Borges wrote, “The past isn’t a dead, fixed place but one which we’re constantly looking back to, discovering things, seeing things anew.” Often it is in the reconstruction of our lives that we are able to collapse time, interrogate the fiction of memory, and come to terms with the chaos and confusion of the past.
This class will consist of reading, in-class writing, and workshop using a range of approaches in style, structure and point of view. We will write a lot in this workshop, using a variety of narrative methods and strategies to discover new ways of telling our truths. Whether it is a story you’ve told many times, one you’ve wanted to tell, or one you don’t think you can tell, this
course will offer you ways in and around your particular story.
This class is open to writers of all levels. Whether you have a story you want to tell but don’t know where to start, or a book in progress, this class will get you writing, rewriting, and finding (new) ways in.
Week One: Going There: George Orwell famously wrote that the only autobiography to be trusted is one that reveals something shameful about its author. Annie Ernaux aims to write what makes it impossible to withstand the gaze of others. This week we’ll talk about telling the story only you can tell – the urgent, the necessary, the one we can’t or shouldn’t or won’t write. We’ll read Kiese Laymon, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Ocean Vuong.
Week Two: What to do about Time? To paraphrase Tobias Wolff, Time is your enemy in all things – but it is your friend on the page. It is your friend in memoir. This week we’ll look at ways writers handle time on the page, where memory might be a moment, a fragment, a collage. Readings include excerpts from Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments and Joe Brainard’s I
Week Three: Time and Place: Now we will consider how the specific historical moment, revealed by the time and the place of a story, brings our writing alive. We’ll read excerpts from Marguerite Duras’ The Lover and Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place.
Week Four: Parents and Children / Memory and Grief: What better subject for memoir than the fraught, often fractured relationship between a parent and a child? A story so often told through the lens of grief, the hauning images of memory. This week we’ll read James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son” and Cheryl Strayed’s “The Love of My Life.”
Week Five: Image and Photography: Just as poets use ekphrasis, memoirists often build a book of images, the memoir can be a space for writers to engage with photography: interrogating, imagining, re-membering, revising. We’ll read excerpts from Natsha Trethewey’s Memorial Drive and Janet Malcolm’s Still Pictures.
WHAT DOES THIS CLASS INCLUDE?
Outside reading: Yes, Suzanne will provide PDFs. Authors include James Baldwin, Vivian Gornick, Natasha Trethewey, Ocean Vuong, Kiese Laymon, others. 10-15 pages a week, maximum.