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Writing/Reading Resources

Writing/Reading Resources

6 Reasons to Love the Memoir Incubator

Kristen Paulson-Nguyen's photo

By Kristen Paulson-Nguyen


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The Memoir Incubator is a program for writers interested in a deep revision of their memoir drafts, a comprehensive study of the memoir form, and a thoughtful introduction to the publishing world. We are now accepting applications for the next phase of the Memoir Incubator, 2023-2024. The submission deadline is April 3rd, 2023, and there are scholarships available. Apply today!

A unique and innovative course first launched in 2013, the Memoir Incubator helps graduates find agents, publish essays, and, of course, publish books. We asked a few Memoir Incubator alumni what they got out of the program and how it helped them become better writers.

1. You Generate a Solid Draft

The Memoir Incubator was designed to support students so they can produce a full memoir draft. Before joining the program, Sebastian Stuart ('19) had published nine novels but struggled with nonfiction. In his fiction, he was at an emotional remove, he says, but "in my memoir, I had to write the truth. When I sat down to write, it was through a different lens." With the help of the class and instructor Alysia Abbott, Stuart greatly strengthened his material. His memoir What Wasn't I Thinking?—A Memoir of Rebellion, Madness and My Mother was published last year by Querelle Press.

Virginia DeLuca ('20) also wrote fiction before joining the Incubator. "Through the process of drafting, being critiqued, and critiquing others, I found myself going deeper to find not only the best words to express my story but also what precisely I was attempting to communicate," says DeLuca.

At first, Linda Cutting ('20) thought she was writing a straightforward medical memoir. The Incubator transformed her writing into something much deeper. "The Incubator gave me a chance to develop a true beginner's mind and rethink what this second memoir meant to me, artistically and emotionally," says Cutting. "I was challenged to reconcile my past with my present." She'd published Memory Slips: A Memoir of Music and Healing before joining the Incubator.

2. You Learn Skills That Help To Publish Essays

The Incubator allowed filmmaker Patty Mulcahy ('21) to practice creating a clear through-line and a shorter piece based on her book, Mind Bomb. She published for the first time while taking part in the Memoir Incubator. Her article "As A White Woman with Untreated Schizophrenia, I Was Never Deemed A Threat. Many Aren't As Fortunate." garnered praise from the medical community. As a filmmaker Mulcahy was skilled at writing scenes. In the Memoir Incubator she also learned how to communicate her character's emotional state. "The program gave me the tools and techniques to tell my story," says Mulcahy.

Graduates of the Memoir Incubator publish widely in both literary and commercial publications. In the last two years alone, alumni published in Solstice (Rani Neutill '18, Alicia Googins '17), BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog (Aimee Christian '21), The Washington Post (Sara Petersen '18), LitHub (Michelle Bowdler '17), The New York Times (Sarah Chaves '18, Kristen Paulson-Nguyen '17), The Boston Globe (Anri Wheeler '20), Cognoscenti (Theresa Okokon '20, Karen Kirsten '20, Linda Cutting), the Boston Book Festival's At Home series (Thu-Hằng Tran '20), NBC News (Aimee Seiff Christian '21), and The Writer (Ginny DeLuca '20).

3. You Find Community

Students in the Memoir Incubator make connections with classmates during their year and with students from other classes after their year is complete. Alumni and current students regularly meet in the program's Writing Café on Zoom, which started during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. They trade drafts of essays and query letters and post in the program's Facebook and Slack groups. "The community is there to help with edits," says Okokon. The regular writing practice she cultivated during her Incubator year has been vital to her success. A cold pitch led to the 2020 publication of "When the Entanglement Ends," her first piece for Elle.

"I have gained a treasured community," says Bowdler, who for the last four years has been in a writing group with other program graduates. DeLuca agrees. "I'm a better person and writer when surrounded and supported by writers who are also searching and finding ways to tell their stories," she says.

Molly Howes ('14) is part of "The Hive," a writing group with the cohort from her year. Cutting has found community especially important during an isolating pandemic. "The community of memoir-writers I developed sustains me in my work," she says. Judy Bolton-Fasman ('14) views the community as a place of acceptance. "They value and understand rewriting," she says.

4. You Connect with Literary Agents

Sara Orozco ('19), a Moth Story Slam champion, and Okokon, a storyteller and Host of Stories from the Stage, took their skills to the page. "I can tell a story on stage in five minutes, but then I get to leave," says Orozco. "Staying with my story was emotionally vulnerable." Abbott provided Orozco with the deadline-oriented structure and the permission to write her story imperfectly.

Both Orozco and Okokon found agents after completing the Memoir Incubator. Within the environment of accountability that Abbott had created and with her classmates' encouragement, Orozco felt safe to produce an abundance of new material. At the Muse and the Marketplace, GrubStreet's annual literary conference, several agents expressed interest in her book. Orozco spent a year polishing her manuscript before she queried. When she queried, an agent requested a proposal. She wrote one in six months. In 2020 she accepted an offer of representation. Okokon met her agent through GrubStreet's Lit Up Gala, an annual fundraiser, based on the work she'd produced and revised during her Incubator year.

At least a dozen more alumni are agented, including Chaves, Katie Simon ('18), Neutill, and Haley Hamilton ('19). Howes' book A Good Apology: Four Steps to Make Things Right grew from a conversation with an editor she met at the Muse and the Marketplace, who connected her with an agent. "The Incubator year expanded my skills and perspective," says Howes. "My classmates were deeply invested in their work."

5. You Take the Stage

Several alumni of the Memoir Incubator created Tell-All Boston in partnership with GrubStreet in 2018. It's the city's only nonfiction literary series and provides a showcase for alumni and other memoirists launching their books to read alongside published authors. "At Tell-All, I read a section of a chapter I was considering cutting from my book. Reading it out loud to an audience made me see it in a new way," says Susan Bailey ('16). Meg Senuta ('14), Diane Fraser ('19), Neutill, Catherine O'Neill ('17), Chaves, Denise Frame Harlan ('19), and others have read work they generated in the Incubator on the Tell-All stage, alongside celebrated memoirists Maya Lang (What We Carry), Grace Talusan (The Body Papers), and Garrard Conley (Boy Erased).

6. You Get Your Memoir Ready for Publication

In 2018 Catherine Guthrie ('15) published the program's first memoir. Guthrie's achievement inspired the next and biggest wave of books since the program's 2013 launch. In 2020, Bowdler and E. Dolores Johnson ('16) published memoirs. Howes published a book of nonfiction. In 2021, Bolton-Fasman wrote Prayers and Trastiendas and published Asylum: a Memoir of Family Secrets (which she spoke about on WBUR’s Here & Now) and Stuart published What Wasn't I Thinking?—A Memoir of Rebellion, Madness and My Mother.

"The Incubator taught me to be patient," Bolton-Fasman says. "Revision and re-visioning one's book takes time."

Bowdler's memoir was longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Nonfiction. "What I learned about structure, craft, narrative voice, and the revision process was invaluable," says Bowdler.

Ani Gjika ('20) won the Restless Book Prize, and her memoir By It’s Right Name will be published in 2023. Also in 2023, Sara Petersen’s ('18) first memoir, Momfluenced, will be published by Beacon Press.

We are now accepting applications for the next phase of the Memoir Incubator, 2023-2024. The submission deadline is April 3rd, 2023, and there are scholarships available. Apply today!

This post was originally published on February 18th, 2021.

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