Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning: Conferences

Empathy and the Teaching of Writing
(2023 Summer Conference)

The twenty-sixth annual Summer Conference of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning of the National Council of Teachers of English
YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, CO, June 15-18, 2023

“If we see each other in each other’s eyes…the walls of Jericho can come tumbling down!”
Barack Obama

Download the conference flyer.

Register through the conference registration page.

Remember 2008? When the walls of divisiveness seemed to be tumbling before our very eyes? Before the congealing of the now seemingly overwhelming movement to “Make America Anti-Empathic Again”? And the determined erection of so many new political and psychological walls between us?

AEPL’s first in-person gathering since 2019 seeks to bring together teachers of writing whose classroom experience has taught them to believe ineluctably that the cultivation of empathy in intimate spaces—in communicative classrooms, and in the contemplative writing process itself—can be saving and healing, both for individuals and, ultimately, for the larger world.

We will come together—both for encouragement and for comfort—in just such an intimate space: a gathering of great-hearted teachers, leaping at the chance for both deep learning and deep succor, amidst the spectacular natural surroundings of the Colorado Rockies.

The conference will be keynoted by Lisa Blankenship and Eric Leake, who are compiling an edited collection, Empathy and the Other: Difference, Connection, and the Teaching of Writing.

But perhaps more than in any prior AEPL conference, YOU, our participants, will have the starring roles. Sharing the practices of empathic connection that have been shaped in your own writing classroom that call out to be shared with other teachers and students. And that, if shared widely enough, may one day make empathic connection more the norm than the exception in our world: one day bringing the walls of Jericho definitively down!

To submit a proposal for a 75-minute concurrent session (preferred format) or for a 20–30 minute paper or short teaching demonstration, send an approximately 250-word abstract to (Be sure to include a description of participant writing and interactive activities that will directly involve empathic awareness and create the kind of intimate space AEPL is known for.) Early consideration (a month before early bird prices expire): December 17. Regular consideration: January 15. Later proposals will also be considered.

Questions/topics you might entertain presenting on (though certainly do not limit yourself to these):

  • How to help students write to understand personal and cultural differences, including (but certainly not limited to) empathic anti-racist and anti-sexist pedagogies? How to help students see that writing itself is fundamentally an empathic activity: demanding empathic understanding of others, the world, and one’s own thought processes?

  • How to empathize with challenging students: either as writers (including those experiencing various kinds of writer’s block) or simply as people? How to empathize and work with those with an anti-empathic stance against the “touchy-feely” or “social-emotional” learning? How to empathize with ourselves amidst the many struggles of teaching, especially in the deeply troubling times in which we are now living? How to use community writing to promote social empathy? What IS “empathy,” philosophically, scientifically, and spiritually considered?

  • What empathic ideas and practices originating in spiritual and religious traditions can be transferred inoffensively to the democratic writing classroom?

Register through the conference registration page. $195 until January 15, 2023; $245 Jan 16–April 14; $295 after April 15; $50 discount for students, adjuncts, retirees, K–12 teachers, and for multiple attendees from the same organization. Registration is refundable, minus a $50 processing fee, until April 14. Current paid AEPL membership is required of all attendees upon registration. Register for rooms at the spectacular Y of the Rockies (registration link coming soon) or by calling 888-613-9622. 

Pre- and Post-Conference Workshops

Preconference workshop: Thursday, June 15, 1:00–4:30: Writing workshop (with “what do I do in class Monday?” assignments) on Barry Kroll’s The Open Hand: Arguing as an Art of Peace ($40/$25 for retired, adjuncts, students, K-12 teachers—refundable until April 14). Register at

Postconference workshops: Sunday, June 18, 9:00–noon (principles and exercises); 1:30–4:30 (personal writing workshop). Register at

How Writing Can Heal Trauma, Marian Mesrobian MacCurdy
Trauma by its very nature is encoded in the brain in sensory fragments, inchoate images, impressions, even vibrations that are non-verbal. The key stage in the writing process that enables the writer to move beyond the trauma is to create a narrative that arises not only out of a cathartic response but out of the cognitive restructuring that can help put the trauma into the past. This workshop focuses on the writing process that makes this artistic and psychological turn possible and the safeguards that can be put into place to protect both teacher and writer. It offers a methodology for transforming iconic memories into aesthetically effective prose, showing how the greatest gift of the writing classroom can be the creation of more integrated people, capable of converting their own losses and griefs into compassion for others.

