At a Grub Street “Memoir in Progress” class in 2017, 10 writers met over 10 weeks to share their work and offer feedback on that of others. But when the 10 weeks were up, six class members decided they weren’t done yet.
Together, Jean Duffy, Laura Beretsky, Bev Boisseau Stohl, Susan Schirl Smith, Marcie Kaplan, and Margaret Lowe established the Page Six writing group in order to continue offering each other advice and support, creating a community of writers in the process — and leading to publication for three of their dedicated crew.
After workshopping with each other and pitching to a multitude of publishers, Duffy, Beretsky, and Stohl published their memoirs in 2023. On Jan. 6, they are heading to Somerville Public Library to discuss the importance of their group, and how they published and marketed their books.
The writing group began meeting for three hours every other Monday to discuss each other’s works. They meet less frequently now, but Duffy, Beretsky, and Stohl said the group was instrumental in the publication of their memoirs.
“The fact that there’s a meeting on the calendar coming up forces you to have your next five pages ready and keeps the project moving forward,” said Duffy. “We also have gotten to know each other and our writing projects so well that we can give efficient feedback. And we’ve shared resources, classes we take — we share the notes, or if we stumble across an interesting article, we pass it around, so I think that’s accelerated our learning.”
Duffy’s memoir, “Soccer Grannies: The South African Women Who Inspire the World,” delves into the story of a soccer team of 40- to 80-year-old women in rural South Africa who dealt with discrimination, poverty, unemployment, and other challenges while still maintaining hope and humor. Duffy, a Somerville resident, started playing soccer in her mid-40s after watching her daughter play and realizing she herself wanted to be a part of the sport. “Soccer Grannies” describes the experience of cultural exchange between her team and the South African team.
“Seizing Control” by Beretsky — also from Somerville — details her experiences living with epilepsy, from workplace discrimination to undergoing brain surgery. “I had to write it because I was hoping to demystify [epilepsy] a little bit,” said Beretsky. “My other hope for the book is that it gets into the hands of people who have intractable epilepsy — uncontrollable seizures or refractory — because I did learn some things along the way about how to work with [doctors] to make sure that you’re getting the best care possible.”
Stohl, who lives in Watertown, ran the revolutionary linguist Noam Chomsky’s MIT office for 24 years. Her memoir “Chomsky & Me” recounts her time working alongside him. She said she realized after working with him for so many years that people needed to know what he was really like day to day, and how he helped her deal with an often overwhelming job.
“He is a gravely serious man looking horror in the face, and war and injustice, 24 hours a day. It dawned on me much later, he used humor so that I could deal with what I was seeing every day,” said Stohl. “To find the humor in him was a big surprise for me.”
For those hoping to publish a book themselves, Beretsky noted that finding a group with different writing and publishing experiences allows for vital learning and exchanges of wisdom.
“Writing is such a solitary process where you spend hours with your keyboard all by yourself,” said Duffy, “so to have a group that you can come together with, and we’re all going through the same ups and downs in the writing process, is really helpful.”
WRITING GROUP MAGIC: How Three Pals Navigated the World of Writing and Publishing Together
Saturday, Jan. 6, 1:30-3 p.m. Somerville Public Library, 79 Highland Ave, Somerville. https://somervillepubliclibrary.assabetinteractive.com
Maddie Browning can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.