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Life Forms: Poetics of Memoir

SP QTR 19

Instructor: Gillian Parrish

Start Date: Wed. April 10

Meets: Wednesdays 6:00pm to 10:00pm

Location: HARMON HALL room 250 

Class Type: Craft, Workshop, & Literature

Credit Hours: 9

COURSE DESCRIPTION:

This course will provide material that can help you deepen your fiction characters and/or refine how you render your own life on the page. We will explore ways that the mind and senses move through the world and world on the page, and how characters are formed by encounters with others, objects, obstacles and events, glimpsing layers of past days that often shape our lives or our characters’ lives in the present.

Developed with fiction and creative-nonfiction writers in mind, this cluster will include a range of works selected to expand our range of formal possibilities and hone our eyes and ears as writers. We’ll read work by Neil Gaiman, bell hooks, Jane Yolen, Julie Otsuka, Tim O’Brien, Ann Carson, and others. The course will also integrate chapters from two innovative historical fiction authors who will visit us in June for one of our MFA Craft Talks.

Come ready to write in any genre you wish, whether its a magical realist story, historical fiction, scifi, a crime novel, or a memoir…or a mashup of all of the above.

Come ready for lively conversations on our readings, which will inspire our own writing as we try out new forms, new frames, new shapes and ways of making life come alive the page.

Our creative work will unfold in an encouraging learning community that will help bring our lives, real and imagined, into clearer focus and finer form.

Contact instructor Gillian Parrish with any questions about the course: gparrish@lindenwood.edu

Course Flier

FIRST ASSIGNMENT:

Due in class, typed, on Wednesday 4/10:

Our readings are chosen to expand our choices as writers, introducing us to new possibilities for getting the world on the page. The “First Night Assignment” allows us to dive into lively conversation the first night of class.
 
For our First Night Assignment, I will email enrolled students a few brief pieces to read and reflect on so that we can then come together in class to share insights, question, thinking aloud together and learning from each other.
 
Readings for our first night will include the following, which I will email to enrolled students closer to the date:
-An interview with three authors about “speculative memoir.” Please note that in this, we are being dropped into a conversation, and need not know about the books they reference—please instead read for their insights about writing, about how imaginary elements in memoir help them to tell their stories.
-A section of Ann Carson’s work of fiction, Autobiography of Red, in which she uses a Greek myth to tell the story of a contemporary young person who feels like an outsider. (I will email this to enrolled students.)
-A section of Ann Carson’s work of creative nonfiction, Plainwater, in which she makes a memorial for her brother, sharing a glimpse of his solitude, imagining his mind, unknowable as a cat’s…(I will email this to enrolled students.)
 
For this first night, we will consider a few themes that will come up throughout our course. Among these themes are the use of imaginary elements in transmitting the emotional truths of memoir; and, on the other hand, the use of memoir to scaffold our fiction. We will also consider the freshness of a child’s perspective in rendering the world alive on the page.
 
Writing Prompt for your Weekly Journal

Step 1: The first part of this assignment is a list. In step two you will expand on one of your memories for 1-2 pages.
Be sure to bring a copy to class, as we will share aloud as a way of getting to know each other.
Take a few moments to think back to books that you have loved at various times in your life.
Perhaps jot a list of these beloved books (and maybe the age you were then, if that helps bring the scene to life for you). Make note of a place you remember reading the book.

Example of this list:
-Reading A Wrinkle in Time in the back of the tan station wagon, which smelled like vinyl and apples baking in the sun, feet pressed against the back door, dad yelling to “Look! Look!” pointing frantically at the snow-capped mountains, “Get your nose out of that book! We’ve come all this way—it’s the damned Alps! It’s the damned Alps! It's the Alps!”
-Reading Catch-22 in my car in the high-school parking lot, the old car smelling like cigarette ash and spilled coffee, wanting to stay out there all day, reading.
-Reading Whitman for the first time in a small park after a long illness, a June day, kids playing basketball, the ring of the hoop, dandelions in the grass, cicadas singing.
 
Step 2: Pick one of these memories.
Describe that moment in that place, vividly bringing to life that scene of you there reading that book—the sensations, the textures, the smells, the colors, the angles of light, the movement of things around you. What was it like to be you then, reading in that setting?

And—keeping us in that moment and scene—deepen the scene by sharing too what it meant to be in that book in that time of your life. How did that book entwine with your life then? How did the book’s world reflect your world with your wants and worries and wishes? Maybe this book was like a light bringing your own life into focus, maybe it was comforting like a good bowl of soup, or like a door or a trapdoor that opened up new worlds. (Find your own metaphor if you would like. Maybe you’ll find an image in the book itself. No pressure on this, just see what comes…)
 
TEXTBOOKS:

BONE BLACK:MEMORIES OF GIRLHOOD

REQUIRED |By HOOKS

  • EDITION:   96
  • PUBLISHER:   MAC HIGHER
  • ISBN:   9780805055122
 
 

BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC

REQUIRED |By OTSUKA

  • EDITION:   11
  • PUBLISHER:   PENG RAND
  • ISBN:   9780307744425
 

BRIAR ROSE

REQUIRED |By YOLEN

  • EDITION:   16
  • PUBLISHER:   MAC HIGHER
  • ISBN:   9780765382948
 

THINGS THEY CARRIED

REQUIRED |By OBRIEN

  • EDITION:   09
  • PUBLISHER:   HM
  • ISBN:   9780544309760
 

OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE

REQUIRED |By GAIMAN

  • EDITION:   16
  • PUBLISHER:   HARP PUB
  • ISBN:   9780062459367
 

PROPOSED ADDITIONS

REQUIRED |By COLLEPS

  • EDITION:   14
  • PUBLISHER:   SMALL PR D
  • ISBN:   9780989186124
 
 
NOTE: All on-campus students will be enrolled by Gillian Parrish. See course flier linked above for contact info. 
 

 

Lindenwood University
209 S. Kingshighway
St. Charles, MO 63301