Marian co-led the largest conference in AEPL history: 2002’s “Writing and Healing,” based on her co-edited NCTE book. She returns to us two decades later for these important workshops, based on her The Mind’s Eye: Image and Memory in Writing about Trauma (full description and bio at

Morning: $75/$50 for retired, adjuncts, students, K-12 teachers; Afternoon: $50/$35—refundable until April 14.

In case of low registration in these iffy times for in-person conferences, we may have to make a decision to cancel after April 14, in which case all registrations will be fully refunded. We are greatly hoping, though, that a good many of you will want to benefit from Marian's deep teaching in the deeply traumatic times through which we are living.

Download the conference flyer.

Register through the conference registration page.

Direct all questions regarding any aspect of the conference (including room sharing to cut total costs for room and board to as low as $200) to

Online Events

From Oppression to Love: Remembering bell hooks

Download the flyer.

Zoom, December 16, 3:00–4:30 p.m. Eastern/noon–1:30 p.m. Pacific, FREE

Memorial contributions to the bell hooks Center at Berea College can be made online—100 percent of proceeds will go to the Center.

RSVP by sending an email to for a link to the event.

A year ago on December 15, the luminous, loving, fierce spirit that was bell hooks passed from the earth. But the many spirits she ignited blaze on. And so, the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning of the National Council of Teachers of English—with the help of Past Chair Libby Jones, her colleague and close friend at Berea College, where she last taught—is sponsoring a series of events to help them blaze together!

Those events begin on December 16 with an afternoon Zoom memorial, "From Oppression to Love: Remembering bell hooks," featuring clips of her in speeches and interviews, clips from previous memorials, live speeches from several of those close to her, and a chance to write and interact in small groups. The events will continue with a series of Zoom presentations by the many, many of those inspired by her, "What I learned from bell." We will conclude with an in-person 2024 conference also tentatively titled "From Oppression to Love: Remembering bell hooks."

From Oppression to Love: Remembering bell hooks

December 16, 3:00–4:30 p.m. Eastern/noon–1:30 p.m. Pacific

  • Libby Jones, Berea College colleague and friend of bell's; organizer of the 2006 AEPL/Berea conference "Writing for Reconciliation" that bell keynoted: "The Rapturous Writer"

  • Paige Billman, Berea graduate and bell's personal assistant: “bell and Beloved Community”

RSVP by sending an email to for a link to the event.

The December 16 event is free, but memorial donations to the bell hooks Center at Berea College will be deeply welcomed. You may contribute amounts of $25, $50, and $100 online, or send a check of any amount to Treasurer Jonathan Marine: GTA, Department of English, George Mason University, Horizon Hall, Room 4200 Fairfax, VA 22030

AEPL membership is required for the "What I learned from bell" series. Join through the AEPL membership page. ($45/1 yr; $112.50/3 yrs; $150/5 yrs; with 50 percent off for retired, adjuncts, students, K-12 teachers (and Zoom full scholarships granted with a statement of need sent to 

AEPL invites proposals for workshops on the theme of "What I learned from bell" (after the song “What I Learned from Love,” from A Chorus Line). Most workshops will be held on Fridays 3:00–4:30 p.m., and we hope the series will reach from January 2023 through the summer 2024 conference (see below)—counting on so many of you whose lives, whose teaching, and whose students have been indelibly transformed by bell’s luminous spirit, deep intellect, and fierce passion for transgressively transforming our world.

Send an approximately 250-word abstract and 100-word bio describing your connection to the theme and any writing/interactive activities you will include (which should comprise at least half of your 90-minute session), as well as indicating any preferred dates and any dates that won't work for you. Proposals are due by Friday, January 6, 2023, sent to, to be considered for the first round of Zoom presentations. Proposals received after that date will be considered for later rounds of sessions. We may also consider 20- to 45-minute sessions. Write to if that interests you and we will see if that is possible, depending on others who may prefer a shorter presentation.

Announcing the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning Symposia Archive

Paid AEPL members and honorary scholars may now access archived materials and recordings from AEPL's online symposia by going to the AEPL Symposia Archive website and entering the password they should have received. If you not have received this password, please contact membership director Jonathan Marine with your payment receipt or confirmation of your honorary scholarship status.