This workshop will explore the hazards and rewards of writing a personal memoir. Throughout the eight weeks, we will look at ways to produce a compelling narrative out of the chaos of the past.

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Description

Eight Tuesdays, March 7-April 25, 6-8pm
Open to all.
Limited to 12 participants.

This page is for the Tuesday iteration of this workshop. The same workshop is also offered on Wednesdays.

This workshop will explore the hazards and rewards of writing a personal memoir. Throughout the eight weeks, we will look at ways to produce a compelling narrative out of the chaos of the past. We’ll discuss the tremendous value of research, but we’ll also consider whether research can sometimes handicap a project. We will explore the creation of a narrative voice. And we will ask if and how a writer knows that a memoir has achieved its ideal focus and shape.

Each participant will be expected to produce one or two finished (or near-finished) pieces of writing. They could be either stand-alone essays or excerpts from a longer work. I will provide a detailed response to these pieces, and other participants in the workshop will be asked to give their feedback too. A good portion of time each week will be spent on a discussion of the work submitted by participants. Throughout the workshops, I plan to emphasize the crucial importance not just of remembering but of rethinking and rewriting. 

In the remainder of each session, we will examine and debate issues that memoir-writing brings to the fore. We will delve into some thorny issues that memoirs often raise: the unreliability of memory, an author’s urge to justify, and the sense of hurt and betrayal that a memoir may provoke in other people. I will ask the participants to read selected materials (none of them too lengthy) as a basis for discussion.  

“Memoir,” for the purposes of this workshop, can include small-scale personal essays as well as longer, more ambitious texts. The participants may choose to focus on a particular relationship, place, or time. But the pieces they submit for discussion should all be personal in nature, and unless there are unusual reasons to the contrary, they should make use of the first-person pronoun. Memoir can be a demanding form; it allows the author no place to hide. Yet it can be immensely rewarding to write.

The overall aim is to equip participants with more awareness, more skills, and more confidence in their own work.

This workshop will take place at the QWF Office (Room 3, 1200 Atwater Avenue, Westmount, Quebec) with up to 2 virtual spots for participants who are unable to attend in-person.

Workshop leader

Credit: John Kenney
Mark Abley’s new book is a travel memoir, Strange Bewildering Time: Istanbul to Kathmandu in the Last Year of the Hippie Trail. Among his previous nonfiction books are Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages (translated into four languages and shortlisted for the Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal) and a highly acclaimed memoir of his father, The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mind. Mark is also a poet, an editor, and a former Gazette feature writer. His website is www.markabley.com

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