Too often, location is regarded as the backdrop of a memoir—the fixed stage-set on which the action unfolds. But there is a long tradition of memoir that privileges place, and the writer’s experience with that place. In such works, location takes center stage and becomes a dynamic “character” in the story. Travel memoir is the most common form in which location is primary, and our course will discuss some of the building blocks of this genre. We’ll also discuss how to write memoir and personal essays that evoke the landscapes you know more intimately: your hometown, the city where you studied abroad, or a place that has, for whatever reason, lived in your memory over the years and won’t let you go. In our readings and course discussions, we’ll consider how writers can use place to discuss culture, ethos, and larger ideas. The best location-centered writing, it turns out, regards its subject as far more than a mere dot on the map.
In this eight-week course, you’ll have the opportunity to tell your story through the lens of the locations that have animated your life. In addition to reading excerpts from classic works of literature, we’ll consider more contemporary examples of nonfiction that consider the role of place within the globalized landscape of the 21st century. Each student will write and revise one short essay (up to 2000 words) and one longer piece of writing (up to 3500 words). Throughout the course, participants will receive personalized feedback from me, as well as comments from their fellow classmates. While our discussions will assume a basic familiarity with narrative nonfiction, the course is open to writers from all levels and backgrounds. No prior workshop experience is necessary.
Meghan O'Gieblyn has written essays, memoir, and criticism for n+1, The New York Times, The Guardian, Ploughshares, Oxford American, The Point, Guernica, The Lost Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. Her nonfiction has received two Pushcart Prizes and was included in The Best American Essays 2017. She received her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she won the Jerome Sterns Teaching Award. Her essay collection will be published in 2018 by Anchor Books.