Memoir workshop creates new virtual model

Eight-week writers' platform explores universal themes

By Tamra Testerman
Posted 4/23/20

A memoir workshop in town that transitioned to online meetings on Zoom after the coronavirus pandemic ended the possibility of continuing face-to-face meetings unwittingly created a new virtual model for future workshops and classes offered by the Society of the Muse of the Southwest.

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Memoir workshop creates new virtual model

Eight-week writers' platform explores universal themes

Posted

A memoir workshop in town that transitioned to online meetings on Zoom after the coronavirus pandemic ended the possibility of continuing face-to-face meetings unwittingly created a new virtual model for future workshops and classes offered by the Society of the Muse of the Southwest.

Jan Smith, the executive director of SOMOS, said “this eight-week workshop (three hours each week) began on March 3 with our final face-to-face meeting on March 12 after which we converted to Zoom meetings each week through the end of the class on April 23."

She said what the group discovered from using the Zoom platform is that it “requires mindful concentration to focus on each student’s writing and give feedback. One adaptation that we’ve used is to have each writer email their pages at least 24 hours before the class so that everyone has a copy to write on/listen to when the author reads. We also use track changes/comments online to provide editorial feedback – which is emailed to the writer. In this way each student is receiving more comprehensive and thoughtful critique (also given that people are working from home and have more time to focus on the writing) than if they were only given feedback during actual class time.

"I’m hoping that the class format will provide inspiration and encouragement for each writer to continue writing their memoirs by incorporating the many examples of respected publications.”

Smith said they designed the eight-week workshop for all levels of writers and it “is immersive – because it’s a small group of writers (limited to eight). We divide the class into a craft session (first hour) and then workshopping each other’s writing with peers and the instructor. Each student has chosen a full-length memoir to analyze for craft skills and presents their own writing on four occasions during the class. I assign other nonfiction essays and memoir excerpts to illustrate craft points and help the writer include strategies and techniques.”

She said there are some critics who say that memoirs are a fad or a phase – "But I disagree. From St. Augustine’s Confessions to Samuel Pepys’ Diary, readers have an enduring interest in learning how others have coped and triumphed over universal themes of loss, love, betrayal, ambition, anger, poverty, abuse and building healing relationships. The contemporary memoir form is here to stay – as we realize that we have far fewer differences than human similarities.”

Smith has an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College, and is a 2012 recipient of an award from Southwest Writers for her short story “Breasts,” and a 2014 first-place award winner for an excerpt from her memoir, "Blink Like Crazy." She has published in numerous journals and has had several writing residencies. Smith was planning on a SOMOS literary pilgrimage to Ireland in May 2020 with 14 other travelers to explore both the land and literature of Ireland. Instead she’s planned an online Irish Literature Book Club to read/review/discuss the books were on the suggested bibliography.

For information about other digital workshop opportunities offered by SOMOS, visit somostaos.org , call (575) 758-0081 or email somos@somostaos.org

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