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CNF 47 W — Memoir and Personal Essays That Matter

Quarter: Fall
Course Format: Online (System Requirements)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Sep 26—Dec 9
Drop Deadline: Oct 4
Unit(s): 3 Units
Tuition: $850
Limit: 17
Status: Closed
Please Note: No class the week of Thanksgiving
Sep 26—Dec 9
10 weeks
Drop By
Oct 4
3 Units
Please Note: No class the week of Thanksgiving
To live life is to have a story to tell. But how to tell it? How do we make our personal stories compelling to others? How can we connect with our audience? In this course, we will begin by scrutinizing what makes autobiographical material successful. We will look to what makes a story compelling as a story, focusing particularly on the raw honesty required for great personal writing. We’ll examine how published memoirs and personal essays by Cheryl Strayed, Vladimir Nabokov, Eula Biss, and Toney Early, among others, use frankness, compassion, humor, and elements of fiction to draw their readers in and make their stories vivid. We’ll look closely at the relationship between specific detail and universality and how, counterintuitively, the more detail we include, the better our audience can relate to our story. Throughout the course, weekly writing exercises will allow you to explore various narrative voices, concrete detail, and story arc. We will also discuss the unreliability of memory, bringing in relevant research on how memories change over time. Finally, you’ll try your hand at writing your own essay-length memoir piece and share it with the class for critical but compassionate feedback. By the end of the course, you’ll gain a clear focus as to what autobiographical material you would like to focus on. Students can expect to complete one essay-length work of personal nonfiction.

Although the time commitment for this course is dependent upon one’s degree of participation, students should plan on investing four to six hours per week in order to participate at a substantial level.

Monique Wentzel, Former Stegner Fellow, Stanford

Monique Wentzel is the author of the short story collection The Woods Were Never Quiet. Her work has appeared in the Boston Review, Cimarron Review, ZYZZYVA, and elsewhere. She is at work on a novel and a series of personal essays. Wentzel received an MFA from Portland State.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Cheryl Strayed, Wild, 1st Edition (ISBN 978-0-307-47607-4)
(Required) Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (ISBN 978-0-679-72339-4)
(Required) Edited by Lex Williford and Michael Martone, Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction, 1st Edition (ISBN 978-1-4165-3174-6)