Although it is seldom painless, the process of composing can be more focused and productive when writers know their subject well. As writers and teachers of writing, we recognize that clear voices and strong purpose evolve more surely when the text addresses familiar material. But successful autobiographical writing is never merely anecdotal, self-absorbed, or trivial: developing an appropriate range of voice and audience demands the discipline to make public what is private, to reexamine remembrances polished smooth with recounting, to laugh at ourselves, to resist easy or sentimental conclusions. In short, writing forms of the personal essay calls for our best creative efforts. Student will read various examples of autobiographical writing (e.g., essays of E. B. White, Joan Didion, Carol Bly, Garrison Keillor, Curtis Harnack) and will write and revise five personal essays. The class will work regularly with strategies of composition, organization, and stylistic revision.
Uehling: Writing Memoir
Scott Russell Sanders wisely observes that “all enduring literature is local, rooted in place, in landscape or cityscape, in particular ways of speech and climates of mind.” I believe that such a frame helps us to come to terms with the meaning of autobiographical or “life” writing. Serious writers, regardless of experience, never aim for the writing of memoir to fix, once and for all, a coherent and tidy chronology of our lives. Rather, we look for topics that encourage us to remember vividly people and places and everyday occasions: to understand how we know ourselves, to recognize who we have become and aspire to be, to stretch our imagining and our voices.We will write a number of short pieces (sketches or vignettes) and four longer reflective pieces. Each longer piece will have two due dates—one for a finished draft, the second for a polished draft. As the semester progresses, we will seek connections among those four pieces that will lead to a final assignment of revision.