Plot and Theme: Foundations of Memoir (with Eleanor Vincent)

Eleanor Vincent




WEDNESDAYS, JUNE 21—JULY 26  |  In this class, we will delve into the effective construction of memoir – whether personal essay or book-length manuscript. Weaving together the threads of plot (the situation described) and theme (the deeper underlying truth), we will examine how to use these building blocks to create a strong foundation for your project.

“What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the larger sense the writer is able to make of what happened,” writes Vivian Gornick, in The Situation and the Story, her seminal book on the art of the personal narrative. To this end, you will create a plot timeline and brainstorm the themes in your work. We’ll also consider how effective metaphors can strengthen theme, by looking at the work of memoirists/poets such as Mark Doty and Patricia Hampl.

This class, suitable for writers at all levels, will combine in-class writing exercises, workshopping, and close reading of memoir excerpts. Between classes, you will have both reading and writing assignments. Please come prepared to share your work in a supportive environment and to read and comment on each other’s work.

Eleanor Vincent’s memoir, Swimming with Maya, has appeared on the New York Times e-book bestseller list and was a finalist for the Independent Publisher of the Year award. Her articles and personal essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, Marie-Claire magazine, and elsewhere. She has an M.F.A. from Mills College with a dual concentration in poetry and creative nonfiction.


Number of sessions: 6

Time: 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

Dates: Wednesdays, June 21, 28; July 5, 12, 19, 26

Course fee: $375

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