Upcoming classes: Memoir
MONDAYS, SEPTEMBER 23-30 —OCTOBER 7-21 | The Writers Grotto is launching a fun, light-hearted, smart series on the writing craft, called LitStarts. The first four books in the series—Writing Action, Writing Character, Writing Dialogue, and Writing Humor– will be released on September 10. This class will use the series as the basis of five weekly workshops. Constance Hale, who wrote the essay that kicks off Writing Character, will be joined each week by other contributors from the Writers Grotto. Four heads are better than one! The sessions will be lively, helpful, and provocative, and will include in-class writing, using prompts from the book. Longer assignments, which Connie will give feedback on, will use the prompts to generate works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or a hybrid. A copy of one of the books is included in the price of the class. Come and become an early adapter!
Constance Hale is a San Francisco–based journalist and the author of four cheeky writing manuals, a book for adults on hula, and a picture book for children set in Hawai‘i. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and many national magazines, and she specializes in profiles and personality sketches. In 2019, her essay on writing profiles kicks off Writing Character, a book chockful of thoughts, tips, and prompts that is part of the Lit Starts series. She can be found at www.sinandsyntax.com
Number of sessions: 5
Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Dates: Mondays, September 23, 30; October 7, 14, 21
Course fee: $280
SUNDAYS, OCTOBER 6-27; NOVEMBER. 3 | You don’t need a jester’s cap or a red clown nose to make people laugh. It takes a pinch of craft and a judicious seasoning of self-awareness as a writer. Working together through class discussions as well as in-class reading and writing exercises, we’ll explore just how humor can make your writing sing–or caterwaul, depending on your particular voice. Fiction, non-fiction, journalism–this class is appropriate for any genre where you want to add a dash of humor. Join us!
Allison Landa is a Berkeley-based writer of memoir and fiction whose work has been featured in The Guardian US, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, among other venues. A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California’s M.F.A. program in creative writing, Allison runs the On the Cusp reading series in San Francisco. You won’t, however, find her running marathons.
Number of sessions: 5
Time: 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm
Dates: Sundays, October 6, 13, 20, 27; November 3
Course fee: $300
SATURDAY, EVERY TWO WEEKS, OCT. 12-JAN. 18 |
Lindsey Crittenden‘s memoir writing has appeared in Best American Spiritual Writing, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Image, and many other publications. She is the author of the 2007 memoir, The Water Will Hold You (which Publishers Weekly called “gorgeously written”), and has taught memoir-writing for more than 10 years.
Number of sessions: 7
Dates: Saturdays, Oct. 12, 26; Nov 9, 23; Dec 7; Jan 4, 18
Time: 3:00 pm –5:00 pm
Course fee: $400
WEDNESDAYS, OCTOBER 16-30; NOVEMBER 6-13 | This course offers writers with an ongoing personal narrative project an opportunity to workshop and receive feedback on their work. In the first part of the course, we’ll be discussing the structure of long-form personal narratives. The second half of the course will be your laboratory– a workshop environment in which each writer is invited to bring a synopsis and a segment of their project to workshop.
Kristen Cosby is a freelance writer, editor, and educator. Her writing has received support from the Jan Michalski Foundation (Switzerland), Can Serrat (Spain), the Corporation of Yaddo (USA), the MacDowell Artist Colony (USA), and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (USA), and garnered the Normal Prize in Nonfiction and a Pushcart Prize Special Mention. Her work has appeared in Atlas Obscura, The Normal School, Kenyon Review Online, Alaska Quarterly Review, and several other journals and anthologies.
Number of sessions: 6
Time: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Dates: Wednesdays, October 16-30; November 6-13
Course fee: $395
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20 | How do you draw readers into the world of your memoir—whether it’s a subway station in New York City or an outpost in Alaska? In a comfortable environment, we’ll go over the basic elements of great memoir writing. Exercises will help you heighten language through sensory detail, learn the difference between scene and summary, and deal with time shifts by using flashback and slow-motion techniques. We will also review the more challenging aspects of point of view so you can find the right voice and fully engage your readers. What makes certain voices sing on the page?
In the second part of the class you’ll learn about how to structure a memoir and the importance of narrative arc.
