Memoir, a sub-specialty of autobiography, is a form of personal writing that has become hugely popular in recent years.

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Time: 18:00 to 20:00

Duration: 5 March, 2023

Location: QWF Office—1200 Atwater Avenue, Room 3, Westmount, QC View map


This workshop is designed for people who already have some experience of a workshop setting, and would like to embark (or have already begun to embark) on a memoir project of their own. Do not be daunted by the “intermediate” label: you need not necessarily be working on a book-length narrative. If you are open to learning from a professional practitioner of the genre as well as from your peers, you will almost certainly find this workshop helpful and motivating.

Memoir, a sub-specialty of autobiography, is a form of personal writing that has become hugely popular in recent years. While autobiography is generally the preserve of public figures and takes a chronological “breakfast-to-bedtime” approach to an entire life, memoir usually highlights one period or one theme taken from the life of an ordinary individual, someone with little or no claim to fame. Its special currency is the universality of human experience; its value is what may be learned from a so-called ordinary person.

Good memoirs are both confessional and factual. They evoke a particular time and place and–no matter how personal–are not exercises in navel gazing. As the renowned Czech- Canadian author Josef Skvorecky once put it, “Some writers may think their only subject is themselves, [but] if they are any good they are telling the history of their times and of their people. If all a writer manages is a picture of her- or himself against a blank curtain,
then the writer is just a miserable scribbler who never grew out of puberty.”

Participants will present work to the group once or twice during the course and will be expected to read each other’s work carefully in order to provide critical feedback. About half of each session will be devoted to in-class exercises and discussion of selected material from the text named below. The rest of the time will be spent discussing participants’ submissions.

The text for the course is This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, a work that operates both as a how-to book on writing and as an exemplary series of linked memoirs/personal essays. You should purchase it ahead of time and come to the first session prepared to discuss “Nonfiction, an Introduction” and “How to Read a Christmas Story,” the first two chapters.

Workshop leader

Elaine Kalman Naves headshot

Elaine Kalman Naves is a long-time literary journalist and the author of seven non-fiction titles, and of a novel. She is a two-time recipient of the QWF’s Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction and the winner of two Canadian Jewish Book Awards and a Canadian Literary Award for Personal Essay. Her memoir Journey to Vaja: Reconstructing the World of a Hungarian-Jewish Family has been made into a documentary film. The French translation of her award-winning memoir, Shoshanna’s Story, was recently published by Alias. Elaine has led workshops at the QWF since their inception in 1998.


Applications are now closed.

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