In a NutshellA competitive and affordable MFA-level course, spanning 12 months, for ten memoir writers interested in developing and revising their memoir drafts, a comprehensive craft-based study of the memoir form, and a thoughtful introduction to the memoir publishing market. See more information about our submission guidelines, instuctors, and students. Date of Course: May/June 2013 - May 2014
Overview and GoalsThe year will be divided into three sections. In the first, lasting eleven weeks, writers will receive craft lessons and intensive workshopping of their manuscript pages, considered alongside the synopsis. The second section, lasting fifteen weeks, will be devoted to indepth analysis of the memoir form, with special attention paid to structure and the art of excerpting material into brief essays. Each writer will be workshopped three times. We’ll separate the second and third sections with a one-month period of intense writing. Then we’ll reconvene for a third section, lasting ten weeks, in which each writer’s full set of manuscript pages are again workshopped. At various points during the year, prominent local authors, editors and/or agents will visit as guest speakers. And as part of the third section of the class, students will be paired with an agent and/or editor at the Manuscript Mart at the three-day 2014 Muse and the Marketplace conference; this agent or editor will read an excerpt of the student's memoir with an eye toward representation. Writers will emerge from a year in the Memoir Incubator with a clear understanding of what story they are telling and how to tell it. They will be urged and supported to finish a draft of their memoir; for some writers this may be a polished draft and for others it may be a first complete draft. In addition to their work on their larger manuscripts, all students will come out of the year with an adapted or excerpted essay revised, polished, and sent to literary journals according to a personalized submission plan they have worked out with the instructor. All classes will be held on Monday evenings at the Grub Street space in Boston.
Course PhilosophyThe memoirist’s job, we sometimes think, should be easy: she has, after all, already lived those portions of her life that she is writing about. She knows what happened, and if she is moved to write a memoir, she likely knows what those events meant to her. But to think that this makes her task easier is like thinking that the sculptor is finished as soon as she receives her delivery of clay. No—the work has only just begun. And so the Memoir Incubator focuses on helping writers see the stories embedded in the raw material of their lives, and deepen those stories into compelling literary memoir that contains the humanistic insight required of all literature. In this unique year-long program, students work in a community of ten dedicated writers and an experienced instructor to develop their book manuscripts. For years, the aspiring memoirists taking workshops at Grub Street told us they needed more time and more focused instruction to work on their books. They asked for consistent support over the long journey of revision, for a reliable group of fellow students who knew and understood the narratives they were constructing, and who would be sensitive to the particular requirements, challenges and opportunities of the memoirist. These important needs simply can not be met in one ten-week workshop or even a semester-long program.
Academic programs, MFAs in particular, teach the craft of non-fiction using the essay as a template. These programs are useful for learning the craft of non-fiction, and a full course of study at the MFA level is a rich and worthy endeavor, but there is no evidence that learning to write a successful essay teaches you how to write a successful memoir. We believe it takes at least a year to effectively develop a memoir, to find the right lens, to negotiate the terrain of memory, to truly know “what it wants to be." Along the way, students need consistent and thoughtful fellow readers – emerging writers and also trained eyes – who understand the story they are trying to tell.
In the Memoir Incubator, unfettered by the academic/semester schedule, Grub Street has developed a program from the point of view not of the institution but of the aspiring memoirist. Unique in shape, the curriculum gives students a rich, authentic and artistically valuable experience directly applicable to the specific art of memoir writing. Though the focus is on literary memoir, we are not offering a formula or advocating a particular aesthetic within the literary memoir; we aim simply to investigate the various forms successful literary memoirs have taken and apply what we learn to our own books.
Also unique to Grub Street, the Incubator embraces the challenge of teaching a memoirist strategies for navigating the marketplace to find a home for his/her memoir once it’s ready for publication. We do not promise publication or agent representation, and we do not see either as the primary or ultimate goal of the course. However, over the years we have learned from Grub Street students in non-fiction workshops that most do want their books to be read as widely as possible, and so we included "marketplace education" in the curriculum. Some examples of marketplace education, which is limited to the third section of the course, include: the role of agents, when book proposals are appropriate for memoirists and how to write them, the respective advantages of small and large presses, the myths and realities of self-publishing, and building a platform.