"If It's True...": A Memoir Workshop
It’s become an almost unmovable piece popular literary culture to make a clear distinction in a memoir between what’s true and what’s made up. But memoir—the form itself—can be as various, wild and eclectic as the individual putting their life down on paper. Anything goes, if it can move the reader. And truth, I feel, is relative when talking about art. That said, of course there are many ways of negotiating that truth in writing the essay or its longer form, the memoir. It’s all in the art, you don’t get credit for living, V.S. Pritchett has said, and so the goal of any autobiographical writing is to raise the stakes in conveying the experience of life and the life of experience.
In this class we will look at our own writing, do some exercises, and read some pages from great writers of great memoirs (“Running in the Family” by Michael Ondaatje and “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, “The Guardians” by Sarah Manguso and others), some great essayists (Charles D’Ambrosio, Dennis Cooper and Leslie Jamison and others) and begin the conversation about how to extend both the anecdote and the essay forms into something more sustained: a memoir that reads both as revelation and as literature.
MICHAEL KLEIN’s fourth book of poems and some prose is When I Was a Twin (Sibling Rivalry Press). His second and third book of poems--then, we were still living (GenPop Books) and The Talking Day--were both Lambda Literary Award finalists. His first book, 1990, tied with James Schuyler to win the award in 1993. A collection of short, lyric essays, States of Independence won the 2011 BLOOM Chapbook contest in non-fiction judged by Rigoberto Gonzalez. He has also written two memoirs: Track Conditions, based on his experience as groom to Kentucky Derby winner; Swale; and The End of Being Known, a book of linked essays on the subjects of sex and friendship--both published by the University of Wisconsin Press. His poems, essays and interviews with American poets have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, BLOOM, Fence, Tin House, Ploughshares, Provincetown Arts, Poets & Writers, and many other publications. He has taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College, Binghamton University, Manhattanville and for the last 15 years has been part of the writing faculty at Goddard College, in Vermont. For many years he was on the faculty of the summer program at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where he was a fellow in 1990.