University of Iowa

Memoir Manuscript Workshop

Two-Weeklong July 14 to July 26 2019

This workshop is a rare opportunity to give and receive feedback on book-length manuscripts. There will be ten participants. Admission is by application only. To apply, submit 15 pp/@4500 words. If your excerpt is taken from a chapter longer than the specified pages, you may append a one paragraph summary. Also submit a synopsis, with a word-limit of 1000 words, and submit a one-page statement saying what you hope to achieve by being in the workshop. Your synopsis should make clear what the situation and the story of your memoir are—a concept we owe to Vivian Gornick’s book of that title.


The deadline to apply is April 9. You will be notified of decisions by April 26. See Registration Information for further details specific to Two-Week Intensive Workshops.


Life-writing is a venerable and significant endeavor, good for the writer and for the culture, whether it is published or not. We do well to remember and reflect, so that we can understand the trajectory of our lives. Memoir is a specific kind of life-writing, in which our memories are explored and refined and focused so that a particular event or phase of life is developed narratively; and both what happened and what it meant are shared with the reader. Such writing requires great tenacity, courage, and labor, but it can be thrilling to write and to read.


This intensive workshop is for those working on book-length memoirs. Generally, memoirs are similar to novels in structure, with an arc and chapters, but I would entertain the possibility of an essayist or narrator's voice conveying experience and insight in connected pieces, as long as there is discovery and growth for the writer. (See Abigail Thomas, Safekeeping.) The goal is that you go home with a renewed commitment to your project, and an arsenal of strategies for strengthening your manuscript. I will talk about ethical considerations, but very little about publishing, except to give you advice about preparing queries.


Participants will submit manuscripts-in-progress of 50,000—60,000 words. Your manuscript, ideally, should comprise most of a completed draft. Each writer will receive feedback within a community of peers, hewing to guidelines that focus on structure, cohesion, scene quality, tension, and perhaps most of all, the development of a persona with a powerful story to tell. The emphasis will be on a generous, supportive, inquiring response by readers. We will not be a therapy group. We will not edit. I will share insights and strategies for revision, but most of our time will be spent with the manuscripts. There will be one-on-one conferences, too.


Participants will read each other's work in advance of the workshop. This means you will be committing to having a viable draft by May 14; and to reading nine manuscripts by the convening of the class in July.