is the author of the novel The Gin Closet (Free Press); the essay collections The Empathy Exams (Graywolf) and Make It Scream, Make It Burn; and a critical memoir, The Recovering (both Little, Brown). She directs the nonfiction concentration in the MFA in Writing at Columbia University.
Saturday, August 20, 2022
Working with Personal Archives
It’s easy to think of research as an activity that happens when we write about other people’s lives, or archives as places we visit when we’re writing about people who are famous and/or dead, but the truth is we all have vast personal archives already at our disposal: old diaries, cell phone photos and videos, email and text threads, voice memos. In this master class, we’ll be discussing how to excavate and activate these personal archives to grant emotional nuance and visceral texture to our writing; to complicate the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. A text thread can help you remember the rhythms of banter that used to structure a friendship, or a random cell phone photo can summon the coffee shop you used to frequent at a job you hated; old recipe emails from a CSA can evoke the bittersweet last days of living with a former partner. We'll be thinking about how personal archives can prove fruitful to all kinds of writing—not only personal essays and memoir, but fiction and poetry as well. We will close-read a few texts that draw upon personal archives in inspiring or provocative ways, do a few brainstorming exercises together, and engage in a broader conversation about how to draw upon the layers of information and history we already have in our phones, hard drives, email accounts, and notebooks. How can these archives teach us about the messiness of our own emotional experiences, the sly deceptions of memory, and the layers of profundity that dwell inside "ordinary" daily life?
Saturday, August 20
3:00-5:00 p.m. ET
Online on Zoom
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