The University of Iowa

Memoir Manuscript Workshop

Two-Weeklong July 12 to July 24 2020

Admission to this workshop is by application only. Enrollment is limited to ten. To apply, submit twenty pages or one full chapter of your manuscript, a synopsis of five pages or fewer, and a brief statement saying what you hope to achieve in the workshop. The deadline to apply is April 7. See "Registration Information" for further details specific to the Two-Week Intensive Workshops.


Writing a memoir involves a diverse skill set, including an ability to shape a story, a commitment toward self-reflection, and exceptional power of recall. This intensive two-week workshop for writers working on book-length memoirs will help students hone these crafts plus more, with a goal of bringing a manuscript closer to publication quality.


Participants will submit working manuscripts of roughly 60,000 words (up to 200 pages) in advance. Within our small community of peers, each writer will receive feedback on big- and small-picture elements of their work, from overall story structure to development of minor characters. We’ll discuss pacing, movement, and judicious pruning. Together, we’ll delve deep into the human conditions at stake in each story and identify the deeper meanings that will resonate with readers.


Your pages need not be polished; the workshop is designed for works-in-progress. At the same time, your manuscript will need to have enough of a character arc, enough scene development, and enough tension or conflict in the story to inspire vigorous class discussion. Participants will need to read each other’s work in advance of our time in Iowa City. Reading and discussing all of the manuscripts will be an important part of the total learning experience.


Mini-lectures on elements of craft will be worked into the two-week schedule, and each participant will meet with the instructor twice for one-on-one discussions. In addition, we’ll explore some of the practical considerations of writing memoir, including the law and ethics of writing about real people, navigating the landscape of agents and publishers, and working with the limitations of memory. We’ll also read excerpts from literary memoirs to draw inspiration and insight from published works.


Bring your questions and concerns about your manuscript, an eagerness to redraft your pages, a sense of humility about your work, and a willingness to help others improve theirs. You will leave the workshop with concrete ideas and suggestions for reworking your manuscript and drafting (or re-drafting) a memoir that explores issues both big and small.