The memoirist Vivian Gornick asks the pertinent question with which all writers of autobiographical material must wrestle: “How does the writer of personal narrative pull from his or her own boring, agitated self the truth speaker who will tell the story that needs to be told?” By truth speaker she means the narrator or persona who knows the story, how to tell it, and what to make of it. But what is the story, and how do we tell it, and what do we make of it?

In this workshop we’ll ponder those questions as we work on memoirs-in-progress. We’ll work specifically on developing this “truth speaker”—because, as Gornick also says, “Get the narrator and you’ve got the piece.”

A lot has to come together before a narrator can speak the story with originality, authority, and power. “Voice” is a key component of that ability, because voice is what melds everything together. But what is “voice” in writing? According to Peter Elbow, “writing with no voice is dead, mechanical, faceless,” even if it’s saying something true. Writing that has what he calls “real voice” has “the power to make you pay attention and understand—the words go deep.” Real voice is what the truth speaker has. No one can really teach “real voice,” but this workshop will encourage people in that direction. We’ll help each other hear the parts of our writing that are the most alive, the most urgent, the most necessary. There will be examples and models of voice and personas that work, and we’ll study them to see why. The instructor will provide exercises that will stretch participants’ range, inviting humor, eccentricity, quirkiness, vulnerability, honesty, and authenticity. We’ll work on such aspects of our writing as density, layers, telling details, and what the piece is really about.


This workshop is open to writers of all levels who have a memoir project underway or at least in mind. Admission will be based upon the quality of a writing sample. To be considered, please prepare 10 double-spaced pages of autobiographical writing, a short description of your memoir project, and a brief bio. Submit as a single word document to miles[at]kwls[dot]org with “Alden Workshop Submission” in the subject heading.

About Paulette Bates Alden

Paulette Bates Alden is the author of two critically acclaimed books: Feeding the Eagles, a collection of short stories published by Graywolf Press; and Crossing the Moon, a memoir published by Penguin. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, Mississippi Review, The Antioch Review, and elsewhere. She has recently completed a novel, The Answer to Your Question, about the unlikely relationship between the mother of a serial killer á la Ted Bundy and the young, pregnant, Southern waif who is kidnapped by the son.

Paulette was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where she received her master’s degree in creative writing and where she taught for three years as a Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing. For many years she taught undergraduate and graduate level courses in memoir and fiction writing as an Edelstein-Keller Writer-in-Residence at the University of Minnesota, receiving a University College Distinguished Teaching Award. She has also taught creative writing at Carleton College as a Benedict Distinguished Visiting Professor and at St. Olaf College. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Bush Foundation Fellowship, a Loft-McKnight Award, and three Minnesota State Arts Board grants. For the past nine years she has worked with many individual writers on their novels, short stories, and memoirs via her website,