Memoir is a process of excavation, intuition, organization, assembly, drafting, revision, and problem-solving, often all at the same time. The ways to approach memoir are as varied as memories themselves, so this class will not assume any priority of form, but is designed to give writers looking to imagine, draft, and / or revise a book-length memoir the inspiration and tools to give a book its own life.
We will focus on forms that recur and make up the bones of the story, where the balance of action / exposition, front story / backstory, character / voice, and memory / mystery are handled and revealed. Classes will feature conversation, writing, and close reading; authors read will include Tobias Wolff, Lorene Cary, Carmen Maria Machado, Caroline Knapp, Nadia Owusu, and Jo Ann Beard.
Week 1: “The Thing.” What is the event and or / condition that is singular and urgent, and that drives this project? What does your reader have to know to experience this rather than just read about it? How can you identify and understand resistance, trendiness, and cliché, and use these obstacles to sharpen your narrative?
Week 2: Point of view. “The memoir is, at its core, an act of resurrection” (Carmen Maria Machado). You are resurrecting the you who did not yet know / lose / gain / survive / understand. Point of view allows for this dilation of selves, and is the memoirist’s primary tool. We’ll look very closely at how point of view works at the sentence level.
Week 3: Seduction. Your reader doesn’t care that things happened because they happened to you; your reader cares when they are invested in your world. Your world must be drawn to enchant and beguile. You can do this with anger, with fear, with love, with humor. Ideally, with all of these. We’ll look at notes of seduction in various passages from memoir.
Week 4: Problems. They are always doorways. Bring your problems. We’ll trust process, and assume that where an author feels resistance, there is energy.
Week 5: Action / Exposition. In one sense, the memoir is basically one giant piece of backstory. It’s what has already happened. How does an author start the clock on the page, and keep it going? We’ll look at how dramatic action and discursive elements work together to drive a story.