Please note that this is an online workshop conducted via Zoom. Participants will be provided information on how to join the online sessions.
“Neither of us knows what the public will think,” Virginia Woolf wrote, in her diary, in 1922. “There’s no doubt in my mind that I have found out how to begin (at forty) to say something in my own voice.” How? Voice is that uncanny quality that makes writing feel unique, alive, memorable, and true. Woolf had already been widely published before 1922, but she was right that her truly astonishing work — the novels and essays that would make her one of literature’s most authoritative and original voices — lay ahead of her. How? Tellingly, Woolf precedes her declaration with concern about “what the public will think.” What are issues of public concern, and why do they appear (in Woolf’s diary, at least) as a barrier to voice? Might the two work in harmony? Does one provide a necessary or dubious “check” on the other? How? Good personal essays address public issues. Good personal essays demonstrate voice. Great personal essays do both at the same time and in such a way that the effort — even forty years of it — leaves no trace of itself. In this workshop, we ask, how?
Personal essays by Leslie Jamison, Kiese Laymon, Janet Mock, David Sedaris, Woolf, and others will be discussed. Some generative prompts will be provided, but time will also be set aside for critiquing works written on subjects — and in manners — of each student’s choosing.