Podcast

2023 Summer Writing Retreat: An Interview with Rachel Starnes (Memoir)

“All of us are constantly changing and growing, but in nonfiction, and especially in memoir, there’s always that first principle of telling the truth.” -Rachel Starnes

This July, join us for our virtual 2023 Summer Writing Retreat featuring three classes on memoir & personal essay, fiction, and revision plus lots of special events throughout the month, including Saturday Craft Seminars (July 8 and July 29), meet-ups, and dedicated writing time.

Our memoir class, taught by author Rachel Starnes, will focus on “True Stories Told Well: Memory, Form, and Voice in Memoir and Personal Essay.” This class is for essay and memoir writers and will offer insight into how to organize and provide character to your personal essay and memoir work.

Here’s what Rachel had to share with us:

Scribe: You’ve taught at the Summer Writing Retreat previously, welcome back! Can you tell us why you enjoy this event and spending time with this community of writers? 

Rachel Starnes: I adore the community of writers the Summer Writing Retreat attracts, and I’m still in touch with some I met the first time around. I’m finding that summer’s a great time to dig into a writing project – something about the long evenings and the draw of air conditioning, and maybe the sudden thunderstorms too – it all fires my imagination. But it’s the kind of writing energy that’s most generative when it gets to spark off other people’s ideas and contributions. I think there’s a special alchemy to WLT events, and I always to get to meet such kind, generous, and fearless writers.

Scribe: You’re teaching the Memoir class and are focusing on memory, form, and voice – can you tell us why you wanted to approach memoir from this angle?

RS: I’m taking a special interest in how form and voice make space for “imperfect” memories these days because I think we all grapple with that in some way at some point in our lives. The pandemic especially has messed with people’s sense of time, but other things can do it too– trauma, huge unplanned life events, and aging are just a few. I think the more we can make space for how the brain operates by being skilled with our narrative tools (and coming up with new ones!), the more we can really get good at telling challenging stories.

 Scribe: How does this topic resonate with your own work and your own development as a writer?

RS: I’ve gone through some pretty significant life changes since my first memoir came out, and I’ve been grappling with questions of voice and how much one can/should/or needs to account for in subsequent works of nonfiction. It’s not a small question, especially if much of the time in between has been about healing and redefining. In some ways it’s very universal question, because all of us are constantly changing and growing, but in nonfiction, and especially in memoir, there’s always that first principle of telling the truth. I’ve changed, which means my voice has changed, and the form my writing is taking has changed too. The challenges I’m taking up in my own work right now have guided my reading, and this in turn makes me curious about how other writers I’ll get to meet write through their own changes. I can’t wait.

Scribe: How would you finish this sentence: If the students in my class take away one thing from the four weeks, I hope it’s:

RS: I hope it’s an excitement to go out and try new things with their writing, and that these experiments get them closer to telling their own true stories.

Thanks, Rachel!

Rachel Starnes is the author of The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible) published by Penguin Books in 2016. She is the daughter of an oil rigger, a former military spouse, the mother of two boys, and has lived in Scotland, Texas, Saudi Arabia, Florida, Nevada, and California. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction, her essays have appeared in Front Porch Journal, Colorado Review, and O Magazine, and she has been a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Click here to learn more about Rachel Starnes’ upcoming memoir class during the 2023 Summer Writing Retreat.

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