Workshop Descriptions & Instructors
Thomas Fox Averill
Nancy K. Barry
Michael Dennis Browne
Susan Taylor Chehak
Thomas K. Dean
Cheryl Fusco Johnson
Sabrina Orah Mark
Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Fritz Mc Donald
Sharelle Byars Moranville
Mark Jude Poirier
Mary Kay Shanley
Robert Anthony Siegel
The greatest challenge for a personal writer: to create work that is meaningful to others. The most crucial question a personal writer can ask in an effort to meet that challenge: Who cares?
In this workshop, we’ll discuss excerpts from various published personal writers—Lucy Grealy, Joan Didion, Augusten Burroughs—and examine such concepts as subjectivity/multiple “truths,” the politics of writing about loved ones, and the distinction between free-form journaling and crafted storytelling. We’ll delve into exercises that chip away at the block of marble (one’s whole life), to find the statue (the narrower story that becomes a memoir’s focus), as we explore ways to tell our stories originally and engagingly, striving to achieve both a uniqueness and a universality: How can I make this story precisely mine and meaningful to others? At week’s end, you’ll emerge with a broader, 360-degree perspective on memoir and the tools to launch into yours (or to overhaul what you already have). Writers with at least a memoir idea in mind, if not something already in progress, are welcome.
To quote Martin Amis, “All writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen, but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart. When I dispraise, I am usually quoting clichés. When I praise, I am usually quoting the opposed qualities of freshness, energy, and reverberation of voice.” Such freshness is especially crucial in memoir, where the writer’s primary task is to reach others through personal experience. Ironically, perhaps, the more unique your storytelling, the more universal its scope will be. In other words, if you try to relate to everyone through generalities, you’ll actually relate to no one, because general = vague, and vague = unrelatable.
In this intensive weekend, through in-depth discussions and exercises in memory-mining, perspective, and tone, we’ll explore ways to tell a story rigorously, engaging potential readers through precision and originality. There will be nothing to submit in advance, as we’ll generate all new work during our weekend together. Open-minded introspectives with a desire to communicate, at all levels of writing experience, are welcome.
Sarah Saffian (M.F.A., Columbia) is the author of Ithaka, her memoir of being an adoptee who was found by her birth family. Formerly a journalism professor at NYU and the New School, Sarah has written for publications including The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Smithsonian, and Slate. She has been a writer-in-residence at the Millay Colony and the Atlantic Center for the Arts and is currently working on a second memoir. This is her fifth summer at the Festival. You can visit Sarah at www.saffian.com.
Sponsored by the Division of Continuing Education
Last updated on November 14, 2012