"The Memoir Incubator has been one of the most rigorous and yet rewarding experiences of my life. Although we "incubees" are all writing different types of memoirs, we have learned a common vocabulary, and the feedback during workshops has been incredibly helpful. Everyone's memoir draft has improved--significantly. You will work hard, but it will be worth it."
- Ann MacDonald
ALYSIA ABBOTT is the author of Fairyland, A Memoir of My Father out from W.W. Norton. Her work can be found in The Boston Globe, The New York Times Book Review, Out, Real Simple, Triquarterly, Vogue, and elsewhere. She's received scholarships from the Ragdale Foundation and has instructed workshops at GrubStreet, New England College, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Fairyland was a New York Times Editors' Pick, and was awarded the ALA Stonewall Award, and the Prix Heroine de Madame Figaro. The San Francisco Chronicle named Fairyland a best book of 2013 and the San Francisco Public Library chose the book as their one city read in 2014.
'What is a “good writer?” We can agree that good writers fiercely commit themselves to the craft, pushing their abilities to construct stories rooted in empathy, passion and intelligence. But a good writer, in my view, also requires being a good reader and a good literary citizen.
I plan to teach students to be good writers, to help them understand and effectively employ the narrative tools available to them—from pacing and characterization to structure and setting. But I also plan to teach students to be good readers, to listen for the rhythm of a beautifully constructed sentence, to consider the many choices involved in a piece of writing—that is, to lift the hood of the narrative and understand the complicated workings underneath—and finally to read with an openness and respect for the writer’s intention.
Instead of workshopping the draft as we would write it ourselves, I want students to honor the author’s intention for the work. I expect students to come to this program with varying levels of experience in the classroom and the marketplace. While our backgrounds will be unique, I plan for us to develop a common lexicon to thoroughly discuss our work. I see the diversity of the classroom as an opportunity for students to share and learn from each other as we develop our memoir drafts together.
I also intend for the classroom to be an inclusive space where students can thoughtfully explore ideas without fear of being silenced or shut down. I know from personal experience how hard and unexpectedly emotional it can be to produce a memoir—to publicly revisit some of the most painful parts of your life. This class will respect each writer’s own complicated process towards completing their manuscript and making it the best it can be. That's not to say we won't engage in healthy critique. My hope is that through a rigorous engagement with the material, we will help writers see their drafts in new and productive ways. Furthermore, no student should ever question the value of their story. I hope only for students to question the methods that can be best used to tell that story.
Finally, I also believe in teaching students to become good literary citizens. Good literary citizenship involves reading widely and seeing yourself as part of an ecosystem of ideas and influences. It means being aware of, and taking part in, the public conversation, through reading, but also through attending readings, and publishing. Over the course of the year, we will be meeting (in person or via skype) with agents, editors, and published writers to better understand the varied and complicated and exciting ways books are born. This course is designed to focus primarily on craft but it’s also serves as a primer on how the publishing industry works.
The Developmental Consultant is an established author and teacher who will be hand-picked by Alysia Abbott in consultation with the student. Each student will be paired with a different developmental consultant, someone with direct experience revising his/her own published memoir(s) and/or the memoir(s) of many aspiring and emerging writers. The goal of this pairing is to offer an objective voice and give the student and Alysia Abbott different perspective on the revision process.