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Summer Writing Retreat 2022: “Memory + Form: Finding Models of Inspiration in Memoir” with Donna M. Johnson

July 12, 2022 - August 2, 2022

$269.00 – $389.00


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Level 1 (Class Only): $269 for Members, $329 for Non-Members

Level 2 (Class + Private Consultation): $329 for Members, $389 for Non-Members

This July, join us for our virtual 2022 Summer Writing Retreat featuring three classes on memoir, fiction, and revision plus lots of special events throughout the month, including two Saturday Craft Seminars, meet-ups, and dedicated writing time.

Each class will meet weekly for four weeks, starting the week of July 11, ending the week of August 1. Our memoir class with Donna M. Johnson will meet every Tuesday (July 12, 19, 26, August 2) from 6:30 PM CDT to 9:30 PM CDT via Zoom. A recording of each class session will be shared with all class registrants the day after – so you won’t miss anything even if you need to skip a session. Class details are below.

Registration for this class will close at 5:00 PM CDT on Tuesday, July 12. 

Patricia Hample wrote that the work of the memoirist is not only to learn to tell the story but to learn to listen to what the story is telling the writer.  

In this class we will practice listening to our stories as well as the stories of others, circling around the question of why: Why do we remember certain events the way we do? Why do seemingly inconsequential scenes stick in our imaginations? Why do we want to tell this story? Why do writers choose one form or style over another? This interrogation will enable us to produce meaning packed pieces and to begin to assemble those pieces into a narrative.

Over the course of four sessions, we will explore different categories of memoir style, including work by Natasha Tretheway, Melissa Febos, and Paul Lisicky. These discussions will focus on voice, distance, tension, character, and revision. We will look at how style can unlock the strength of a story and practice incorporating elements of different styles into our own projects. Writing exercises will focus on the staples of good storytelling – events, places, people, emotion, and intimacy. Participants already engaged in a project will be able to tailor exercises to fit their needs.

Before each class, students will be asked to read a published excerpt of a work and will be given a list of questions to guide their reading. Short written exercises may be assigned.

By the end of the course students will have written several pieces that can be revised and threaded into a larger narrative, as well as a working outline. They will have a knowledge of the elements of memoir as well as a familiarity with contemporary memoir models.

About each session: 

Week 1 (July 12): Reimagining the story: We’ll open our time together with a discussion of personal narrative and how it overlaps and differentiates with autobiography, journalism, and fiction. We will begin our exploration of memoir models with a discussion of the familiar scene-driven style. Through a series of writing exercises designed to capture clearly recalled events as well as more shrouded memories, we’ll work toward identifying the shape as well as the true subject of our stories.

Week 2 (July 19): “I” means more than “me:” In this second session, we’ll focus on enlarging personal narrative in ways that use the self to reflect and comment on the world. We will discuss an excerpt from a thematic memoir in which a writer pairs a personal story with the story of an outside event or character, charting how the narratives converge and diverge, each changing how we see the other. We’ll also practice finding connections between the narrative “I” and outside sources including diaries, news articles, and social movements.

Week 3 (July 26): Tell it!: Writing teachers traditionally demean exposition, but expository memoirs – narratives that tell as much as they show – have earned places on Best Of lists in recent decades. In this third class session, we’ll look at narrative that exploits exposition to serve story. Our goal as writers will be to make the telling in our stories as powerful as the showing and to explore the interdependent relationship of the two modes. The second half of the session will focus on how the desire of the narrator – both in the past and the present – drives structure forward in memoir.

Week 4 (August 2): Dare to go deep: Revision in personal narrative often means digging deeper into the story through language choice and/or character. In this final session, we’ll revise our earlier work and explore how to hone meaning through the process of editing. We’ll wrap up our time together with ideas on how to keep the writing process moving forward.

Take this class if…:

Take this class if you are just beginning to write personal narrative, are currently engaged in a memoir project, or are stalled somewhere in the process. The writing examples, exercises, and class discussions are geared toward exciting creative response to the past by expanding your knowledge of the possibilities of the memoir form.

