Self Portrait: The Heart of Memoir


Self Portrait: The Heart of Memoir


Most of us know the standard tools of characterization, how to make fictional characters more like flesh-and-blood people. Yet the flesh-and-blood "I" of memoir, at least in early drafts, often seems ethereal and disembodied, like the voiceover of a documentary. We may fail to characterize fully the narrator of a true story, the story of "I." That problem may be because it's a story of a younger self; the writer is not exactly that person anymore, so they must reimagine or recreate what that person was like. If I do not understand the person at the center of my story, readers are not going to understand my unique perspective. And the main character of a memoir must be unique.

In The Writing Habit, author David Huddle notes: “You’d be surprised how many of us feel that our own lives are not literarily worthy, our lives are just not interesting enough.” Perhaps we simply haven’t asked the right questions. During this weekend retreat, we will have some fun with Huddle’s “Questionnaire for an Autobiographical Portrait,” as we take a fresh look at the person telling the tale.

Our time together will involve writing in response to these questions or other exercises, then reading our pages to the group. The recollections of others frequently spark our own memories, causing what essayist Phillip Lopate calls a "shiver of self-recognition." Also, we will spend some time reading short passages by established writers. Both these activities will expand our knowledge of what can be created from memory. Writers of all genres, and all levels of experience, are most welcome.

When:  Friday, November 8th, 6:00pm-7:30pm

Saturday, November 9th, 9:30am-3:30pm (Lunch break at noon)

Sunday, November 10th, 9:30am-3:30pm (Lunch break at noon)

Where:  Iowa Writers' House, 332 East Davenport St.

Cost: $265

Looking for an opportunity to stay in the House for this workshop? Check out housing options here -

All course information is sent to participants upon registering including confirmation of workshop times, location, and materials.

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