Instructor: Sharon O'Brien
July 3 - 7
2pm - 4pm
5 sessions

“The major challenge of memoir is deciding what to put in and what to leave out.”
--Annie Dillard

“Everyone has a story that only he or she can tell,” writer Susan Monsky once said, and this is particularly relevant in a course that focuses on memoir and personal essay. The challenge of memoir and personal essay is to draw on the raw material of life and transform it into art by finding the story that emerges and creating a narrative voice to tell that story.  In this course we will both encourage the emergence of writers’ individual voices and work on the literary techniques (many of which are shared with fiction) that make memoir and personal essay literary genres.  We will be reading short examples of memoir and personal essay; the heart of the course, however, is the workshop, where we will discuss each other’s writing. give suggestions for revision, and be welcoming readers. 

Sharon O’Brien is a professor of American Studies and Creative Writing at Dickinson College, where she teaches courses in memoir and personal essay as well as American literature. She is the author of a major biography of Willa Cather, Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice (New York: Oxford, 1987) and of a family and illness narrative, The Family Silver: A Memoir of Depression and Inheritance (Chicago: U Chicago Press, 2004). She is also the author of several personal essays; her most recent, “Gaps on the Vita,” explores the cult of productivity in American culture. Currently she is working on a series of essays on the topics of mess, order, cleanliness, and social control.