2017-10/01 Beyond Memoir with John Kaag

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Truly great memoirs are never just memoirs. Perhaps they tell the story of a political movement, a country in turmoil, a historical moment, a cultural trend, or a psychological disposition. In their brutal honesty and self-examination these rare autobiographical accounts teach us something about life and being human. One trick to writing memoir is to figure out what is universal and communicable in your most personal of stories. How can your book go “beyond memoir?” John Kaag, author of “American Philosophy: A Love Story,” will try to help students articulate the underlying ideas that drive their personal narratives. What is the take-away of your story? What should a reader learn about you and the world that you share? How can you convey these ideas more powerfully, by way of narrative? What do you not reveal in such a story and why? These are the questions that this workshop will try to help students answer. Kaag will employ several exercises that he picked up while teaching at the Harvard Writing Center to get things going: a crash course on opening sentences that frame a memoir’s central themes, a brief tutorial on “showing not telling,” and sharing a method for locating your memoir’s broader themes and placing them in today’s burgeoning memoir market. The workshop will be open discussion and question-answer format. John likes to get to know his students and their projects.

John Kaag is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and author of “American Philosophy: A Love Story” (FSG 2016), which was named an NYT Editor’s Choice and on of the Best Books of the Year by NPR. John lives with his daughter, Becca, and partner, Carol, outside of Boston. He is currently working on “Hiking with Nietzsche,” scheduled with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for 2018 and “Think Again: An Introduction to Philosophy” for Norton. Before joining UMass, John taught expository writing at the Harvard Writing Center. His writing has been featured in the “New York Times,” the “Paris Review,” “Harper’s Magazine,” and the “Chronicle of Higher Education” among many other publications.

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