Place in Memoir

Place in Memoir

Meghan O'Gieblyn
May 8 to June 30, 2017
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Class Size: 
8-Week Studio

Too often, location is regarded as the backdrop of a memoir—the fixed stage-set on which the action unfolds. But there is a long tradition of memoir that privileges place, and the writer’s experience with that place. In such works, location takes center stage and becomes a dynamic “character” in the story. Travel memoir is the most common form in which location is primary, and our course will discuss some of the building blocks of this genre. We’ll also discuss how to write memoir and personal essays that evoke the landscapes you know more intimately: your hometown, the city where you studied abroad, or a place that has, for whatever reason, lived in your memory over the years and won’t let you go. In our readings and course discussions, we’ll consider how writers can use place to discuss culture, ethos, and larger ideas. The best location-centered writing, it turns out, regards its subject as far more than a mere dot on the map.

In this eight-week course, you’ll have the opportunity to tell your story through the lens of the locations that have animated your life. In addition to reading excerpts from classic works of literature, we’ll consider more contemporary examples of nonfiction that consider the role of place within the globalized landscape of the 21st century. Each student will write and revise one short essay (up to 2000 words) and one longer piece of writing (up to 3500 words). Throughout the course, participants will receive personalized feedback from me, as well as comments from their fellow classmates. While our discussions will assume a basic familiarity with narrative nonfiction, the course is open to writers from all levels and backgrounds. No prior workshop experience is necessary.



Meghan O'Gieblyn has written essays, memoir and criticism for The New York Times, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Boston Review, Threepenny Review, Guernica, Oxford American, The Awl, and The Point. She is the recipient of a 2016 Pushcart Prize. Her work has been distinguished as "notable" in Best American Essays and selected for Longform's Best Essays of 2011. She received her MFA from University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she won the Jerome Sterns Teaching Award, and has worked as the Fiction Editor of Devil's Lake literary journal and an associate editor at Colony Collapse Press.

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