On Thursday, May 17th, DePaul University faculty, staff, and students gathered at the Lincoln Park campus to hear author Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ speak about her writing process at the facilitated discussion, “A Dialogue on Memoir Writing with Sr. Helen Prejean.” This program was one of several campus talks that Sr. Helen participated in last week to celebrate the donation of her archives to DePaul University. She has authored two books about her experience with inmates on Death Row and her activism to abolish the Death penalty, the best-selling Dead Man Walking and The Death of Innocence. She is currently working on her third book, River of Fire.
When asked “What does it mean to you to be a writer?” by one student participant, Sr. Helen stressed the importance of committing to the craft, “If you’re writing, you’re a writer. If you’re just talking about writing or reading about it, you’re not a writer. You need to keep showing up to the page. You need to get into the habit of writing. It’s about commitment.” She suggested that every writer carry a writing pad with them at all times to jot down ideas. Many of Sr. Helen’s thoughts for Dead Man Walking were penned on her way back and forth from visiting Patrick Sonnier on Death Row.
Another writing tip she shared was that one’s writing should “show, not tell.” She says, “Don’t do a heavy commentary. Let the reader decide for themselves.” One student asked if Sr. Helen viewed her writing as a form of activism, to which Sr. Helen responded yes. She said, “If you can change consciousness, you change culture” and that she believes in the power of the book. Her reasoning is that books bring people to a quiet, deep place for reflection where they don’t have to debate.
At the end of the discussion, Sr. Helen wished the writers in the room luck and urged them to band together to build a community of writers. She said that since writing does not have much cultural support today, it is important that writers support one another. To learn more about Sr. Helen Prejean’s writing and activism, please visit: http://www.prejean.org/. Her archive exhibit, “In Deeds and Words: The Prejean Ministry Against the Death Penalty,” will be open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Nov. 30 in DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives, Room 314 of the Richardson Library, 2350 N. Kenmore Ave., Chicago.