University of Iowa

Formed By Family: Writing about Those Who Shape Us

Weeklong July 14 to July 19 2019

When we write memoirs or personal essays, we inevitably find ourselves depicting those who have had the most influence in our lives—our family members. To understand the self, we must understand them. Take a look at a shelf of memoirs, and you will see just how vital those relationships are—in Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments or Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home or Geoffrey Wolff’s Duke of Deception or Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family. However, writing about family is risky, and there are legendary stories of family members who stopped talking after a memoir was published. As a result, we don’t want to get it wrong. In this workshop, we will practice ways to write more freely and honestly while still honoring those we care about. We will discuss how other authors have handled writing about mothers, fathers, spouses, and children, and we will generate new stories, getting feedback on how we portray the central relationships. The class welcomes nonfiction writers as well as fiction writers who are trying to decide whether to “tell it like it is.” If you are developing a longer manuscript, bring it along. There will be time for sharing.


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.