Write into Mystery: Writing Flash Memoir on Wonder and the Unexplained
with Joanna Penn Cooper
March 20, 2024
Join me to write short passages of prose that explore the mystery woven through all of our lives: the mysterious, unexpected, or wondrous that exists in our everyday experience. Learn how to share what is strangest and most alive from your own life, and how your life-based writing can explore the connections between disparate experiences.
We will work in a mode that we could call flash memoir, vignette, or micro-essay. These short pieces could become the basis for a longer work (essay/memoir), or remain as standalone “flash” pieces. Alternately, you could see them as writing practice, as a way to loosen up and access your creativity. We will also explore the (blurry) lines between prose poem, flash fiction, and micro-essay, reading examples from each of these genres and dipping into them at will.
We will form a warm and supportive community, and find solace through a shared experience of writing and reading. We will spend much of our time in a mode of play and discovery, even when writing on serious subjects. You’ll post some of your responses to writing exercises for the whole group to see. You will receive feedback from me along the way, and at the end of the course, I will read a portfolio of your work, or an essay based on vignettes that you write through the course.
- To identify how other writers have approached mystery, wonder, and the unexplained in their life-based writing.
- To experiment with strategies for approaching your own biographical material, and form new connections between disparate experiences.
- To experience and contribute to a rich and supportive community of writers who are finding meaning and solace through reading, writing, and discussion.
- You will produce short life-inspired vignettes in response to 2-3 writing exercises per week, which can be polished into standalone pieces of flash memoir/flash fiction or form the seeds of longer pieces.
- You will gain practice in offering critiques to peers.
- You will produce a final portfolio of vignettes for instructor feedback.
There will also be two optional Zoom meetings to discuss craft issues and discuss our writing practices. These will run on Saturday, 12/9, 1-2pm Eastern, and the Wednesday 12/20, 7-8pm Eastern.
This course is asynchronous, and will include four weekly lessons (spread out over five weeks to accommodate the holiday season).
Week 1: The Mystery of the Material World
Lynda Barry has discussed the way accessing memory through a concrete image or object takes you out of your linear conscious mind and allows you to make unexpected connections. In her book What It Is, Barry specifically discusses the uncanny quality things take on for children. This week, we’ll read examples by Barry, Jo Ann Beard, Eudora Welty, and others as you write exercises that delve into the mysteries of childhood and memory.
Week 2: Thinking Beyond the Familiar
Get your creativity flowing by experimenting with unconventional forms, such as letters, diaries, dream journals, commonplace books, and collage essays. This week, we’ll think about how these approaches can help you access new angles on the material of your life, world, and mind. We will also explore ways to “estrange the familiar” in order to give personal narratives new, compelling power (both for yourself and for the reader).
Week 3: Memory, Grief, and Wonder
This week, we’ll continue to read and write vignettes that allow room for suggestion, exploration, and the unexplained. The readings this week have a loose theme of grief and loss, along with the redemptive beauty of mystery and wonder.
Week 4: Myths, Tales, and the Subconscious
Set out into your own dreams, imaginings, and speculations. You’ll be invited to use dreams as seeds of writing; to delve into the subconscious with creative meditation techniques; and to craft your own narratives in relation to pre-existing cultural material such as fairy tales and myths.
Student Feedback for Joanna Penn Cooper:
March 20, 2024