Melanie Brooks, author of Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma in conversation with acclaimed memoirists Alysia Abbott (Fairyland), Garrard Conley (Boy Erased), and Richard Hoffman (Love & Fury). This event, presented in partnership with Grub Street, is free and open to the public.
Events & Classes
For decades, Northern California has been Ground Zero for countercultural communities, rejecting conventional suburbia in favor of individualism and personal freedom. But what happens to children with this background, growing up amid such unorthodox family dynamics? Three Bay Area authors with recent memoirs meet on the summer solstice to discuss their experiences growing up in the shadow of the Summer of Love. Moderated by Ianthe Brautigan-Swensen.
You don’t need to endure extreme adventures or personal traumas to produce powerful, salable essays. Oftentimes the most resonant essays are those that are based in quiet, everyday moments, moments that we might pass by if we didn’t take the time to reflect on them. It is the work of the writer to pull the magic from such experiences, to draw on his or her personal insight, and personal history, to unpack “small” events in order to tell a larger story, ideally illustrating universal aspects of the human condition. In this six hour seminar we will read essays by writers including Virginia Woolf, Jesmyn Ward, John Hodgman, among others, and discuss why these essays work. Through a series of guided writing prompts students will also work on their own personal essays, which we will discuss in a workshop format. Students will leave the class with new material and a fresh perspective on old material.
In Fairyland, which won an ALA Stonewall Award, Abbott chronicles her Haight-Ashbury upbringing with an openly bisexual father who succumbed to AIDS. Wickersham’s The Suicide Index, a National Book Award finalist, is a wise, moving, and often surprisingly humorous account of how she and her family endured in the aftermath of her gentle, affectionate father’s shocking suicide. The two authors will discuss their memoirs, their writing lives, and their other work.
As writers, we’re duty-bound to keep our readers turning the page. But how to do it? In this class we will look at the difference between surprise and suspense, and tools that we can employ to make our own writing more suspenseful, including “the ticking clock,” “small hooks,” and understanding the difference between positive and negative suspense. We will also review works by writers who build suspense effectively and try some of these techniques in class.
Whenever we set out to write about our lives we realize that “truth” is a slippery concept. Everyone’s memory of an event is colored by subjectivity and circumstance. Three people at a car accident may remember that scene differently, depending on their point of view. And as we change over our lifetimes, how we remember events may also change. But as nonfiction writers we owe it to our readers to make our best efforts to tell the truth as we know it. To deliver A truth, if not THE truth. In this seminar we will look at how different memoirists tackle the tricky issues around truth and memory and engage in writing exercises that will help us write about our history when memory and truth don't line up.
Leo Tolstoy said, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
One of the great challenges of writing personal memoirs and essays is being able to see yourself as a character in the story and not merely the person telling the story.
The Eight Edition of the Festival America celebrates the literature of the United States in all its richness and diversity. Fifty American writers, as many as the states that make up the country, will meet in Vincennes for four days of round tables, conversations, and meetings with their French readers. Read more
How do writers sift through memories and shape them into a story? Find out on Thursday, January 28, 2016 from critically acclaimed authors. Alysia Abbott and Howard Axelrod.
Abbott authored Fairyland, a book the New York Times Book Review calls a “daughter’s compassionate, clear-eyed reckoning” with her “girlhood at the dawn of the gay liberation movement. Axelrod penned The Point of Vanishing, which described his two years in solitude after a freak accident. Booklist calls his work an “elegant, questioning memoir.”
Come hear these two local authors speak about their experiences – both living them and re-telling them decades later.