The memoirist is asked to play many roles: simultaneously that of the author, the narrator, and the character. And while those of the author (you, who sits at the keyboard) and the character (younger you, in the scenes you are recollecting) may be easily understood, that of the narrator is both the slipperiest and perhaps the most important. As Vivian Gornick writes, “we pull from ourselves the narrator who can shape better than we can the inchoate flow of events into which we are continually being plunged.” The narrator is the one who both makes sense of and problematizes life. Philip Lopate reminds us that the narrator must deliver to the reader what they’ve come to the book for: the sense that an active, searching mind lies behind the memoirist’s inquiry. But how do you achieve that, while still vividly evoking both the world of the character and the broader social and political world that lies beyond?
In this two-day intensive we will consider how a deeper understanding of, and facility with, the narrator of your memoir can help you deepen your prose and save readers from what Sven Birkerts calls “the coma-inducing effect of ‘and then.’” We will study how writers have created richly layered memoir by considering aspects of time, perspective, and the enlargement of the narratorial world through research. Each student will have the opportunity to share three pages of prose sharpened over the course of the weekend with their classmates and the instructor. We will focus on generative, forward-looking feedback, designed to deepen and hone the writer’s engagement with their life. This class is best-suited for writers already at work on a draft of their memoir.
The first day we’ll have two sessions, separated by a 2-hour break, discussing craft and readings and students will be given prompts to consider for their own writing.
The second day will involve one session, predominantly devoted to workshop. Prior to meeting on the second day, students will turn in short writing assignments (up to three double-spaced pages).
Students will then convene for that second day’s session to discuss the writing assignments with a small cohort of their peers (3-4 other students). Students will be receiving thorough verbal feedback from their cohorts and some verbal feedback from the instructor, who will visit with each cohort.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- A better understanding of the situation of your memoir versus the story at stake within it, and the implications of that relationship on narration and structure
- An overview of craft principles of narration and tools and techniques for implementing those principles in your own work
- Writing exercises that can be repeated after the conclusion of the course and used to deepen further work
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
We will spend the first day on craft analysis and exercises. Students should then expect to spend their own evening time revising their prose based on what we've uncovered together. On day two, students will have the opportunity to share up to three revised double-spaced pages with each other.
Day one, Session One (10 a.m.-1 pm ET/7-10 a.m. PT):
- Course introduction
- Understanding the author-narrator-character split
- Understanding situation vs. story
- The three main roles of the narrator
Day One, Session Two (3-6 p.m. ET/12-3 p.m. PT):
- Craft examples and discussion of honing the narrator's abilities
- Advanced narratorial moves
Day Two (3-6 p.m. ET/12-3 p.m. PT):
- Small group workshops of student work
- Final notes
Alex Marzano-Lesnevich is the author of The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, which received a Lambda Literary Award, the Chautauqua Prize, the Grand Prix des Lectrices ELLE, the Prix des libraires du Quebec 2020, and the Prix France Inter-JDD. It has been translated into ten languages. Marzano-Lesnevich has received fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, and Yaddo, and has written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Oxford American, Harper’s, and more. Their next book, Both and Neither, is forthcoming in 2023.
“A memoir/true-crime hybrid that stands up to the best of either genre, and will linger in your mind long after the last page.”
“If IN COLD BLOOD is the beginning of the genre, then [Alex] Marzano-Lesnevich’s THE FACT OF A BODY is a next stage of its evolution. Marzano-Lesnevich merges [their] reportorial and novelistic impulses into a book that bursts with empathy and finely researched detail. With elegant and lyrical prose, [they] investigate [their] childhood with the same scrutiny that [they] uses to research [their] subject, a man charged with murder, and render his biography as thoughtfully as [their] own. What emerges is part memoir, part reportage, and part fiction.”
“Powerful... with this book, [they lay] it bare.”
“Craft lessons - amazing and so helpful. One on one with Alex - incredible recommendations about memoirs to read, craft books to read and study. Class conversation -- Alex had great pacing and was so knowledgeable it was mind boggling.”
“I'd really like to offer sincere thanks and praise to the instructor, Alex. There was a lot of emotion and trauma whizzing around during workshops and they managed all the personalities very well. Their lessons and hand-outs were easy to follow and real keepers. Their insight and professionalism never failed or faulted to keep the class positive with all hearts and minds in tow. They were patient and provided constructive criticism when necessary. I walked away from each class feeling energized to go home and write.”
“This will probably rank among the most useful courses I have taken - ever - because Alex designed the class in such a way that we have the knowledge to continue to hone our craft. I appreciate the high bar/high expectations set.”