Memoir, as William Dean Howells said, is the “most democratic province of the republic of letters.” Indeed, the genre is evidence that every person in the world has a worthy story to tell, that it’s not what the story is but how it’s told that engages a reader.
Professor Nell Boeschenstein has designed a new, five-week online course that introduces writers to this generous genre and to start them down the path of putting their own stories to paper. You’ll explore everything from how to select a subject and structure to the pivotal role of narrative voice, the impact of pacing, and the benefits of research.
The course will also discuss ethical questions: What does it mean to write about one’s family? How does one approach inevitable lapses in memory? Whose truth is being told? Why write memoir to begin with? Along the way, you’ll read excerpts from full-length memoirs and be given a list of further reading recommendations, as well as writing exercises and assignments designed to inspire your own projects.
By the end of the five weeks, you will have a solid grasp of memoir’s basics and be well on your way to having a story that has long been in your heads emerging onto the page. Learn more.
About the Instructor
Nell Boeschenstein has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University and a BA in English from Dartmouth College. She currently teaches essay, memoir, personal essay, and feature writing at Sweet Briar College.
Prior to Sweet Briar, she taught writing for two years at Columbia, and before she began teaching, Nell worked as a producer for the public radio programs Fresh Air with Terry Gross and BackStory with the American History Guys, and as a writer and editor for weeklies and magazines.
Her work has appeared The Guardian, Ecotone, Newsweek, The Believer, The Rumpus, The Millions, Guernica, and The Morning News, where she is a contributing writer, among other places, and her essays have been featured by Longreads and Longform.
Her writing has been anthologized in Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living and The Rumpus Women, Vol. 1 and her radio work has been featured on 99% Invisible. She has received residency fellowships from the Ucross Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Albee Foundation, as well as numerous college grants. She is at work on a collection of essays—personal, reported, and lyric—themed to the idea of “lost colonies.”
Frequently Asked Questions
- Do I have to show up at a specific time? No, all course lectures are available to read and study at your own pace, on your own schedule.
- When does the course officially start? It officially begins with the posting of the first lecture on Monday, April 17, but you’ll have access to the course website upon registration, as well as the private Facebook group shortly after you register.
- How long will I have access to the course lectures and materials? Indefinitely. The first lecture will be made available on Monday, April 17, and each new lecture will appear on subsequent Mondays. After the course ends on May 21, you will continue to have access to the course website.
- Will I get feedback from other students on my work? Peer critique and feedback is not a requirement or key feature of this course, but you will be invited to share and comment on small samples of each other’s writing in the Facebook group.
- Must I have a Facebook account to join the course? Not necessarily, but you’ll miss out on conversations and discussion among other students and with the instructor. But you’ll still have access to all course curriculum (at the course website), and receive information on how to join office hours with Nell.
- What if I can’t make office hours? Office hours are optional and will be recorded for those who can’t attend. You are welcome to send questions to Nell in advance of office hours, to bring up for discussion, if you can’t make it.
- If I sign up for the advanced registration, how long do I have before I must submit my material to the instructor for critique? You have until the last day of the course (May 21), but you may ask the instructor for an extension if needed.
- What is the cost? Basic registration is $125. Advanced registration is $175.
Have questions? Leave a comment or email Jane.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.