“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” —Maya Angelou
At the heart of our lives are our stories. Stories of times we were lost or found, broken or whole, asleep or awake. The most haunting memoirs aren’t just autobiographies. Instead, they frequently pivot upon a subject that mystifies and confounds the writer, about which they cannot quite make up their mind.
In this four-week workshop, we'll mine our lives for material and work through a series of generative prompts designed to turn rich, messy fragments into surprising and powerful prose. We’ll steal liberally from the sensory world of poetry, the narrative world of fiction, and the fact-driven world of journalism, even as we plumb the depths of interior life. Participants will have the opportunity to workshop a memoir excerpt while also generating new work. Along the way, we’ll read and discuss pieces by writers such as Claudia Rankine, Maria Venegas, Michael Ondaatje, and Alexander Chee, who can teach us how to build a strong narrative arc, write vivid scenes, and prioritize the details and images that make prose come alive.
All levels of experience are welcome. This course will be particularly helpful for writers who are in the earliest stages of a memoir project. Participating writers should be prepared to submit material for workshop (e.g., memoir excerpts of no more than 12 pages) close to the beginning of the course.
- A community of peers embarking on similar projects
- Thoughtful feedback from the instructor and your peers on an excerpt from an essay or your memoir-in-progress
- A set of prompts designed to help you generate new material when you’re feeling stuck
- A writing process protocol that helps you understand the various steps in the writing process
- A revision protocol that opens up possibilities for strengthening your draft
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Week 1: Committing to the sensory world.
Week 2: Making it new.
Week 3: Leveraging structure.
Week 4: Revising your work & finding a path to publication.
Jessica Wilbanks is the author of When I Spoke in Tongues, a memoir about faith and its loss. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize as well as awards from Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Redivider, and Ruminate magazine. Her essays have received Notable Mentions in Best American Essays and Best American Nonrequired Reading, and she was recently selected as a finalist for the PEN Center USA’s annual Literary Award in Journalism. Jessica received her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Houston, where she served as nonfiction editor for Gulf Coast. She lives and writes in Houston.
"Jessica was excellent . . she was amazingly empathetic and encouraging while at the same time very genuine."
"Jessica is an excellent instructor. She gives encouraging feedback, stays on schedule, and references relevant pieces of other authors. Ultimately, she knows what she's talking about and knows enough to share that neither her opinions or perspectives are absolute. I can't say enough about how much I appreciate her."
"Jessica Wilbanks is one of our finest instructors . . rarely do we see the situation in which all respondents mark that they were “Extremely Satisfied” with their workshop or that 100% of respondents say they would recommend the workshop to another writer, but Jessica’s workshops achieve this. I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly recommend Jessica Wilbanks as a memoir and creative nonfiction instructor . . . Our writing students love her because she brings to the workshop room a unique enthusiasm and an ability to nourish not just their writer minds, but their hearts and souls."
"[The essay] "Ghost Language" is a searching, visceral examination of faith and its negative margins--its nerve endings are sharply attuned to the proximate world--the song of its particulars--and the yearning for something less proximate, something divine. It's a piercing examination of memory and longing--the vexed terms by which one can be haunted by one's own lost faith."
“Fever dream—this is how Jessica Wilbanks describes the first time she spoke in tongues . . . which is as good a phrase as any to describe the experience of reading this lucid and hallucinatory memoir. The questions that float through these pages—What is belief? What is faith?—spoke to me in ways I hadn’t expected, or even knew to ask, and revealed a world running alongside our own, which we mock or ignore at our peril.”
“Jessica Wilbanks’s memoir of faith’s loss and her efforts to comprehend its significance is no less than an illuminating exploration of how to live meaningfully. Beautifully written, WHEN I SPOKE IN TONGUES is compelling, honest, and memorable.”