University of Iowa

You Are the Subject: The Personal Essay

Weeklong June 23 to June 28 2019

“Can it be that I am the subject?” the writer Elizabeth Hardwick asks in Sleepless Nights. In this course, the answer is yes. You will be the subject, shaping the raw material of your life onto the page. To do so is nothing new. Writers throughout the ages have drawn on their lives, some in small measure and some to a greater degree. But often those stories hid behind the veil of “fiction” while “memoir” remained the domain of older men looking back on public lives. Now the genre has cracked wide open, showcasing diverse and disruptive voices. We will read some of these distinctive writers, absorbing as much as possible about structure and style: how to negotiate time; how to withhold and reveal in tandem, creating tension, then releasing it; and how to distill characters in memorable ways. Short published readings will inspire participants to produce new work. Workshopping will offer possibilities on how best to revise. At the end of the week, participants will have greater appreciation for elements of craft in generating and refining a personal essay and also a deeper understanding of how revision so often works: that the story we set out to tell isn’t always the story that demands to be told.


In this workshop we will generate new writing through guided exercises and prompts.