You have a memoir to write about family—a true story seized from the beautiful chaos of everyday life with the people most important to you. The question you face now is how to uncover its shape and give it a full-throated voice, the ability to sing. Do you just start at the beginning and write through to the end? What is the beginning, anyway? And what about the special difficulties and obligations of writing about family members—how do you think about those things so that they become a springboard to discovery, rather than a barrier?
This six-week fully online course is for beginning memoirists who want to write about family, and for more experienced writers struggling with family material. It introduces students to the basics of memoir writing, including scene, structure, and narrative arc. Classes combine lecture, discussion, and short exercises that we will write on the spot and share with the group, reading aloud. There will also be some very short take-home assignments, to keep you thinking between classes. And I will meet with each student for a half-hour Zoom meeting outside of class to discuss your memoir project in greater depth.
Writers will leave this class with a deeper understanding of how to:
- discover and explore your material
- do research
- articulate the conflict at the heart of your story
- envision your narrative arc
- explore your themes
- think about structure, create an outline, and compile a scene list
- write scenes
- create a writing schedule and set goals
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 short synopsis of your memoir (including conflict, character, settings, and themes)
- An outline and a scene list to help you get to the finish line
- A writing schedule and set of goals
- A 30-minute one-on-one meeting for individualized feedback and strategies from your instructor
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students will be expected to complete in-class writing exercises and will have the option to complete short weekly homework assignments.
Week One: What is a memoir? And what are the special obligations and rewards of family memoir?
Week Two: Scene, exposition, and the writing process
Week Three: Who are you and who is your protagonist? Making the distinction between yourself in the world and yourself on the page
Week Four: What does your protagonist want and how do they see it? The relationship between desire and action
Week Five: Conflict, climax, resolution, and change
Week Six: Setting and world, and how to keep writing to the finish
Robert Anthony Siegel is the author of a memoir, Criminals (Counterpoint,) and two novels, All the Money in the World (Random House) and All Will Be Revealed (MacAdam/Cage.) His essays, articles, and short fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian, The Paris Review, The Oxford American, Tin House, and Ploughshares, among other magazines. He has been a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan, a Mombukagakusho Fellow in Japan, a Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and a Paul Engle Fellow at the Iowa Writers Workshop. Other awards include O. Henry and Pushcart Prizes. His web site is www.robertanthonysiegel.com.
"Robert Siegel’s unforgettable memoir seems at first like a rogue’s gallery of brilliant con–artists and ex–cons revolving around the author’s father, who was both. Before long, however, these often–hilarious essays and exquisite, Basho–like vignettes settle into a wondrous machine held together by Siegel’s spare yet immensely powerful sentences—each hammered into place, one at a time, by love."
"Clear–eyed, open–hearted, and possessed of a stunning moral and emotional intelligence, CRIMINALS takes its place alongside Geoffrey Wolf’s THE DUKE OF DECEPTION as an essential American family chronicle."
"Robert Anthony Siegel has written a poignant and hilarious memoir about growing up in the crosshairs of culture and crime, with parents who believe the humiliation of a stint in jail can be assuaged with a serving of escargot. It is a unique and beautiful life story, the sort of highbrow literary memoir Robert’s art–aficionado mother would swoon over."
"Okay, all unhappy families are different, but few are as gloriously different as Robert Anthony Siegel's, whose unhappiness was mitigated—and sometimes aggravated—by an inordinate intensity of love. Siegel renders them, and the lowlifes, outlaws, and dirtbags who orbited around them, with a Dickensian gusto for the grotesque, the compassion of a hip Malamud, and language as double–jointed as Bellow's. How astonishing that a book that contains so much sorrow can be so pleasurable. I couldn't stop reading it."
"Wonderful teacher, great course. I would take any class taught by him. He is beyond knowledgeable in the subject matter, and consistently elicits stimulating discussion in class and on the page."
"Robert could teach basket weaving and I would be all in. He initiates thoughtful discussions, handles difficult topics with grace and care, and inspires critical thought and constructive conversation among peers. "
"This was an incredibly stimulating, enlightening course! The time spent learning skills, reading, analyzing, and then implementing techniques in our own writing was like a gift, and the teacher created an environment where it felt challenging and exciting to participate. I would take any course offered by this teacher in the future."