The University of Iowa

Wrestling with the Self in Memoir

Weeklong June 21 to June 26 2020

This generative workshop is for any memoir writer (novice or advanced) eager to get a grip on who is telling your story. For example, you’re writing furiously about your mother; you’re proud of that scene where she kills and skins the rattlesnake in the kitchen sink. But that was before you found out she wasn’t your mother, before you knew what you know now. In other words, who exactly is the I recounting that long-ago event? Since literary memoirs are more circular than sequential, more intuitive than logical, it’s crucial you know where you are telling the story from. Perspective is vital.

During this week, you will learn how to create a vantage point—the place to unpack emblematic episodes and observe former versions your self. You will discover the beauty of structure. Expect to write both in and outside of class. Every night you will have a specific, manageable assignment, often tailored to each student’s concerns.


With Sven Birkerts’ The Art of Time in Memoir, Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, and successful memoirs as guides, we’ll write from the Now as well as the Then, giving meaning to the past while (as memoirist Sands Hall says) “forging a new self.” No matter what stage your manuscript is in, this class is for anyone who wants to stretch as a writer. You will leave with new work and stronger forearms for having wrestled with the “I.” Prepare for fun (and at least one epiphany).


In this workshop, we will generate new writing through exercises and assignments; provide feedback on writing you produce in our week.