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Writing the Six-Minute Memoir
Writing the Six-Minute Memoir

Instructor: Mary Helen Stefaniak
Level: All levels welcome
Genre: Prose memoir
Date: Monday, May 8, 2023
Time: 6 pm to 8 pm CST
Limit: 12 participants


"Stalking the relationship between stored image and hidden emotion--that's the real job of memoir." --Patricia Hampl (I Could Tell You Stories; A Romantic Education; Virgin Time)

This workshop is an opportunity to capture a "stored image" from your past--a place, a person, a moment, or even an object, a practice, or a process--and explore its hidden significance by bringing it to life on the page. First, we'll talk about a sample essay or two, observing the use of perspective, tone, and detail that bring the experience to life. With the help of writing prompts, we'll take inventory of the often ordinary moments whose "hidden emotion" can teach us who we are. Then you'll choose or adapt a prompt and spend some time writing one of those moments. You'll be invited to share what you've written and the group will respond. Our focus will be on identifying the word choice and details that allow us to experience a moment from your life and feel its significance.

Whether you have been working on a book-length memoir or you've just started thinking about experiences that you would like to save and explore, you'll leave this class with a list of moments worth remembering and a start on turning one of them into treasure.

A note from Mary Helen: Sample essays and prompts will be provided from The Six-Minute Memoir: Fifty-Five Short Essays on Life, a collection selected from two decades' worth of a column I wrote for The Source, now a Bur Oak book published by the University of Iowa Press. I read some of these essays on IPR over the years. They had to be six minutes long.  Hence the title and, perhaps, a genre! Purchase of the book is not required.

Mary Helen Stefaniak is the author of a collection of short fiction (Self Storage and Other Stories) and three novels. Her debut novel, The Turk and My Mother, was a Chicago Tribune Favorite Book of 2004. It has been translated into seven languages. The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction and was chosen as an Indie Next Great Read. The World of Pondside, published this year by Blackstone, is a mystery set in a nursing home. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and professor emerita of creative writing at Creighton University in Omaha. She teaches in the M.F.A. in Writing program at Pacific University. Mary Helen was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She and her husband now live in Iowa City, in a 165-year-old stagecoach inn they restored. The Six-Minute Memoir: Fifty-Five Short Essays on Life is her first book of nonfiction.


Larksong is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We are committed to supporting both the writers who come to us for instruction and the writers who come to us to teach. We keep our class fees low, offer free programming, and pay our instructors. Please consider supporting our mission by making a tax-deductible donation.