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 award-winning author of three memoirs including Motherland; Treyf; and Poor Man's Feast. A finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Award in memoir, Altman has published her work in Narrative, Tin House, Dame, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Washington Post, The Rumpus, LitHub, The Guardian, On Being, and is widely anthologized. She has appeared live on the TEDx stage, at The Public Theater in New York, and on NPR. She lives in Connecticut.