Writing the Memoir-in-Essays
with Margo Steines
October 12, 2023 | 2 Single-Day Webinars |
A memoir-in-essays is a book length work of linked essays, typically organized around a specific motif, idea, or topic. It is an essay collection that also reveals the interiority of the author and some part of their life, and answers the question “Is this a memoir, or an essay?” with one word: yes.
Thanks to its modular form, the memoir-in-essays allows a writer to make bold moves with time, theme, and chronology, and demands that they make clear the connections between the individual essays that make up the book. It uses the self and the world as two points in a dialogue of ideas, letting personal narrative serve as a way into ideas.
To write a memoir-in-essays, you need several things: a story, an idea, and a connection between them. What part of your life do you want to put on the page as a space in which to explore your idea? What idea feels resonant with the events you’ve lived and witnessed? And, crucially, how does your lived experience illuminate, complicate, or deepen your understanding of the ideas you wish to essay into?
In this course, you will read deeply into contemporary memoir-in-essays, explore the connections between your obsessions and your experiences, and learn craft tools for how to start or continue your own memoir-in-essays. You will respond to guided prompts and exercises that will help you unpack exactly how you want to frame your material, and you’ll consider how to establish voice, tone, pace, and perspective via group discussions and generative writing practices. You’ll leave the course with the groundwork set for your memoir-in-essay, and a plan for how to build and develop it.
Learning and Writing Goals
In this class, you will:
- Learn the craft differences between memoir and essay, and how to join them in a memoir-in-essays
- Learn how to envision an overarching theme, idea, or motif in your memoir-in-essays
- Gain an understanding of the formal choices available to you for assembling your material
- Develop skills at differentiating between narrator and character
In this class, you will:
- Develop an idea for your memoir-in-essays
- Articulate and plan the structure of your book-length work
- Write from prompts to begin or continue your memoir-in-essays
- Create pages toward your eventual draft
Class will meet for 2hrs per week, on Thursdays October 12 + 19, 7-9pm Eastern. Our sessions will include a craft talk, group discussion, reading talk + discussion, generative prompts and synchronous writing time, and optional sharing of pages.
WEEK ONE: What is This Thing: Intro to the Memoir-in-Essays
What is a memoir-in-essays, and why am I hearing about it a lot lately? This week, we’ll learn about the growing popularity of this liminal, genre-crossing genre of nonfiction.
We’ll talk about some of the literary elements of the memoir-in-essays: personal narrative, critical analysis, structure, and narrative design. We’ll talk about our craft and creative readings and how they relate to our own work, and you’ll start to put on the page a plan for your own memoir-in-essays.
The independent work for this week will be to work on your pages. You’ll receive guided exercises that you can use as they serve you, and when we meet for our next session, we’ll spend some time processing what came up during your independent work.
WEEK TWO: The Shape Is the Thing: Structure in the Memoir-in-Essays
This week, we’ll focus on how to structure what is essentially a modular narrative. We’ll talk a lot about time and how to manage it, chronology and its pros and cons, and the craft opportunities you can make out of time and narrative distance.
Student Feedback for Margo Steines:
Margo embodies a certain intense passion for the work of writing. It feels like she’s right there for each student, a straight forward but kind and knowledgeable partner. This course came at the perfect moment. Carol A Thomas
The course was a joy. I’m quiet by nature, but by the end of it, I found myself not only with the confidence to participate but eager to so do. It was well structured, and everyone was given a chance to contribute. Margo’s knowledge, experience, and empathy created a safe space for discussing sensitive subjects that left me not only more confident in my writing about such a challenging subject but with broader insights into life as a whole. You can’t ask for more than that. James Boud
Margo’s course was expertly structured. Her weekly readings and discussions accumulated into a satisfying intro to the literature. And her essay creation process gave me a draft and a system for making more. Ashley Walker
Margo writes with insight and incisiveness you feel in your gut. Reading her work reminds me that I am human and alive and not alone in feeling what I feel. It’s a privilege to read Margo and also to be edited by her. She’s a thoughtful editor who possesses both empathy and sharp instincts, which do not always appear in the same package. She knows how to ask you thought-provoking questions about your work that lead you to your own solutions. Rachel Reeves, journalist
Margo is an extraordinary teacher, with extremely helpful lectures, writing prompts, and course structure. This was one of the most helpful workshops I have ever participated in. I found her extremely generous and accessible with her time, and she created a class atmosphere that felt respectful and engaging. Highly recommend! Mary Simpson
Margo is a great teacher. Very professional, supportive and knowledgeable. Very sensitive dealing with a difficult topic. She created a warm and supportive Zoom environment for those who attended. Ariela Zucker