Excerpts from Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir and from various great memoir writers will be used for inspiration and to help with structure. We will also discuss emotional blocks and ethical concerns about memoir writing. There will plenty of time for questions. You’ll leave with a body of writing, many handouts and the inspiration and determination to keep up a writing schedule as well as some new writing friends.
Coffee and snacks provided! One-hour break for lunch. Beginners and intermediate students welcome.
Louise Nayer is the author of five books including two books of poetry. Burned: A Memoir won the Wisconsin Library Association Award and was an Oprah Great Read. Poised for Retirement: Moving from Anxiety to Zen, part memoir/part self-help, was reviewed in Forbes. She has also published over 40 poems in magazines including Rolling Stone and written for OZY, Wear Your Voice and the San Francisco Chronicle. She has been interviewed widely including on NPR. She is the recipient of six California Arts Council Awards, and she has taught creative writing for over forty years.
Number of sessions: 1
Time: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Date: Sunday, October 20
Course fee: $130
MONDAYS, OCTOBER 28; NOVEMBER 4-25 |This is the class to take if you want to dip your toes into writing a full-length memoir. A memoir is a story from a life (autobiography is the story of a life). How do you take events from your life and shape them into a compelling read? This is a level one class for students who have some experience writing but haven’t yet written an entire draft of a memoir. We will talk about what to leave in and take out, structure, theme, stakes, and thorny questions about what if your Mom or ex-spouse reads it. Students will create an outline of their book with a narrative arc, and workshop a chapter or two. Included in the price of the class is a one-to-one half-hour session with the instructor, to be scheduled within a month of the final class.
Laura Fraser is a New York Times-bestselling author of the memoirs An Italian Affair, All Over the Map, and The Risotto Guru. She has written hundreds of articles for national publications, including at The New York Times, Gourmet, Sunset, San Francisco Magazine, O: the Oprah Magazine, and many others. She has taught writing at universities and writing conferences, as well as at the Grotto, for over 20 years.
Number of sessions: 5, plus individual critique session
Dates: Mondays, 28; November 4, 11, 18, 25; individual critique session to be scheduled within by December 18.
Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Course fee: $395 Early Bird until October 15; $450 after. Includes half-hour personal critique.
TUESDAYS, OCTOBER 29; NOVEMBER 5-19 | No matter how compelling the characters, dialogue, or action, great scenes need a sense of place that all too often gets short shrift. And when your subject is a place itself, the task is only more demanding. It’s easy to fall back on list-making when writing about place, and that’s a tool that can be used to great effect, but there are so many more approaches to be explored.
We’ll dive into great writing about place, and will look at—and utilize—specific techniques great writers use to capture the world around them. We’ll focus on writing about the real world, but will look at genres from essay to fiction, poetry, science fiction, and more. The class will emphasize writing that takes a specific place as its primary subject, but will also look at place as a way to set a scene in which some other element is of primary importance.
We’ll explore the use of place by writers like Joan Didion, Richard Powers, Annie Proulx, Iain Sinclair, and William Least Heat-Moon (among others), and engage in brief writing exercises in each session. We’ll also visit (virtually) with one of editors and/or writers from The Common (thecommononline.org), Amherst College’s literary magazine devoted to “our individual and collective sense of place.”
A freelance writer in San Francisco, Mark Wallace has reported from all over the world, writing for publications from The New York Times Magazine to The New Yorker, Wired, Salon, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Sigh Press Literary Journal, the Philadelphia Independent, and many others.
Number of sessions: 4
Time: 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm
Dates: Tuesdays, October 29; November 5, 12, 19
Course fee: $249
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2 | “Flat” writing hands off lifeless information in a two-dimensional exchange between reader and writer. Three-dimensional writing places the reader in a charged space of heightened experience, renewed perspective, and active meaning-making. How is that three-dimensionality created, and what do you do when you find your language stuck in 2-D? This combination lecture and workshop for writers of fiction and literary nonfiction examines specific strategies for three-dimensionality drawn from contemporary writers like Sheila Heti, Jo Ann Beard, and Maggie Nelson, and classics by Marguerite Duras and Bruno Schulz. We will try out new techniques and tricks—but ultimately what you will achieve is a shift in consciousness that will help make your writing spacious and transporting.
