University of Iowa

So What's Your (Life) Story? Memoir in a Nutshell

Weekend July 27 to July 28 2019

In an effort to get over ourselves as personal storytellers, we’ll strive in this intensive course to make every sentence, indeed every word, count. What must be there for a reader to get a sense of us? What’s that inciting incident, organizing principle, heat-seeking moment, which could drive our memoirs?


We’ll spend Saturday talking about how we all have many memoirs in us, but each needs to be a specific slice—the statue within the block of marble, the sculpture within the lump of clay, the story-within-the-story. What’s this particular memoir about? (“Me” or “My life” aren’t acceptable answers.) We’ll also engage in in-class writing exercises and discuss excerpts from published works—by personal writers such as Jeannette Walls and Karen Schneider—to energize and inspire us. Overnight, we’ll write our “life stories” in 500 words, to see what rises to the surface as crucial to include, allowing the narrower story to start to take shape. Sunday, we’ll share our pieces and workshop them on the spot.


Nothing to submit in advance. Open-minded introspectives with a desire to communicate, at all levels of writing experience, are welcome.


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