A fire burns within us all.

In the late 1970s, James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., embarked on a research project in an attempt to get some answers to the questions: Why do people throughout the world seek to tell their untold stories? Is there some kind of urge to confess? Is it healthy for people to divulge their deepest thoughts and feelings? Or, conversely, is it unhealthy, if people wish, to not to disclose the private side of their lives? Pennebaker is the acknowledged father of the American Writing as Healing movement, and researchers continue to further the understanding and prove the efficacy of writing as a way of healing.

In his landmark book, Writing Without Teachers, Peter Elbow fostered a new pedagogy that Pat Schneider expanded on and has brought to thousands of writers worldwide in the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method. Schneider’s approach starts with honoring the inherent talent in people and in the power of writing as a process that engenders the trust for writers, expert and beginner, to take the risks needed for real progress in writing. Schneider’s book, Writing Alone and With Othersis, as Elbow says in his introduction to the book, a guide that will “beat the [writer’s] block, banish fear, and help create lasting work.Type your paragraph here.

Pat Schneider, in Writing Alone and With others, says, “We are all connected to one another and the mystery at the heart of the universe through our strange and marvelous ability to create words.  When we write, we create, and when we offer our creations to one another, we close the wound of loneliness and may participate in healing the broken world.  Our words, our truth, our imagining, our dreaming may be the best gifts we have to give.

Since their inceptions, these two movements have grown along separate paths and have only occasionally or informally been combined as a methodology. In February 2002, Lawrence Spann, Ph.D., established the Literature, Arts and Medicine Program (LAMP) at Sutter Health in Sacramento with the mission to give patients, health professionals, caregivers (and just about anyone) a safe place to express themselves through writing. He called the group Sutterwriters, and writing sessions were held in hospital conference rooms; therefore, much, but not all, the writing was related to illness and loss. Spann did something unique, though; he took the principles of writing as a way of healing and coupled it with the AWA method. The synergy of this combination surprised even him. Starting with one weekly writing group that he facilitated, he soon oversaw the facilitation of eight(?) writing groups at two Sutter Hospital campuses and other Sacramento venues.

Sutter Health was both the home of and provided the financial support for Sutterwriters and LAMP Press, which, under Dr. Spann’s guidance, published nine books by group participants. Dr. Spann held large public readings, invited noted authors to speak and hold workshops in the hospital, lent his support for creation of a college class called “Writing as a Healing Art,” and fostered a supportive atmosphere for anyone who wished to come write in safe, protected groups.

With the onset of financial difficulties for Sutter Health, the funding for LAMP and Dr. Spann’s position was eliminated in 2007. Sutterwriters transformed into a grassroots group of volunteer facilitators who ascribed to the concept of writing as a healing and continued to employ AWA practices. This loosely organized coalition of facilitators oversaw eight? unique writing groups in the Sacramento area and continued Dr. Spann’s tradition of ensuring that free writing groups remain available to all.


In April 2010 Pat Schneider came to Sacramento to conduct a special training for ten Sutterwriters facilitators in the area who were not already certified as AWA affiliates. This affiliation allows the Sutterwriters facilitators to officially conduct writing groups using the guidelines and practices of Amherst Writers and Artists, as well as to ally with the international group of AWA affiliates. Now that most of the Sutterwriters facilitators have been certified and are AWA affiliates (see list below), the group will change its official name to AWA Sacramento, though continuing on its website and in all its literature to reference Sutterwriters and the traditions begun by Dr. Spann.

—John Crandall

Sutterwriters and AWA (Amherst Writers and Artists) Sacramento:

A history