We’ve just announced our Spring classes at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, and it’s quite a menu this season. I’ll be teaching an all-levels memoir intensive and an intermediate/advanced memoir workshop–info below. To see the full lineup of Grotto Classes covering everything from film criticism to food writing to fiction and much more, go to www.sfgrotto.org/classes.

Fact Is Not Truth–Memoir and the Art of Honesty
Instructor: Rachel Howard
Contact: rachel.howard@gmail.com
Number of sessions: 3, with optional 4th session for workshop critique
Meeting times: Monday evenings, 6:30-9:30, May 2-16. Optional workshop session 6:30-9:30, Monday, May 23
Course fee: $195; optional critique session $75

Description: You want to tell your story and you want to tell the truth. But how does truth differ from mere fact in memoir? And how do we find and give form to the deeper truths that compel readers to compulsively turn pages?

Memoir poses a contract with the reader: “This really happened.” Whether your story is outrageous or ordinary, riveting memoir need not depart from facts. But it must dig beneath them to unearth a deeper emotional honesty.

In this class, we’ll use Vivian Gornick’s craft book The Situation and the Story to help examine the personal story you’re trying to tell, and how you can best tell it. We’ll look at excerpts from memoirs by writers such as Jo Ann Beard, Alexandra Fuller, and Susan J. Miller, and do lots of in-class writing which we will share and discuss. We’ll explore how memoirists use fiction techniques to transport the reader beyond surface factuality, and we’ll find the truth that can drive your personal story. Each student receives private feedback on his or her writing between classes, and individualized writing assignments. Plenty of time reserved for practical Q and A. Ethical quandaries–”What will my family think if they read this?”–welcome.

In the optional fourth session, participants submit up to 20 pages of their memoirs-in-progress for in-depth group discussion and a detailed letter of personal critique.

*Please note: This class is for students already at work on a memoir, as well as those just starting out. It serves as an introductory class for students interested in continuing on to Intermediate/Advanced memoir workshops.

Instructor Bio: Rachel Howard is the author of the memoir The Lost Night: A Daughter’s Search for the Truth of Her Father’s Murder, one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Best Books of 2005. Her personal essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and O, the Oprah Magazine. Her advice is quoted extensively in The Autobiographer’s Handbook: The 826 National Guide to Writing Your Memoir. She received her MFA from Warren Wilson College.

Memoir II: Intermediate/Advanced Workshop
Instructor: Rachel Howard
Contact: rachel.howard@gmail.com
Number of sessions: 8
Meeting Times: Tuesday evenings, 7 pm to 9:30 pm; April 12-June 7 (no meeting May 31)
Course Fee: $475

Description: This combination seminar and workshop provides ongoing craft discussion, support, and critique for committed memoir writers. During the first half of each class we’ll examine published memoirs, with an eye to guide and inspire your own writing. What is your story really about, and how can your evolving understanding power the writing process? How can you keep opening up parts of your story that feel too hot to touch? We’ll balance an awareness of the emotional process behind memoir writing with the practical study of technique, talking about building tone and style, finding lines of tension, and thinking about theme to discover new layers of meaning that can shape your larger work. Weekly writing assignments (returned with weekly private instructor feedback) will keep you experimenting and producing new pages.

Then we’ll turn to your workshop submissions, aiming to reflect back to the writer what has been communicated, and to describe further opportunities we see. We’ll point to strengths, and offer ideas for substantive revision in a thoughtful environment. Every writer will have the opportunity to submit to workshop twice during our eight weeks together. Ultimately this class will help you gain greater perspective on your work by listening to others. But my deeper goal is to help you build a strong personal writing sensibility by encouraging you–amidst the flurry of feedback–to listen foremost to yourself.

*Please note: This class requires completion of an earlier Grotto memoir class, or instructor consideration of a writing sample, to ensure correct placement.

Instructor Bio: Rachel Howard is the author of the memoir The Lost Night: A Daughter’s Search for the Truth of Her Father’s Murder, one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Best Books of 2005. Her personal essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and O, the Oprah Magazine. Her advice is quoted extensively in The Autobiographer’s Handbook: The 826 National Guide to Writing Your Memoir. She received her MFA from Warren Wilson College.

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