Memoir Writers Retreat – Spring 2020

To shake up your writing, you need to take a big leap out of your comfort zone. Chances are, your writing will follow.

The Himalayan Writing Retreat (THWR) is that big leap. This retreat is designed to stimulate and inspire you. It is thoughtfully put together by authors from India and the US. 

American author and teacher, Alex Lemon, has labored to bring deep learning and insight to each session at this retreat. Lemon is the author of two memoirs and teaches writing at the Texas Christian University (profile below). Dr Vandita Dubey and Chetan Mahajan - both Indian authors - are the founders of the Himalayan Writing Retreat. They’ve both earned professional degrees and lived in the US, which helps them understand the needs and expectations of writers visiting India. 

Chetan and Vandita have designed the retreat to ensure the experience is safe, enriching and inspiring. The retreat begins with a warm welcome for each participant at Delhi International airport. They ensure the visit to the Taj Mahal is smooth.  They’ve personally curated the Himalayan excursions and the city experiences like the old city walking tour. They’ve sampled the food everywhere, and have designed the menu themselves to ensure a great mix of taste and local cuisine. In past retreats hardly anyone has fallen sick – a big achievement in India.  They've kicked every proverbial tire.

You start in the cities of Delhi and Agra. Then you travel to the Himalayas. All stays and transfers are pre-arranged. The serenity of the rural Himalayas is a stark contrast to the touristy India of the first two days. In the mountains, you continue to discover a sliver of India everyday, but at a relaxed, unhurried pace. Up here, you write in the halo of Himalayan peaks which dwarf Mt. McKinley. If you have questions about India , click here to read our India travel FAQs.

Program

10-12 am:

We will develop ideas and energize our writing with free-writes and discussion related to the assigned reading (which are intended to inspire conceptual, creative and formal concerns). Reading discussions and writing prompts will lead us into the day’s craft discussions. During this period, we will engage in imaginative exercises meant to stimulate new or continuing projects. If weather is permitting, we will journey outside for inspiration and curiosity.

2-5 pm:

Group members will have the opportunity to review their writing one-on-one with the teachers. The teachers will offer critical, creative and constructive feedback to help one’s work hew toward it’s authorial vision and discover its biggest life. Students will submit 7-10 pages of work to the group in advance, before arriving to India. Depending on group size, we may also use this time to workshop work created since arriving in India. These pieces will be submitted to the group the previous evening and may be extensions of the creative writing exercises done in-session.

Day 1, March 17, Tuesday

Welcome! Arrive at Delhi Airport anytime after 12 noon on the 17th of March. A car and a friend will meet you at the airport and bring you straight to your hotel. Your stay is arranged at the Tree of Life, one of Delhi’s best B&Bs (Tripadvisor reviews at https://bit.ly/1Ofm5BI ). In addition to being a lovely, well-run hotel, the Tree of life is close to three of Delhi’s largest malls - a great place to shop and spend time getting to know India’s crazy diversity in a safe environment. You can learn more at https://bit.ly/2hrseGU .

No class on this day, but expect to have one on one conversations with Alex Lemon about your work.

Note: Some flights land in Delhi at unearthly hours. If your flight gets in before noon on the 17th of March, we will still meet you at the airport and take you to your hotel. We’ve also negotiated a great room rate at which you can stay for your extra night.

Day 2, Mar 18, Wednesday

This love story inspired a wonder.

We start the day early and drive to Agra in a private coach to see the Taj Mahal. The four hour drive from our hotel will allow you to rest or sleep off some of your jet-lag. We try and get back in time for a short session on travel and writing soon after. The round trip will take up a full day. Lunch will be at one of the best restaurants in Agra. We will have dinner and stay the night at our Delhi hotel.

Topic of the Day: Seeing and Specificity! (no workshop)

The liminal state of travel (and even jet-lag!) is perfect for observation—you’re extra-sensitive, raw, and open to experiencing your new surroundings with precision and detail. Today, we’ll take advantage of our swirling senses to practice openness to concrete images and sensory detail—we will see the aliveness in the new world around us.

Over breakfast, you’ll receive brief instruction on our observational tasks for the day, designed to enrich and expand upon your experience at the Taj Mahal. After we return, we will reconvene over dinner to discuss our observations and tools for using those specific details in our writing during the days to come.

