Course Syllabus

Advanced Memoir & Personal Essay – Curriculum B

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Complete Syllabus

Students who have previously taken our Advanced Memoir Curriculum A class may now wish to enroll in this section, which has an entirely different curriculum.  

This class is designed for those who have already explored the basics of personal writing and wish to move on to a larger project or more challenging forms. The course begins with a look at the historical origins of personal writing and how memoirs and personal essays have developed over time.  By comparing essays/memoir chapters on similar themes from different time periods, participants will come to understand the breadth of possibilities for using language, structure, and style in personal writing. This part of the class will also include a look at some of the more experimental forms being used in personal writing today.

In the second part of the class, participants will read small collections of chapters/essays on three different themes: grief, food, and childhood/memory. Again, by looking closely at how different writers tackle the same theme, participants will come to understand the range of possibilities for their own writing.  Participants are not required to write about any of the three given themes in their own work—the themes are chosen simply as examples of common themes in contemporary writing, and the lessons in style and technique that are included with them will apply to all personal writing.

The final week of the course will be spent discussing publication options and next steps for writers whose projects (whether books or essays) are nearing completion.

Throughout the course writers will submit work for peer and instructor critique and engage in online discussion—please see below for more details.

How it works:

Each week provides:

  • discussions of assigned readings and other general writing topics with peers and the instructor
  • written lectures and a selection of readings

Some weeks also include:

  • writing prompts and/or assignments
  • opportunities to submit a full-length essay or essays for instructor and/or peer review (up to 4,000 words)

To create a better classroom experience for all, you are required to participate weekly in the class to receive instructor feedback on your work.

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Week 1: Roots of Personal Writing
During this week we’ll take a look at some work from writers who helped develop the field of personal writing long before memoir writing became the chic thing to do, and consider how they chose their subject matter and created their signature styles.

Week 2: Personal Writing Today
This week’s readings will focus on writers from the 20th and 21st century, as we continue our investigation of how personal writing has developed.  We will consider how these writings differ from those presented in Week 1, and what techniques participants can take from this contemporary writing to apply in their own work.

Week 3: Writing About Grief, Pt. 1
This week we begin our exploration into works on similar themes that utilize different writing styles and approaches.  As students are often writing about illness, trauma, or the death of a loved one we begin with an examination of writing about grief.  How does one write about a delicate emotional subject without becoming excessively sentimental?  How can we approach this subject in new and thought-provoking ways?  The lecture and readings will begin to answer these questions.

Week 4: Writing About Grief, Pt. 2
In week five we continue with the themes from week four with new readings and a lecture that considers the difficulties of writing about intensely personal and painful experiences.  Students can continue to explore any subject they like in their own writing, but we will use the class readings as examples of different ways to approach a common topic.

Week 5: The Realm of Memory, Pt. 1
For our final theme we turn to memory and childhood, an especially popular area in personal writing.  How do we fill in the gaps in our memory when writing about the distant past?  Should we create a retrospective narrator, or write as if we are still our long-ago selves?  These and other questions will begin our discussion.

Week 6: The Realm of Memory, Pt. 2
This week we conclude our exploration of memory and childhood by reading work from writers who take a fresh approach to this subject.  Participants will submit a chapter or essay of up to 3,500 words on a subject of their choosing for peer and instructor review.

Week 7: Food for Thought, Pt. 1
Our theme now shifts to writing about food and meals.  Though food writing can be a category all its own, food and eating also play an important role in personal writing.  Food is strongly tied to our emotions and our culture, and we can all think of a momentous meal in our lives.  This week we will begin to look at how different writers approach this subject.  Participants will submit a chapter or essay of up to 3,500 words on a subject of their choosing for peer and instructor review.

Week 8: Food for Thought, Pt. 2
In this week we complete our examination of writing about food with a new set of readings and a discussion of the literary techniques used therein.

Week 9: Experimental Forms
In week nine we’ll look at some of the more cutting-edge forms of personal nonfiction writing, work that pushes the boundaries of what a personal essay or memoir can be and invites us to think about nonfiction in new ways.  Participants will submit a chapter or essay of up to 3,500 words on a subject of their choosing for peer and instructor review.

Week 10: Publishing
To those who have never submitted work for publication, the process can be mystifying.  This week we take a practical look at the important steps in the publishing process, with a particular focus on submitting work to literary journals—the first step for many aspiring writers.

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Questions? Check out our FAQ page, or contact the Director of Education, Sharla Yates at yates[at]