Preparation for the first day:

Participants will be asked to read two excerpts from Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood and one and a half excerpts from Kin by Shawna Kay Rosenberg by the first day of class.

Registration details:

Choose your registration level:

Level 1 (Class Only) or

Level 2 (Class + Private Consultation)

The difference: Level 2 (Class + Private Consultation) registrations include one 20-minute meeting with Donna M. Johnson sometime during the month (via Zoom). If you’d like, you can also share 10 pages of your work for feedback ahead of the meeting.


Donna M. JohnsonDonna M. Johnson is the author of Holy Ghost Girl, a memoir critically acclaimed by the New York TimesO MagazineTexas Monthly, NPR’s Interfaith VoicesPeople and many other publications and blogs. Donna's work has been collected in two outstanding anthologies, Beyond Belief and Her Texas. She has written for The Rumpus, Psychology Today, The Nervous Breakdown, Shambhala Sun, Huffington Post, The Dallas Morning News and the Austin American Statesman. She is currently at work on a project that combines investigative journalism with personal narrative.

Before purchasing, please read all policies as noted below and on our Classes page.

If your browser has difficulty with our website store, or if you prefer to mail in a check, click here for a class registration form. The document provides instructions on where to mail it. If you prefer this option, please email wlt@writersleague.org with a copy of the form as well to ensure we add you to the class roster as soon as possible.

Expecting to see the member price, but it’s not appearing?

Confirm you are logged into your account first and foremost. The member price will only appear when you are logged into your account and have an active membership on file. If you are having trouble accessing your account, please email member@writersleague.org and explain the situation.

Class & Event Registration Policy

Once a purchase has been made, registrations are not refundable and cannot be transferred to a different class or event. No exceptions will be made. If you purchase a registration and then find you cannot attend the class or event, someone else can attend in your stead. Simply contact us at wlt@writersleague.org and let us know the name and contact information for the person who will be using the registration so that we can update the class or event roster.

Accessibility Policy

Closed captioning is available for all online classes and special events.

The WLT is committed to making its programs & services accessible to all writers. Please contact us at wlt@writersleague.org or at 512-499-8914 for more information or to discuss accommodations you may need.

Credit Card Transaction Handling Fee Policy

All credit card transactions will incur a 4% handling fee. If you’d prefer to pay by check for membership, a class, or an event, you can use the provided forms on the membership or event pages and mail to: WLT, P.O. Box 14355, Austin, TX, 78704.


Our classes offer a combination of lecture and practical exercises, determined by the individual instructor, on focused aspects of the craft and business of writing. Your fellow participants will come from a range of writing experience, from beginners to people with MFA degrees and published books. WLT instructors, participants, and administrators all work together to create a welcoming, supportive environment.

If you haven’t taken a class with us in recent years, feel free to email the WLT staff at wlt@writersleague.org if you’d like to discuss whether our programming is the right fit for your needs.


Once you register for the class, you’ll receive an email with detailed instructions no later than 48 hours before the class date. You should expect 2-2.5 hours of direct teaching and 30 minutes of Q&A (for three hours total). If you need to leave the class early or can’t attend the class on that date, all registrants will have access to the recording for one month after the class date. No microphone or camera required, just an Internet connection capable of streaming video. All online classes are hosted on Zoom. To learn more about how Zoom works, click HERE. 

Plan to log in to the online platform an hour before the class so that you can update your software or any other settings required to access the platform. (Updates usually only take a few minutes, but you don’t want to wait until the beginning of class.) Questions? Email us at wlt@writersleague.org.

Cultural Arts City of Austin

This project is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department. Visit Austin at NowPlayingAustin.com.

Texas Commission on the Arts

Writers’ League of Texas classes and workshops are also funded in part by the Texas Commission on the Arts – Investing in a Creative Texas. For more information, go to www.arts.texas.gov.

National Endowment for the Arts

This project is also supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.

Mid-America Arts Alliance

This project is supported in part by the Mid-America Arts Alliance. For more information, go to www.maaa.org.


July 12, 2022
August 2, 2022
$269.00 – $389.00
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Online via Zoom