2022 – Spring

Personal Essay

Course Number: JOUR-GA 1182.015

Day & Time: Thur | 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM

Location: 20 Cooper Square, room 659

Instructor: James Marcus

At first, the memoir sounds like the most fundamental of all genres: aren’t you simply writing down your own experience? It should be easy. Yet the moment you begin, the complexities of the form, and its sometimes exhilarating challenges, start piling up. For example, there is the erosion of memory, usually the raw material for any memoir. How does the writer navigate the quicksand of a narrative that may have unfolded decades ago, and for which there may be no documentary evidence at all? How do you write about other people, whose view of the events in question may be completely different from your own? How do you avoid hurting those very people, while also doing justice to them? How does the memoir overlap with such neighboring genres as the essay, the family chronicle, the historical study? To explore these questions, we’ll read some of the great contemporary memoirists, paying particular mind to tone, structure, and ethics. The class will involve weekly readings, a series of exercises, in-class discussion (lots of it), presentations, and peer critique. The final project will be a memoir of approximately 3,000 words.