University of Iowa

Starting the Memoir: From Idea to First Ten Pages

Weeklong July 22 to July 27 2018

The first few pages of a memoir are the most critical ones. They determine whether readers become invested in your story, and whether they’ll follow it into Chapter Two. This course is for students of all levels who want to write a book-length memoir or have started one already and hope to “hook” readers from the start.


We’ll begin by talking about narrative structure to understand story arcs. Then we’ll discuss several methods for opening a memoir, including Prologues, Prefaces, and Introductions. We’ll compare the opening pages of memoirs by Kathy Dobie, Antwone Fisher, Sarah Hepola, Joe Loya, and Joanna Rakoff to see how different authors have chosen to introduce their themes. You’ll have the chance to share and receive feedback on your opening pages, too.


While you should arrive with a clear idea of the story you want to tell, our focus will be on a very narrow portion—the first ten pages. By the end of the week you should have several of those pages written and a blueprint for more.