Upcoming classes: Memoir

Mary Ladd




SATURDAY, APRIL 7  | Big challenges can spark writing that is personal, meaningful and cathartic. We’ll read from the masters: Oliver Sacks and Joan Didion and do our own generative short exercises to explore how to find points of entry into personal experiences of loss. The goal is to facilitate your ability to access memories and ideas and connect them to the page. A student favorite is the exercise to “write about the worst thing someone said to you in your grief,” which can be darkly funny.

You will leave the class with starting points for possible essays, stories, poems. 


Zoe FitzGerald Carter




WEDNESDAYS, APRIL 11 —MAY 2  |  This workshop is designed to help both budding and seasoned storytellers write lively, well-constructed memoirs and personal essays. Over four evenings, we will discuss the essential components of successful literary memoir: Structure, Scene, Story/Character Arc, and Theme.

We will read examples from recent essays and memoirs and consider the thorny issue of “truth in memoir” and the challenge inherent in writing about the people we love. Students are encouraged to share their writing conundrums although issues that are overly specific will be answered by the instructor privately.

There will be a short in-class writing exercise every week and students will have the chance to submit 6-8 pages of an esasy or manuscript for critique by the class.


Louise Nayer




SUNDAYS, APRIL 29 & MAY 6  |  How do you draw readers into the world of your memoir—whether traveling on a BART train in San Francisco, hiking along the banks of the Merced River in Yosemite, or remembering your first house as a child? 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.


Laura Fraser

Laura Fraser




THURSDAYS, MAY 3 — 31  |  This is a class to workshop personal essays–short pieces about a journey of transformation, such as you might find in the New York Times’ “Lives” or “Modern Love” column. We’ll spend the first class talking about structure and looking at some models, and then the rest of the classes will be mainly devoted to reading and giving feedback on students’ essays, with some tips on craft (dialogue, scene vs. summary, great beginnings and endings). This class is a perfect follow-up for anyone who has taken the one-day “Monster and the Miracle” class, or “Vivid Scenes” with Laura.


Thaisa Frank




SATURDAYS, MAY 5 —12  |  All writers know that suspense is crucial to good fiction and creative nonfiction. Without wanting to know “what comes next,” readers will stop reading. This course shines a lens on traditional and radical techniques for keeping readers involved. Among them are: (1) The uses of uncertainty (2) Withholding information (3) Breaking out of traditional narrative forms (4) External and internal conflict.

We’ll explore suspense in long and short forms of fiction and nonfiction, examining plot, character, image, and idea-driven writers such as Elmore Leonard, Alice Munro, Italo Calvino, and the essayist Natalia Ginzburg.  



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