Meet the Teach: Heather Harpham, Instructor of Inventing Life: Memoir & Storytelling

WH: How did you become interested in this line of work? (tell us a little bit about your background)

Heather: As a young person, I was always torn between acting and writing, ultimately I found solo performance as a creative vehicle that combined both; that gave me to opportunity to have to joy of presenting work to a live audience, and also offered a forum for crafted writing. Most of all I was thrilled to be in a position where I could put my work “in the world,” without needing to wait for either publisher or producer to approve. I spent a very rich 15 years making and performing solo pieces, before I ever wrote and published a memoir. The beauty of publishing is that for one, it’s paid work, if you’re lucky paid well. And I was lucky. And two, it’s not nearly as ephemeral as solo performance. Your work can always go out of print, but the books that were printed exist, they can be lost and found and read and reread. That’s a lovely feeling… to know that new readers are always possible.

WH: What motivates you to do what you do? or Where does your passion come from?

Heather: I believe absolutely in the transformative power of telling stories; it’s our first and most basic collective, cultural act. It captures the impulse to say why we are who we are, or to explain where we’ve come from, where we might go next.

WH: What personal or professional accomplishments are you most proud of?

Heather: I’m most proud of finding success in publishing a memoir, later in life (at nearly 50) and of my (in my opinion) two strongest solo performance pieces, Happiness and BURING. All three of these creative “objects” or “products” where the result of long hours alone, in which you try to imagine what the reader, or audience, will take away from the story you’re telling. What will move them, what will crack them up. It’s a guessing game, and you ultimately have to please yourself aesthetically, while continuously holding that mythical “other” in mind.

WH: Who are your role models and mentors?

Heather: As far as writers, the poets, memoirists and fiction writers whose powers inspire me and whose craft I aspire to, include: Anne Enright, John Berger, Annie Dillard, Brenda Ueland, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Stanley Kunitz, and the list goes on. In terms of performers: David Cale, Cassie Tunick, Laurie Anderson, and so many of the physical theater companies working today, like DV8.

WH: What is the best resource for people who wish to learn more about your line of work?

Heather: Dig in. If you want to write, lucky you — write. It’s a free activity. Find a local writer’s group. Or if you can afford it, take a workshop to get you started. Poets & Writers is also a terrific resource once you’re ready to send things out.

WH: Share a quote sums up your life's philosophy.

Heather: Carpe Diem. Short, simple and so true. We are given this day, even only this moment. Not one beat more is promised… And so grab on. Both hands. Easy to say, hard to remember, great fun to do.

WH: If you weren't in this line of work, what would you be doing instead?