Dive into the art of first-person nonfiction, honing your narrative skills and crafting compelling personal stories under the expert guidance of Richard Hoffman.
Jul 22, 2024 - Jul 26, 2024
Workshop Fee: $1395
Workshop Duration: 1-week (Monday-Friday)
Workshop Location: On-campus
Class Size: 10
“If you don’t tell the story, somebody else will — and you won’t like it!” – Richard Hoffman
All narrative art, whether a joke, a play, a film, or a book tries to shape the way a reader or listener apprehends it. The fact that the material of a memoir first made its appearance in your life, in history, not in your imagination, does not remove the literary requirement to convince your reader of its reality. In other words, you must tell the truth, but you must take the same pains to be convincing as you would if you were lying! Those strategies and tactics are what we will be exploring during an intense five days of readings, brief craft lectures, workshops, and generative exercises: the rhetoric of truth-telling.
On day one, we will look at the opening pages of several memoirs and discuss what each accomplishes and how. Many memoirists choose to begin with a prologue, a tasty hors d’ouvre to whet the reader’s appetite. Others plunge the reader into action and dialogue. Still others write an overture that gives us the whole of the story in an abbreviated form. We will discuss the benefits and shortcomings of each approach while we attend to the irreducible criteria for an effective opening: the seduction of the reader, the establishment of trust, and the profluent energy that summons the reader forward into the story.
On day two, we will build a one-person scene that will establish an authorial voice and offer access to the character I’s interiority, encompassing his/her wishes, fears, worries, regrets, and hopes. The scene we generate will serve as the generative root of a longer narrative that will, thereafter, tell the story of an individual’s development, and not merely of a series of events.
On days three and four, we’ll explore how memoir and essay can learn from poetry, drama, and fiction. During this seminar, we’ll examine short excerpts of recent memoirs and personal essays that have borrowed tactics from other genres in order to engage their readers. We’ll also do some writing exercises designed to demonstrate the ways such borrowings can enliven our own nonfiction.
On day five, we will explore the ethical questions inherent in the memoirist’s work. Beyond questions of legality and liability are deeper questions of honesty, fairness, loyalty, compassion, and judgment. As the poet William Blake put it: “A truth that’s told with bad intent / Beats all the lies you can invent.” How closely must memoirists embrace and uphold the known facts of a situation? How do the necessary compromises with literary form affect the truth of the account? Can there be an account that is not also an accounting?
Who Is This Workshop For?
This course is for students who are working on a memoir or a difficult personal essay. The whole point is to shake things up, to challenge ourselves to question the story we believe is ours to tell, to discover new connections, new understandings, new insights, as well as new ways to shape the story itself.
What to Bring?
Students will bring several pages from a work in progress (if there is one; it is not a requirement) and we will spend some time each day critiquing them.
Come prepared to read one another’s work and respond to it helpfully.
Books by Richard Hoffman
All images copyright Richard Hoffman.
Instructor: Richard Hoffman
Richard Hoffman is the author of nine books, including the celebrated memoirs, Half the House and Love & Fury, along with the Remembering the Alchemists & other essays. He has also published five books of poetry: Without Paradise; Gold Star Road, winner of The Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize and the Sheila Motton Book Award from The New England Poetry Club; Emblem; Noon until Night, which received the 2018 Massachusetts Book Award for Poetry, and the recently published People Once Real, as well as the short story collection Interference & Other Stories. He is Emeritus Writer in Residence at Emerson College and Nonfiction Editor of Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices.