In Risky Writing, Jeffrey Berman builds on those earlier studies, describing ways teachers can encourage college students to write safely on a wide range of subjects often deemed too personal or too dangerous for the classroom: grieving the loss of a beloved relative or friend, falling into depression, coping with the breakup of one's family, confronting sexual abuse, depicting a drug or alcohol problem, encountering racial prejudice. Berman points out that nearly everyone has difficulty talking or writing about such issues because they arouse shame and tend to be enshrouded in secrecy and silence. This is especially true for college students, who are just emerging from adolescence and find themselves at institutions that rarely promote self-disclosure.
Recognizing the controversial nature of his subject, Berman confronts academic opposition to personal writing head on. He also discusses the similarities between the "writing cure" and the "talking cure," the role of the teacher and audience in the self-disclosing classroom, and the pedagogical strategies necessary to minimize risk, including the importance of empathy and other befriending skills.
"Readers of Jeffrey Berman's Risky Writing will quickly discern how a writing pedagogy can lead to students' self-transformation. . . . For years, Berman has been practicing a pedagogy rooted in psychoanalytic theory, and he has gained the respect of even his most adversarial colleagues. This is because students truly do feel the positive and therapeutic effects of writing through painful experiences. In Berman's workshops, students use their lived experiences as a subject for writing, and forge new commitments to their lives and relationships. Berman's model is intersubjective and allows for the inevitability of transference and countertransference, but more importantly, it encourages empathetic responses in all participants."—Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society
"[Berman] takes unprecedented precautions to assure that students who are 'at risk' are never retraumatized by the events they are disclosing in narrative or diary writing in the classroom. The effects have been nothing less than astonishing. From the beginning, Berman has been intent on finding an integrative practice that goes right to the heart of literature and its impact on its readers. In the transformative process of the act of writing, students are encouraged to write to reverse their own feelings of guilt or shame, feelings that have been unacceptable until writing gives them an acceptable framework in which to be voiced. Berman's approach is really the most politically directed possible because it makes students rethink their own feelings and behaviors. When an individual changes, a politics changes. Although Berman's use of personal writing is not a substitute for therapy, it has therapeutic effects. Most impressive in Berman's approach is an emphasis on sharing and giving needed perspective."—College English
"Risky Writing is highly recommended for educators at all levels of higher education."—American Journal of Psychotherapy
"Nothing short of thrilling. Strongly recommended."—Choice
"This book should be read not only by all writing teachers but by all educators. Demonstrating that writing is not merely a tool for communicating and persuading, but also a means of knowing, developing, and healing oneself, Risky Writing will challenge educators to rethink some of their fundamental aims and practices. The personal and social benefits of risky writing documented in this book should convince educators and parents that failing to help students engage in such writings is ultimately far riskier than helping them to do so."—Mark Bracher, editor, JPCS: Journal for
the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society
"The best defense of personal writing I have seen. It will appeal to a broad audience because of the emphasis on actual examples of student writing and practical advice on teaching composition. Berman is obviously a master teacher from whom we can all learn a great deal."—Jerome Bump, University of Texas
"The student writing quoted in this book is compelling, deeply moving, even at times painful to read. However, the students make it clear that their writing has helped to free them from the hardest part of these painful experiences—isolation and shame. These essays aren't confessional; they are transformational for both writers and readers in the class."—Marian MacCurdy, coeditor, Writing and Healing
"Depression, the death of someone close, sexual abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, and racial prejudice are not subjects most college students would willingly write about on a personal level for a class paper unless they were enrolled in one of Berman's classes at the University of Albany. The final volume of a trilogy that includes Diaries to an English Professor and Surviving Literary Suicide, Berman's latest work is based on five different sections of expository writing he taught from 1995 to 1999. It shows how teachers can encourage college students to write safely about personal experiences on sensitive subjects. Berman believes that "risky writing" is beneficial to students, arguing that writing about trauma gives them some power over it. Of course, Berman has critics among his colleagues, but he has allies among experts in fields such as psychology. And his students overwhelmingly agree that risky writing is beneficial. While many people would find this book interesting, its main audience is college instructors, recommending it primarily for academic libraries."—Library Journal