At the heart of memoir is a conundrum: while writing about the most subjective of experiences, your own life, you have to find the most objective of frameworks. Consider how a simple list of the names of your childhood friends might be enough to move you to tears, but that won’t work for readers. Readers need you to supply context, physical description, character sketches, dramatic scenes, the whole range of verbal wizardry, if they are to come close to feeling as you do about your material. “You have to take pains,” as Key West’s Annie Dillard has observed, “in a memoir not to hang on the reader’s arm, like a drunk, and say, ‘And then I did this and it was so interesting.’” In our time together, we will work on the ways to make what is compelling to us about the lives we have led compelling to others. We will try to find what Vivian Gornick called “the situation in our story”—the meaning, the wisdom.
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This workshop is open to writers of all levels. Participants should prepare to submit between ten and fifteen double-spaced pages of a work in progress to share with the group. These will be distributed on Sunday evening before the first formal class meeting. Blais notes: “I will be distributing handouts during our time together, but if you can read or at least acquaint yourself with Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (preferably the most recent “restored” edition) and Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life it will go a long way toward creating a shared critical vocabulary. We will also use Key West itself as a writing lab. We won’t be the first: Elizabeth Bishop, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and many others found inspiration in the Last Resort, and if it was good enough for them, it’s surely good enough for us.”
About Madeleine Blais
Madeleine Blais worked as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Miami Herald and is the author of three books which include Uphill Walkers, a family memoir and winner of a Massachusetts Book Award; and In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle, which ESPN cited as one of the top one hundred sports books in the twentieth century. Blais teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and has served as guest faculty in the Goucher College MFA program in Creative Nonfiction and has been a visiting writer at Florida International University’s Creative Writing Program. As a freelancer, she has been at various times a contributing writer to the magazines at the New York Times and the Washington Post, a guest columnist at the Boston Globe, and a book critic for the Chicago Tribune. She loves Florida and memoir (either order) and is currently working on a book about Miami in the 1980s when it was known as the most dangerous place on earth.