First person is the obvious choice when writing memoir and personal essays, but is it always the best choice?
From Choose Your Own Adventure books to the fiction of Lorrie Moore and Mohsin Hamid, the second person can serve as a device to involve the reader in the story, but in nonfiction, it becomes a lens, adding perspective for author as well as reader. When I becomes you, the memoirist inhabits the space between past and present self, between lived experience and insight. Among other uses, second person can be an effective tool for writing about trauma and the times we’ve struggled to define ourselves.
In this class, we will examine a variety of memoirs and personal essays that use second person, discussing what is gained by this structural choice. Works by Natasha Trethewey, Mark Richard, Kiese Laymon, and many others will show the effects and goals of this point of view. Writing experiments and prompts will demystify this narrative technique and demonstrate how it can reveal insights and deepen perspective. Through a detailed lecture, in-class writing, an opportunity to share your own work, and a Q & A, you should expect to grow comfortable with the second person, understand how it works, and also recognize when it’s just a shiny gimmick. Writers at all experience levels are welcome.