University of Iowa

The Story Beneath Your Story: A Memoir-in-Progress Workshop

Weeklong July 15 to July 20 2018

Memoirists face two essential tasks: First, to craft the episodic story of what happened in the past, and second, to reveal the story of one’s own change and growth over time. That second story is where the author’s larger message is conveyed, elevating one person’s experience from the unique and personal to the universal and shared. It reveals what your story is about. But how do we extract that deeper message from a story, and articulate it to readers in a meaningful way? And how can we expect to achieve this, if we haven’t yet discovered what that larger message is?


As Vivian Gornick has emphasized, what happened to an author is not what matters. What matters is what the author makes of those experiences. This class will help you clarify what you make of your own story, and then give you tools for sharing these insights with readers. Together, we’ll identify the underlying themes and archetypes of your nonfiction narrative. We’ll also work on creating passages of reflection and analysis that will resonate deeply with readers. Come to this workshop with pages you’ve already polished, or first-draft work. Plan to share what you write during the week, and to give to other students as much as you’ll receive in return.