’m so pleased that my students will benefit from Cea’s background and thoughts on turning life experiences into creative nonfiction.

As an editor, I’ve worked with and come to know many wonderful writers, Cea among them. Literary guests are a popular feature of my courses Memories into Story I (introduction) and Memories into Story II (advanced workshop). Students have the opportunity to read several short memoirs or excerpts from longer works selected by the author. They then submit questions — based on the course curriculum — about the works read, and about writing and publishing in general — and later receive a pdf of the full collaborative interview.

Previous guests from both Canada and the United States include Will Ferguson, Peter Behrens, Beth Powning, Catherine Gildiner, Adair Lara, Gabrielle Hamilton, Lee Martin, and others. (I publish an edited version of these interviews later on my website; you can use the Search function on the homepage to find the ones that have appeared so far.)

About Cea

Born into an eccentric hippie family, CEA SUNRISE PERSON spent the first decade of her life living in and out of tipis in the Canadian wilderness. From the age of thirteen, she worked successfully as a model in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Munich, Hamburg, Zurich, and Milan. She now lives in Vancouver with her husband and three young children. She is the author of the bestselling memoir North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Counterculture Family, and How I Survived Both and is at work on a second memoir. (


About North of Normal

In the late 1960s, Cea’s charismatic grandfather Papa Dick uproots his family from suburban California and moves them to the Canadian wilderness. Along with her teenage mother Michelle, Cea spends the first decade of her life living in and out of canvas tipis with neither electricity nor running water, at the mercy of fierce storms, food shortages, and adults more interested in their own desires than parenting a child.

Knowing no other world, Cea is happy enough playing nude in the meadows and snowshoeing behind the grandfather she idolizes. But for Michelle, one crucial element is missing: a man. When she strikes out to look for love, spinning from one boyfriend to the next, Cea is forced along for the ride—and into a harsh awakening. Finally, in her early teens, Cea realizes she will have to make a choice as drastic as the one her grandparents had made to get the kind of life she craves.

Shocking, heartbreaking, yet often funny, North of Normal is the singular story of a woman’s desire to find her normal — no matter what it takes. Cea’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance, which comes full circle when she has children of her own, is profoundly moving, celebrating the strength we all carry within us to shape our own destiny.

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Join Me for Memories into Story II (online), Starting January 12

Allyson Latta

Allyson Latta (Photo: Keane Shore)

Happy new year, writers!

There are still a couple of spots open in my online critique course Memories into Story II: Life Writing, offered through University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. The fun begins Monday, January 12, and runs for two 4-week periods — 12 Jan to 9 Feb and 23 Feb to 21 Mar.

This time around, there’s a two-week break from 9 to 22 Feb, as I’ll be in San Miguel de Allende leading a workshop and taking part in a panel on memoir writing at the San Miguel International Writers’ Conference.

18616970My guest for Memories into Story II, which focuses on memoir and personal essay, is Richard Gilbert, author of Shepherd (read this wonderful review by Thomas Larson in River Teeth) and one of my favourite essayists on the craft of memoir writing. During the course, students will read several short works by Richard and have the opportunity to take part in a virtual interview.

To register, students must have completed my introductory course, Memories into Story I, or equivalent memoir writing instruction. In the case of the latter, prior to registering please submit two samples of your best writing (maximum 1,500 words) for my approval to

Students must have one of their two short works (maximum 15 pages, double spaced) ready to share with the group by the start of class. The second work can be completed during the course.

Former student Alexandra Risen, who completed Memories into Story I (intro class) and whom I mentored through her Final Project for the UofT SCS Creative Writing Certificate, recently landed a book deal for her memoir. Plum Johnson, author of the memoir They Left Us Everything, was a student in my previous session of Memories into Story II. Among my students, many emerging writers have gone on to see their short memoirs published in journals including Hippocampus Magazine, carte blanche, and The Sun Magazine, newspapers, and anthologies, or to self-publish their life stories.

How far could a course like this take you and your writing? Join us and see!

For additional details or to register, visit Memories into Story II.


Costa Rica Retreat news:

I’ve opened up one more spot in my Mystica Writing & Yoga Retreat, April 6 to 13, 2015. Our small group will stay in picturesque Mystica Lodge, and hold some events at the nearby home of Costa Rica author Sandra Shaw Homer; both venues have stunning views of Arenal Volcano and the lake of the same name. If you’re interested in a travel and writing experience with structured workshops, a private consult with me, and time to focus on your own writing — sightseeing, too, of course — contact me at lattamemoirs [at] and request the Retreat Guide. Participation in yoga is optional.

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015