Day 3, Mar 19, Thursday.

Off to the Mountains.

We head out early and board the train from New Delhi Railway Station to head towards the Himalayas. We board the Kathgodam Shatabdi Express train and travel to the town of Kathgodam (5 hours and 40 minutes). In these foothills we transfer to taxis for the last three hours of our travel. Halfway home, we may stop for a late lunch at the iHeart café owned and run by a couple from Bozeman, Montana (really!) who specialize in awesome coffee. We arrive at The Himalayan Writing Retreat (THWR) in Satkhol Village – our home for the next seven days.

The Himalayan Writing Retreat is custom-built for Writers. It was built by two Indian authors, and is built for inspiration and serenity.  This writing getaway has six double-occupancy guest rooms and a full staff to cater to all your needs with love and the highest standards of hygiene. The food is tasty and fresh and includes a lot of fresh local cuisine. Even the pasta may have an Indian tinge.

We reach the retreat around 4 PM, and we have a short session in the evening where we discuss our plan for the next few days.

Topic of the Day: What’s your story?

You can have polished, beautiful prose, but it won’t get you anywhere unless you are writing the right story for you. We’ll examine fiction and non-fiction passages of writers who have used the subjects that they are passionate about to create impossible-to-put-down stories, and try out exercises to make sure we’re on the right path to create the story that we were meant to tell.  What are we obsessed with, how can we plumb the depths of these subjects we can’t turn away from?

Day 4, Mar 20, Friday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

Morning: workshop sessions and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

Afternoon: an optional trip to the local school (www.chiragschool.org ) and a social enterprise (http://b2r.in/ ). For those interested we can walk back – it is a 2 mile walk through the forest.

Evening: Open Mic Bonfire after sundown.

Topics of the Day: Where to begin?

You might be writing the most amazing story ever told, but if it doesn’t hook the reader from the first line, they won’t read it. We’ll look at beginnings—in memoir, fiction and poetry—to better understand the hallmarks of a compelling start in literature.  After a discussion of exemplar excerpts,  we will try out opening-scene exercises to ensure that our stories will not, cannot be put down.  We will look at examples from the likes of Nick Flynn, Mary Karr and Matt Young, among many others.

Day 5, Mar 21, Saturday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

Morning: optional hike & write. After breakfast we head out for a short hike to a nearby temple on a hilltop. Along the way we stop and write sitting on a ridge in the pine forest.

Late morning/lunch: Workshop and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

Afternoon – open time at the Himalayan Writing Retreat, or explore the forest reserve.

Evening: Bollywood movie night. It's kitschy, yes. But it is part of the India experience. So we watch a Bollywood movie with English subtitles. And yes, we'll have popcorn.

Topics of the Day: Enlarging the canvas!

Each of our stories has hundreds of angles from which they can be viewed. What ways have we been blind to the stories we are sharing? What might we be missing? In what ways might our stories become more than they are now by including more, by seeing it with more eyes?  We will discuss the ways our stories might grow to include more narrative threads, new ways of seeing, new complexities or even research—so that our writing is as compelling as it can be.   

Day 6, Mar 22, Sunday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

Morning: generative class on writing and reflection.

Late afternoon: optional walk through a local village.

Topics of the Day: I am me!

Even when we write about things other than ourselves in our creative nonfiction or memoirs, when we are in the background of our stories, we must have a distinctive voice. Our writing must have personality. This allows readers to develop a relationship with our writing, an intimacy with the words on the page that establishes trust and intellectual and emotional generosity.

Day 7, Mar 23, Monday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

Morning: workshop session and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

Midday and afternoon: we head over to the hill-town of Mukteshwar, a one hour drive. We have lunch at the Chandi Maati, an excellent restaurant, visit the ancient temple of Mukteshwar (https://bit.ly/2ujZUbJ ).

Topics of the Day: My heart is a treasure chest.

One of the great attractions of memoir is its honesty and self-examination (an illusion?). This is often done through the ebb and flow of narrative, through the push/pull created by the ways in which we journey through understanding and share insights with a reader. We will look at writing that finely balances this relationship between the internal and the external—between being vulnerable and critical—at writing that tip toes this tension and finds a compassionate honesty.

