Facts, Research, and Memoir
Even in our most vivid memories, details fade. Sarah Messer’s essential course will help you mine memory through research techniques like archival work, interviewing, travel, music, and information-gathering in order to create vivid, compelling scenes. The course will help you find the facts to get at larger truths and also remember small concrete details. At the end of this month-long course, you’ll be able to construct a compelling, moving memoir that makes your reader feel like they are there right with you whether your memoir takes place 60 years ago, or just yesterday.
‘Just think what it would mean,’ Ferenczi wrote to Freud in 1910, ‘if one could tell everyone the truth…’ from Adam Phillips, Terrors and Experts. William Zissner once described a memoir as “a window into a life…a portion of a larger autobiography.” Yet George Bernard Shaw wrote: “All autobiographies are lies … I do not mean unconscious, unintentional lies; I mean deliberate lies.” Is it possible to write a truthful memoir? How has this genre developed and where is it headed? How can your memoir, while telling a personal story, also be about history and something larger?
In this course, we will use many prompts and research assignments to create new or rework old narrative memoirs. Many of the exercises will be process-based to help you remember details of place, dialogue and action. We will also be looking (by means of example) at several books, which combine research and memoir. In addition this course will also examine traditional and nontraditional narrative strategies inherent in all good memoir-writing and explore the ever-present question of how to tell the truth.
Sarah Messer has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mellon Foundation, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Michigan Council for the Arts and others. She is the author of four books: two poetry collections, Bandit Letters (New Issues, 2001), Dress Made of Mice (Black Lawrence, 2015), a history/memoir Red House (Viking, 2004), and a book of translations, Having Once Paused, Poems of Zen Master Ikkyu (University of Michigan Press, 2015). Red House was a Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers” pick for Fall 2004. In 2008-2009, she was a Poetry Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. For many years Sarah taught in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Currently she runs One Pause Poetry (onepausepoetry.org) in Ann Arbor, Michigan and works at White Lotus Farms.