Memory to Memoir
“Memoir is, for better and often for worse, the genre of our times,” Sven Birkerts writes in The Art of Time in Memoir. The best memoirs don’t simply relate the events of a writer’s life from start to finish, but instead dramatize a journey of the mind, using a writer’s personal experience as a lens through which to bring some aspect of human experience into focus. But memory is a shifting and unreliable thing, and often runs aground before our stories do. We’ll tackle this ethical and creative challenge, as well as the challenges of navigating other people’s memories (which may differ in important ways from our own), and how to overcome the fear many of us encounter when we commit to telling our own stories.
The focus of the workshop will be our own work-in-progress, but we’ll also look to master memoirists for techniques for transforming life into literature, experience into investigation, silence into sentences. There will be room in the course and during private conferences to discuss the professional aspects of writing, such as life / work balance, conferences and colonies, MFA programs, agents, and publishing.
Students should bring ten copies of an essay or memoir excerpt to the first class gathering on Sunday night (twenty pages maximum, double spaced, twelve-point font). Don’t bring something that’s finished, or publishable “as is.” Bring something that you want to understand better, that you know has potential but you’re too close to see how large or what kind.
Lacy M. Johnson is a Houston-based professor, curator, activist, and is author of the critically acclaimed memoir The Other Side (Tin House, 2014). She is also author of Trespasses: A Memoir (University of Iowa Press, 2012). Her third book, The Reckonings, is forthcoming from Scribner in 2018. She teaches creative nonfiction in the Low-Residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and at Rice University.