As mentioned in my last post, I attended a free memoir writing workshop offered by the Gotham Writers’ Workshop on Wednesday.

Photo: BookCourt

I had no idea what to expect from the workshop; I didn’t even know where it was being held! When I found the correct address, 163 Court Street in Brooklyn, I almost turned around and went home. 163 was posted above a large door that lead to private apartments. I’ve seen too many episodes of Law and Order: SVU to enter a shady apartment alone. Fortunately, I took a step back and saw that 163 was also the address of the bookstore next door, a beautiful and charming place called BookCourt.

My slight freak-out about the address of the workshop made me realize just how nervous I was; I wasn’t concerned about talking to the people in the class, but that I would be forced to participate in writing exercises (which would turn out to be a justified fear).

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By definition, anyone can write a memoir: “a narrative composed of personal experience.” Our lives are already narratives. People who write memoirs make a conscious decision to put their narrative on paper to share with the rest of the world.

But what should come first: the desire to write a memoir or a particularly jarring moment in one’s personal narrative?

With the recent rise of classes offering to help people write their own memoir, it would seem the former.

Fordham University offers a class called “Writing Autobiography/Memoir.” It is a class open to both undergraduate and graduate students and the course description states:

“It’s been said that the memoir now has the authority once accorded to fiction. True or not, periodical publications have expanded the space they devote to personal writing, often contracting the space once accorded to the short story. It is increasingly common for fiction writers to write personal essays. This class is a workshop in the personal essay where we will spend most of our time critiquing your works in progress. Since the techniques of memoir are indistinguishable from those of fiction, we will concentrate on dialogue, exposition, scene, character, managing narrative time (past, present, future) and, most of all, the development of a persona.”

Photo: Oprah

I happen to love memoirs by people who aren’t famous. A memoir doesn’t need to be filled with high-profile celebrities to catch my attention or Oprah’s (don’t worry, I’ll devote a whole post to James Frey). But can one be taught how to write a memoir? Are the people taking these classes only searching for fame, similar to people who sign up for reality shows?

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