Writing About Trauma, Conflict, and Loss

Writing About Trauma, Conflict, and Loss


Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University



6 hours



Paul Valéry wrote, “Our memory repeats to us what we haven’t yet come to terms with, what still haunts us.” Trauma survivors often sense a loss of control over their own lives and circumstances and feel deeply conflicted because they have undergone a changed sense of self, a changed way of relating to others, and a changed worldview. This course will deepen and broaden students’ understanding of how trauma, conflict, and loss are intertwined, and what it means to write about these entities in the “post-traumatic age” we live in.

The class will examine man-made disasters (war, terrorist attacks, school shootings, bombings), natural disasters (floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis), personal traumas (health issues, rape, abuse, disabilities, suicide, death, accidents), and even technological catastrophes (everything that can go wrong when systems fail), in order to investigate and produce writings that recapture the past, face the loss, and reconcile their two conflicting realities—the one destroyed by trauma, and the one that is different, yet remains. Writers will focus on the evolution of their narrative and how to share these narratives with others in safe places.


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