The ‘MemoirLab’ workshop for 2016:
Ira talks about the Memoir Workshop:
Questions about the workshops? Ask Ira
A Brief History
Marge Piercy is the author of seventeen novels; nineteen volumes of poetry, and the highly praised memoir Sleeping with Cats (“An utterly lovely memoir,” according to the New York Times. “A passionate reflection on sleeping with cats—and sleeping around.”) Along with the newly released volume of poetry, Made in Detroit (Alfred A. Knopf), her most recent titles are a collection of short stories, The Cost of Lunch, Etc. and a book of personal essays, My Life, My Body (PM Press). She has given readings and workshops in over 500 venues worldwide and is one of the few contemporary American writers whose work continues to move, inform, and significantly change the lives of her readers. Her science fiction novels, Woman on the Edge of Time and He, She, and It are classics of the genre, taught in universities all over the world. Her historical novels have reconstructed entire eras: City of Darkness, City of Light: the French Revolution; Vida: the tumultuous reaction to the Viet Nam war and its aftermath. The Los Angeles Times has called her Gone to Soldiers: “the most thorough and most captivating, most engrossing novel ever written about World War II.”
The New York Times Book Review calls Ira Wood a novelist with “a special gift for heartwarming comedy.” He was also the founder and publisher of Leapfrog Press. As an editor and a teacher, he has been praised for his ability to help his writers transcend their inner censor and simplify the fundamentals of both writing and the publishing world. He writes weekly essays for the public radio station WOMR-FM, Cape Cod’s Pacifica Radio affiliate. His most recent collection of autobiographical essays is You’re Married to HER? (“Saucy sexy stories…a raucus romp through a novelist’s life.”-Kirkus Reviews). In their many years of teaching Piercy and Wood were struck by the gap between their students’ rich material–the great life stories they had to tell–and the lack of writing craft needed to tell those stories. Many students long out of college and successful in their careers had assumed that writing their life stories would be easy…until they found that they could neither finish their books nor get them published. Many had taken uplifting workshops which encouraged their potential, their spirituality, and their creativity, but did little to teach them the basic tools which would enable them to move their writing from mere self expression to a level at which it might some day be published.
For over twenty years, the Piercy/Wood workshops have taught both experienced and beginning writers:
• How to begin a piece by seducing your reader
• How to create characters that embody the infinite contradictions of human behavior
• How to master the elements of plotting fiction
• How to create a strategy for telling the story of your life
• How to learn to read critically, like a professional writer
• How to write about painful personal material without coming off as a victim
• The overlooked powers of dialogue
• Creating descriptions that move readers emotionally.
In addition, they found that many people wanted to publish, but had no idea:
• How to get an agent or if they needed one
• How to read the sub-text of rejection letters
• How to submit work effectively
• How much writers really earn.
Many writers had personal issues, such as:
• How to proceed when continually rejected by publishers
• How to carve out the personal time and space to write
• Overcoming shame and the difficulties of writing about loved ones.
In universities, writing workshops, and at retreat centers all over the United States, Piercy and Wood have been conducting classes both in writing Fiction and the Personal Narrative (which they define as both memoir and the autobiographical novel). The workshops vary in length. The shortest is a two-hour session; the longest five days. Typically, it is an intensive weekend. Sometimes, depending on the venue, either Piercy or Wood will teach the workshop alone. (No surprises; this is ALWAYS advertised beforehand).