How do we form, from the chaos of memory, compelling and thought-provoking personal stories? And how, in doing so, can we stay true to our own experiences when experience doesn’t always fit the demands of a typical (linear, narrative, transformational) memoir structure? One answer is that there’s a lot more variety and room for originality in the contemporary memoir than you might think.
In this 8-week nonfiction workshop, we’ll take inspiration from some of the best “outside the box” contemporary memoirs—ones that challenge readers’ expectations about everything from language and subject matter to chronology and resolution—and explore new approaches to writing about our own lives.
Each week, we’ll read excerpts from various types of unconventional memoirs—memoirs in fragments, essays, and braids, as well as hybrid memoir forms—by authors such as Maggie Nelson, Margo Jefferson, Michael Ondaatje, and Nick Flynn. Aided by these readings, we’ll engage in discussions and writing exercises aimed at encouraging experimentation with the possibilities inherent in the form. At the same time, we’ll consider and practice the basics and foundational techniques of memoir writing: like how to search your memories for the moments that matter most and how to shape those moments so that they live and breathe on the page. All of this will contribute to your producing and workshopping two memoir draft pieces, so that you’ll leave the course with new material, feedback, and momentum to carry forward into a book-length project. This course is open to students of all levels of experience.
- A clearer understanding of, and practice working with, the building blocks of memoir
- Exposure to a range of approaches to life writing and personal narrative
- An expanded sense of what a memoir can be and the forms it can take
- Significant progress in conceptualizing, writing, and structuring your own book-length memoir project
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
- Weekly readings up to 20 pages
- Short weekly writing exercises
- Two 10-15–page workshop submissions over the course of the class
Week 1: Welcome! Introduction to the Course
Week 2: What is a Contemporary Memoir? / Voice
Week 3: Structure: The Shape of Water / Exploring Memory
Week 4: The Memoir in Fragments / Scene Building
Week 5: The Memoir in Essays / Double Consciousness
Week 6: The Braided Memoir / Incorporating Research
Week 7: Autotheory / Making Meaning
Week 8: The Lyric Mode / Finding Resolution (or Not)
Marin Sardy is the author of The Edge of Every Day: Sketches of Schizophrenia, a fragmentary, essayistic memoir about the mental illness that runs in her family. Sardy’s essays have appeared in Tin House, Guernica, the Rumpus, the Missouri Review, and many other journals, as well as in two award-winning photography books—Landscape Dreams and Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby. Her criticism and cultural journalism have appeared in regional and national magazines, including ArtNews and Art Ltd. A Pushcart Prize nominee, Sardy has twice had her work listed as “notable” in Best American Essays.
“With an expert hand, Sardy breathes life and urgency into her simultaneously intimate and expansive telling of how the echoes of mental illness have reverberated through a family. THE EDGE OF EVERY DAY is, to borrow Sardy’s words, “comically, cosmically sad” and an astonishing, essential read.”
“Sardy delivers an extraordinarily ambitious and accomplished narrative … The author refuses to follow conventional notions of chronology or connection, illuminating mental illness from the inside out. … Both powerful and disturbing, this impressive debut memoir suggests just how challenging it can be to regain some semblance of balance after that balance is lost.”
“A painful and beautiful account of what it means to live with and love someone suffering from mental illness, and how those relationships shape you and your understanding of the world. Required reading for ... anyone looking to deepen their sense of empathy and understanding of others... so, everyone? Incredible book.”
“Marin’s expertise in the craft of writing is stunning, elegant, and unselfconscious. She is an inspiring teacher. I learned more about creative writing during one session with Marin than I did from a semester of college-level courses.”
“Marin was instrumental to my growth as a writer. She took what I was interested in and used it as a springboard to craft lessons that pushed me and allowed me to practice different techniques and styles. Every time we wrapped up, I began counting down until the next meeting. I can’t recommend her highly enough!”