The University of Iowa

The Well-Tempered Paragraph: Memoirs in Miniature

Weekend June 20 to June 21 2020

How much of a life can be squeezed into a paragraph? This will be the challenge during our weekend retreat, as we tackle this most common unit of composition. Reading and appreciating these small blocks of type, none of them common, will be our first task. Our focus will be on those sparked by a memory. We will read from After the Fact, by poets Marvin Bell and Chris Merrill.  We will read from Margaret Renkl's Late Migrations. We will also read paragraphs you love, those pulled from your bulletin boards or bracketed in the books on your desk.


And we will respond with work of our own, producing paragraphs some might call prose poems. Others might feel more like anecdotes. In any case, your writing will shine and deepen, as fellow writers awaken what Philip Lopate calls "that shiver of self-recognition."


In their famous Elements of Style, Strunk and White ask us to "remember that paragraphing calls for a good eye as well as a logical mind." Yes, let's certainly employ the former, the visual shape on the page. As far as the latter, well, we will have some fun. Can you write a book like this? Yes, you can. To start you right off upon registration, my introductory letter will include examples and prompts, so you'll hit the ground running, with paragraphs ready to be read and answered in kind. Writers at any level of experience are most welcome.


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