Annie Dillard once said You have to take pains not to hang on the reader’s arms, like a drunk, and say ‘And then I did this and it was so interesting.’ What is it, exactly, that makes personal narrative truly engaging? How do we navigate the mine-field of story ownership and permission-to-write when crafting a narrative that involves others? What makes great memoir what it is versus simply a recollection of experience or an information dump? In this generative memoir workshop, I will explore the concept of motivation and curation in the writing of memoir; together, we will focus on the separation of wheat from chaff within the narrative, and learn how to find the kernel — the heart of the story — that teems with life, even at its most deceptively subdued. Through readings, exercises, and the sharing of work, you will practice writing with intimacy and clarity, and learn to hone — and trust — your own distinct voices, and to find the extraordinary in the mundane. Readings will include Melissa Febos, Pam Houston, Paul Lisicky, Marie Howe, Vivian Gornick, and others. Please be ready to submit 10 double-spaced pages of memoir at the beginning of class.
Please note that this is a rigorous workshop with assignments or exercises due each day. Participants will be expected to generate work while also devoting time to giving feedback to their peers.
LIVE ELEMENTS: Students can join an optional welcome session on the first day of class as well as an optional closing session on the final day of class. Both sessions will be held on Zoom.
Elissa Altman is the James Beard Award-winning author of three memoirs: Motherland, Treyf, and Poor Man's Feast. Her work has appeared in LitHub, Orion, Narrative, The Rumpus, On Being, The Washington Post, and beyond, and has been widely anthologized. She has appeared live on the TEDx stage, at the Public Theater in New York with Wallace Shawn, regularly on NPR, and in 2020 was a finalist in memoir for the Lambda and Maine Literary Awards. She lives in Connecticut.