Day 8, Mar 24, Tuesday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

Morning: in 1889, the British started the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI). The Institute has its own captive forest called the IVRI forest reserve – some 12 sq. miles of pristine wilderness. We head into the forest reserve and do our workshop sessions and craft class at a 110 year old Cattle Krall with the British built there. The Himalayan Writing Retreat crew accompany us and serve us a packed lunch there.

Afternoon: free writing time at the Himalayan Writing Retreat, or explore on your own.

Topics of the Day: You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

The way we choose to end our pieces—whether memoir, short story or poem—is a life or death decision. The best writing lives on in the body of the reader long after the last sentence is finished being read. We will look at examples of final passages, last lines, and closing scenes that live on, that have afterlives in the lives of the reader and then try writing exercises that attempt to modulate endings to that our last words on the page reticent and resonant.

Day 9, Mar 25, Wednesday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

Morning: workshop session and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

Afternoon: Optional long hike to visit the ancient Kapileshwar temple (said to be over 1000 years old).

Topics of the Day: Radical revision.

There are days when nothing we write seems to work, when the story we are trying to tell has no life. We will read examples of work that cultivates new ways of seeing, writing that blossoms new ways of seeing and try exercises that breathe life back into our writing. 

Day 10, Mar 26, Thursday

Early Morning: Yoga session

Morning: We pack up and head back to Delhi by taxi and train. Our stay in Delhi the night of April 9th is again at the Tree of Life.

Day 11, Mar 27, Friday

Morning: After breakfast we check out from the hotel and head out for a guided tour of the old city. We start with the spice market – where all your senses will be on overdrive. We’ll then step back for a rooftop view of the old city. A short rickshaw ride and we find ourselves outside the red fort, one of India’s historic icons. We go through some more of old Delhi and end our tour with a visit to the Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib, a sikh temple, where you will get a deeper insight into Indian culture and values.

In the second half we will have some free time and the option to do our last minute shopping at Dilli Haat (https://bit.ly/2LyyBWv ). Airport drops are arranged for everyone based on your flight schedule. Those wishing to keep the room for an extra night can stay on at a good negotiated rate.

When: 17-27 Mar, 2020

Who: The workshop is led by Alex Lemon, Chetan Mahajan, and supported by Vandita Dubey. (For profiles, click here or scroll down.) 

Where: The Himalayan Writing Retreat, Satkhol Village. Uttarakhand - 263138 (India). Details here.

How much : USD 2800 all inclusive ​

The price includes all classes, yoga sessions, transfers, in-country travel, hotel stays, retreat accommodation, food and tips. However, we do not cover any personal expenses such as shopping, visiting places on your own, extra nights before or after the retreat etc. Alcohol is not included in the price, but you can grab some at Duty free or at a local store.

If you have questions about travelling to India , check out our India travel FAQs

Only ten participants accepted on a first-come first-serve basis. To apply, click the button below.

About the Instructors

Alex Lemon

Alex Lemon is an American poet and memoirist. He is the author of five books which include two memoirs - The Wish Book (Milkweed Editions 2014) and Happy: A Memoir ( Scribener 2010).

Lemon is an editor-at-large for Saturnalia Books; poetry editor of descant, TCU's literary journal, sits on the editorial board of TCU Press and The Southern Review's advisory board. His awards and honors include a 2005 Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a 2006 Minnesota Arts Board Grant, and inclusion in the Best American Poetry 2008 anthology. He currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas and teaches at Texas Christian University.

Chetan Mahajan

Chetan Mahajan is the founder and co-host of the Himalayan Writing Retreat. He is the author of the memoir "The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail" (Penguin 2014). He quit the corporate world and moved to a village in the Himalayas to be a full-time author and blogger four years ago. Here he co-founded The Himalayan Writing Retreat along with his wife Dr. Vandita Dubey, also a published author. Chetan blogs about living in the mountains here.  His blog won the Indiblogger award for humor. He is also a writing coach with the London based the writing coach.

Vandita Dubey

Dr. Vandita Dubey, is a US licensed Clinical Psychologist, and the author of the book “Parenting in the age of Sexposure” (Rupa, 2016). She co-hosts the Himalayan Writing Retreat. She also hosts the "Writing For Self" Workshop, You can visit her website and read her blog at  www.vanditadubey.com .