Rachel Howard is the author of a novel, The Risk of Us, and a memoir about her father’s unsolved murder, The Lost Night, described as “enthralling” by the New York Times. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Zyzzyva, Gulf Coast, Waxwing, the Hudson Review, the Arroyo Literary Review, TheNewYorker.com, and the New York Times Magazine. This lecture/workshop is adapted from the craft talk she delivered as Distinguished Visiting Writer in the M.F.A. Program of St. Mary’s College of California. More on Rachel at www.rachelhoward.com
Number of sessions: 1
Time: 9:30 am – 1:00 pm
Date: Saturday, November 2
Course fee: $95
THURSDAYS, NOVEMBER 7-21 |Whether you’ve always dreamed of writing professionally, you already do, or you’d like to figure out how to create better content for your job or business, this class will improve your writing in three weeks – guaranteed!
The first week, we’ll start off with Story and Structure. This will help you start the writing process: from getting over writers’ block, understanding your audience and purpose, doing research, brainstorming, and creating an outline so that your writing is engaging, logical, smooth, and satisfying to the reader. We’ll also remind you of stuff you should’ve learned in high school but may have forgotten: how to avoid the dreaded passive voice, weak verbs, excess verbiage, and a corporate or academic tone.
The second week, we’ll dive in to Revisions and Style. That will help you cast a critical eye on your creative efforts to become a clearer, more compelling writer. We’ll cover ways to cut clutter and make your writing sparkle. We’ll talk about the basics of good narrative and do a few writing exercises so that you will have hands-on experience revising your work as well as editing others’ pieces.
You’ll bring in a short piece you’ve written to the third class, Workshopping, so we can help you revise it. At the end of the three weeks we’ll toast our success as better writers. You’ll leave with that great feeling: Hey, I can write!
Laura Fraser is a New York Times-bestselling author of three books who has worked as a freelance journalist since she graduated from college. She has written hundreds of articles for national publications, including at The New York Times, Gourmet, Sunset, San Francisco Magazine, O: the Oprah Magazine, and many others. She has taught writing at universities and writing conferences, as well as at the Grotto, for over 20 years. She conducts workshops internationally in writing and digital storytelling for corporations and non-profits to help people everywhere be better writers. She’s also the niece and mentee of the late William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well.
Number of sessions: 3
Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Date: Thursdays, November 7, 14, 21
Course fee: $200
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17 |
In this interactive, one-day workshop, we will collaborate on producing a zine together. Instructors Susan Ito and Maw Shein Win will introduce a host of collaborative writing exercises to ignite your imagination and push your creative practice to new places. We will share inventive strategies to generate fresh ideas and inspire your writing through working and playing together. You will learn how to physically construct your own zine that includes work from the whole group.
At the end of the workshop, you will leave with a unique collaborative zine of words and images as well as an invaluable list of resources and exercises to keep you moving forward in your writing and creative life. This lively and engaging workshop is excellent for both poets and prose writers who have an interest in collaborative writing. Beginners are welcomed, as well as experienced poets, writers and artists who are looking to stretch their creative boundaries.
Light snacks and beverages provided. Bring a notebook.
Maw Shein Win is a poet, editor, and educator who lives and works in the Bay Area. Her writing has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Poetry International, Poets and Writers, Cimarron Review, Fanzine, and others. She is a member of the The Writers’ Grotto, and her poetry chapbook Score and Bone is on Nomadic Press (2016). Her collection Invisible Gifts: Poems was published by Manic D Press in 2018. Maw is the first poet laureate of El Cerrito (2016 – 2018), and her forthcoming full-length collection will be published by Omnidawn in 2020. She is a 2019 Visiting Scholar in the English Department at UC Berkeley.
Susan Ito is author of The Mouse Room. She co-edited the anthology A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption. She has been a columnist and editor at Literary Mama, and her work has appeared in Growing Up Asian American, Choice, Hip Mama, Catapult, The Bellevue Literary Review, Making More Waves and elsewhere. She has performed her solo show, The Ice Cream Gene, around the United States. She writes and teaches at the Writers’ Grotto, at Bay Path University and Mills College.
Number of sessions: 1
Time: 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Date: Sunday, November 17
Course fee: $100