Perhaps the biggest anxiety that writers of personal narrative have is whether or not readers will be interested in the experiences they wish to share. It is true that there are plenty of memoirs out there about extreme events—dramatically tragic or uplifting experiences, stories of overcoming major obstacles, wild professional successes and/or failures, thrilling adventures, and so forth. But every memoir doesn’t need to be about wrestling polar bears in the Arctic. In fact, most memoirs—and the memoirs that people want to both read and write—are, at least in part, much about everyday lives. Readers are as interested in reading about people just like them as they are about those who have lived through unusual, extreme experiences. We seek meaning from others in the everyday as much as we do from the exceptional. What makes a great memoir is how you tell your story, even if it’s a story that you find ordinary. Almost certainly, there is something unique in the life experience you may regard as ordinary. Even so, there is always something powerful—and often transcendent—about the ordinary, whether it’s the trials and tribulations of family, everyday routines and interests, or the small, simple moments that make up our lives.
Writers of all levels are welcome in this workshop, as are those interested in working with short personal essays, full-length memoirs, or both. Through exercises, readings, and workshopping your own writing, this class will explore techniques of making your story (or part of your story)—no matter how ordinary it is—compelling, even extraordinary, to readers. You may either bring previously written work for the workshop or write new material during the week.
Thomas K. Dean (Ph.D., The University of Iowa) is Senior Presidential Writer/Editor at The University of Iowa, where he also teaches interdisciplinary courses. He has taught writing, literature, and interdisciplinary subjects at Cardinal Stritch College (Milwaukee), Michigan State University, and Moorhead State University (Minnesota). Dean has published essays in regional and national publications. His books include The Grace of Grass and Water: Writing in Honor of Paul Gruchow (edited collection, Ice Cube Press, 2007) and Under a Midland Sky (memoir/personal essays, Ice Cube Press, 2008). His collection of essays and photographs, tentatively called Prairie Eye, with co-author Cindy Crosby is expected from Ice Cube Press in 2018.