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Summer Writing Retreat: “Writing to Discover: The Art of Memoir” with Jessica Wilbanks

July 5, 2021 - July 26, 2021

$289.00 – $409.00


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Level 1 (Class Only): $289 for Members, $349 for Non-Members

Level 2 (Class + Private Consultation): $349 for Members, $409 for Non-Members

This July, join us for our virtual 2021 Summer Writing Retreat featuring three classes on memoir, fiction, and revision. Each class will meet weekly for four weeks, starting the week of July 5.

Our memoir class with Jessica Wilbanks will meet every Monday (July 5, 12, 19, 26) 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 Monday, July 5.

Joan Didion once wrote: “The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.” In this memoir workshop, participants will be encouraged to follow their intuition and tell the personal stories they are most drawn to.

We will approach memoir writing by focusing on one element at a time: first capturing potential scenes and vivid sensory details and generating raw material without judgement, then identifying the heart of our story, making the appropriate structural decisions, and then revising with an eye toward the reader’s experience. This process allows writers to stay grounded in the work at hand while also maintaining momentum on a larger project, and also opens up new possibilities for discovery and surprise.

Over the course of four sessions, we’ll read and be inspired by personal essays and memoir excerpts from a diverse range of writers, including Maria Venegas, Alexander Chee, and Jo Anne Beard, while focusing on a different stage of the drafting process during each class meeting. Each class will be highly interactive, and participants will have the opportunity to share short excerpts of their writing if they would like to do so. We’ll combine short craft lectures with lots of discussion and several in-class writing exercises.

Before each class, participants will read an essay or memoir excerpt, review a handout, and complete a short writing exercise connected to the theme for the week. Participants who are already committed to a memoir project will be able to complete a version of the writing exercise that is specifically tailored to their work-in-progress.

By the end of the course, participants will have been introduced to a clear scaffolding for memoir-writing that can be used to generate new material and/or revise existing material. Writers will leave the class with a new or refreshed vision for a writing project, a variety of concrete strategies for moving forward, and lots of new writing.

About each session: 

Week 1 (July 5): Committing to the sensory world: During the initial generative period of writing, going into our writing with an agenda frequently shuts down the creative process. Instead, we’ll experiment with techniques for capturing images, concrete details, and potential scenes that are directly connected to the questions we want to explore in our prose.

Week 2 (July 12): Discovering the heart of the story: In our second session, we’ll talk about strategies for analyzing and assessing raw material and deciding which elements of the narrative should be brought to the forefront. Some of the questions we’ll ask include: What are the places in the piece that feel the most alive? What is the primary source of conflict? What are the moments that need to be expanded, and what can be skipped or summarized? What do we need to know about the narrator to better understand the stakes of the story and its impact on the narrator?

Week 3 (July 19): Leveraging structure: In order to take full advantage of the power of a narrative arc, it’s helpful to first have a solid understanding of story structure. We’ll dissect a few pieces to better understand the key elements of story, practice making decisions about where to start and end a piece, and experiment with ways to use conflict and tension to keep the story moving.

Week 4 (July 26): Strategies for revision: Revision is more than just polishing language or rearranging the order of various scenes. In this session, we’ll talk about the work that’s necessary in order to bring a piece from an initial draft to a polished final product, from adding texture and expanding scenes to deeply considering the reader’s experience. We’ll also address some of the emotional and ethical considerations involved in writing memoir.

Take this class if…:

The class is open to all, but will be especially helpful for those who have written personal essays, are in the beginning stages of a memoir project, or who feel stuck in the midst of a long-term project.

Preparation for the first day of class: 

Participants will be asked to read two short essays and complete a brief writing assignment prior to the first day of class. These materials will be shared with participants two weeks prior to the beginning 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 Jessica Wilbanks 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.

Featured Presenter(s)

Jessica Wilbanks is the author of When I Spoke in Tongues, a memoir about faith and its loss. She has received a Pushcart Prize as well as creative nonfiction awards from Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Redivider, and Ruminate magazine. Her essays have received Notable Mentions in Best American Essays and Best American Nonrequired Reading, and she was selected as a finalist for the PEN Annual Literary Award in Journalism. Jessica received her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Houston, where she served as nonfiction editor for Gulf Coast. She lives in Houston and is currently working on a novel.


July 5, 2021
July 26, 2021
$289.00 – $409.00
Event Category:


Online via Zoom