University of Iowa

Advanced Memoir: The Art and Craft of the Personal Essay

Weeklong July 21 to July 26 2019

In grappling with the cardinal question of memoir—Who cares?—this workshop zeroes in on what’s most compelling about our life stories. What about us is potentially interesting to others? Can a personal essay stand alone as a complete mini-memoir?


We’ll read and discuss personal essays by Junot Diaz, Joan Didion, Ariel Levy, and others, to enlighten and inspire us, and engage in some on-the-spot writing. Our main focus will be on a single personal essay all week—workshop, revise and expand, and share again. You’ll leave our week together with a piece in solid shape and resources for pursuing publication.


Nothing to submit in advance, but so that we can hit the ground running, I ask that you come to Iowa with the first draft of a 500-word personal essay in hand, ready for workshop. Seasoned memoir writers aiming to publish in the short form are welcome (though previous publications aren’t required).


In this workshop we will generate new writing through guided exercises and prompts; provide feedback on writing you bring from home; provide feedback on writing you produce in our week.