The Source of Stories: Writing From Your Own Experience: Mixed-Genre Workshop


The novelist John Berger once said that writers draw their material from three sources: experience, witness, and imagination. The goal of this mixed-genre  workshop—which will focus on the short story, personal essay, and memoir—is for the emerging writer to find and develop his or her own subject matter. Students will be asked to explore the raw material of their lives and adding the mix of witness (what we have seen or been told) and what we invent. We begin with an assignment, based on Joe Brainard’s book, I Remember. Students will make their own lists of memories of childhood and adolescence. We will turn these lists into anecdotes and scenes and eventually into stories. Students will also begin a list called “I Imagine” and, in this assignment, we will explore family lore, stories they have heard from others, or perhaps even draw from newspaper accounts. We will look at writers who have delved into their own subject matter in both fiction and nonfiction—such as James Baldwin, Sandra Cisneros, Tim O’Brien, Virginia Woolf, Paul Auster, and Lorrie Moore—and discuss the various issues posed in each form. Students will be given assignments intended to evoke subject matter in both genres—for example, a piece of family lore might become a short essay or a work of fiction—and write short stories, essays, and memoir, learning to move freely from one genre to the next and attempting to reimagine the material in different forms. The emphasis will be on voice and narrative, both of which are essential for good fiction and nonfiction. We will also spend a good deal of time learning what it means to write a scene. This is a class for any student who wants to explore material that can become the subject matter of stories.