Illuminating the Past in Memoir
How do memoirists re-enter the mysteries of past experience?
The answer, for many of us, resides in our ability to 'play' with the past and find enjoyment in exciting literary techniques memoirists and fiction writers have passed down to us. To that end, our writing exercises will focus primarily on imagery and perspective: imagery, because a few carefully curated sensory details can often illuminate the past in extraordinary and surprising ways; perspective, because speaking about the past with authority always involves looking at it from a unique angle. The combined force of these two tools can offer up a fresh take on the past that gives us the distance and freedom to play with our stories and shape them into what they need to become.
We will be considering excerpts from memoirs and other nonfiction pieces (and occasionally excellent autofiction) as a way of solving any problems we have encountered thus far in our memoir writing. Though writers are not required to have completed a draft of a memoir, they should come to the class with fully formed ideas for projects.
Garrard Conley's first book, Boy Erased: a memoir (Penguin 2016) was a top Oprah.com, Buzzfeed, and L.A. Times nonfiction read and is soon to be a major motion picture from Focus Features (September 2018). His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in TIME, VICE, Virginia Quarterly Review, CNN, and elsewhere. He has been a Bread Loaf and Sewanee scholar and currently teaches the Memoir Incubator program at Grub Street in Boston. His first novel is forthcoming from Riverhead/Penguin. He lives with his husband in Brooklyn.