Upcoming classes: Memoir
SATURDAY, AUGUST 24 | If you’ve longed to attend a writing residency, where quiet, food and uninterrupted time are provided, you can experience a taste of indulgent focus at the Grotto’s first weekend writing retreat. Bring that unfinished story, that new chapter, those poems to our writing nooks and crannies, and enjoy the time and space to write in community with others. You’ll be well fed, supported and inspired to make solid headway with whatever writing project you’re working on.
You’ll get tips from a seasoned writer and writing retreat facilitator on how to make the most of our time together. This full day will include writing time, brief periods of walking (to get those brain cells stimulated), both indoors and outdoors, as well as some sharing and brainstorming. When you’re feeling stuck, an on-call writing coach will be available to help with writing prompts or a pep talk. Nourishing snacks will appear throughout the day, and you’ll be treated to a delicious catered lunch. You’re guaranteed to leave the retreat with fresh pages and the momentum to continue on your own.
Susan Ito is the author of The Mouse Room. She co-edited the literary anthology A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption. Her work has appeared in Growing Up Asian American, Choice, Hip Mama, Hyphen, Catapult, The Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. She is on the faculty at Mills College and Bay Path University. She has been leading writing and creativity retreats for over ten years.
Number of sessions: 1
Time: 10:00 am – 3:30 pm
Dates: Saturday, August 24
Course fee: $110
WEDNESDAYS, SEPTEMBER 18-25 —OCTOBER 2-30 | Close reading of great work is one of the best ways to improve your own writing. In this class, you’ll learn how to unlock the secrets of great personal essays and apply them to your work.
The class combines focused, constructive workshopping of student work with an examination of outstanding published essays past and present. We’ll split our time each week between providing feedback on students’ essays and performing a close read of one or more published essays. We’ll talk about some techniques that can be used to “get inside” a piece, and students will put those techniques to work not just in understanding their own work but in learning to provide useful feedback for their fellow writers as well.
Essayists we’ll read in the class include Alexander Chee, Joan Didion, Melissa Febos, Mary Ruefle, and more. Along the way, we’ll get at the heart of what makes a great personal essay tick. Workshopping will focus on what each writer wants to accomplish, with constructive feedback provided to help move them closer to their goals. By the end of seven weeks, you’ll have gained deeper insights into how great writers approach the personal essay, and will understand how to bring many of these tools to bear in your own work. You may also arrange for feedback from Mark on a revision of your essay for an additional $100.
A freelance writer based in San Francisco, Mark Wallace has published essays in the Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Independent, The Sigh Press Literary Journal, and elsewhere, and his feature journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Salon, Wired, and many others.
Number of sessions: 7
Time: 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm
Dates: Wednesdays, September 18, 25; October 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
Course fee: $395
THURSDAYS, SEPTEMBER 19-26 —OCTOBER 3 | Whatever kind of book you want to write – fiction, memoir, business, how-to, children’s– this class will help you take an idea you’re passionate about and show you how to develop it, and get it edited, published, and into the hands of readers. We will demystify how to pitch your book, write a proposal, land an agent, and find the right publisher. We’ll discuss ghostwriting, freelance editors, how to handle revisions, cover designs, excerpts, book publicists, and self-publishing vs. legacy publishers. We will also walk you through what you need on your author website, and how to attract readers via social media and other avenues.
This class is for anyone who wants to write a book, at whatever stage of the process. Note that this is not a class for workshopping your book, but for getting it into print. You’ll leave with an elevator pitch, a longer pitch, and a roadmap for turning your book idea into a reality.
Laura Fraser is the author of four non-fiction books, including the New York Times bestseller, An Italian Affair. As the co-founder and editorial director of Shebooks, she published 75 ebooks. She has also ghost-written a couple of books, and coached authors through several others. She’s familiar with the publishing process from agents and auctions to the font type of the pages. She has taught at numerous venues, including, recently, a class on book editing at the Aspen Institute. She brings snacks and a sense of humor to class.
Number of sessions: 3
Dates: Thursdays, September 19 & 26; October 3
Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Course fee: $225
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
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