The University of Iowa

Formed by Family: Writing about Those Who Shape Us

Weeklong June 14 to June 19 2020

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 weeklong 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. Nonfiction writers are welcome, along with fiction writers who are mining their family experience. 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 exercises and assignments; critique writing you bring from home; provide feedback on writing you produce in our week.