Document Your Life

Fall 2020

The Trick: Notes toward a Theory of Plot by Marilyn Abildskov

Prompt: A Brief Encounter

Summer Session 2020

Free Tibet Man by Dinty Moore

Prompt: A funny misunderstanding and/or a time you realized the gap between generations

Firefly by Jacqueline Woodson

Prompt: Summer

Online Session, 5/21/2020

Ignorance, Lies, Imagination…by Lee Martin

Prompt: Something I don’t remember

Online Session, 5/14/2020:

Prompt: Life After…

Scrambled Eggs by Marilyn A. Gelman

Online Session, 4/23/2020: 

Prompt: Writing to Place and Memory

Excerpt from Orhan Pamuk’s, Istanbul

Online Session, 4/16/2020: 

Prompt: This is where the story begins…

Ghost Story by Maggie Smith

Handout 3/5/2020: 

There Are Distances Between Us by Roxane Gay

Prompt: Home, the idea of home

Handout 2/27/2020:

The Chicken Whisperer by Doug Lawson

Prompt: Surprises. A unexpected turn in your life.

Handout 2/20/2020:

How to Write Your Memoir by Brooke Warner

Prompt: Choose Your Own (from class) or Write about a time you met someone you immediately liked (or disliked!)

Handout 2/13/2020:

Scars by David Owen

Our Scars Tell the Stories of Our Lives by Dana Jemmings

Prompt: Write 3-5 pages about a scar/s or take us through the physical scars you have.

Handout 2/6/2020:

How To Write Your Memoir by Abigail Thomas

Prompt: See handout.

Handout 1/30/2020:

160 Things That Scare Me by Jill Kolongowski

Prompt: I Remember…


Handout 1/16/2020:

Smoke by Mandie Carroll

Reading and last class!

Handout 1/9/2020:

Excerpt from Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Prompt: Reflect on a color that might describe you or your life. Or begin with a sentence that says it all and go from there.

Bring 5-8 pages, double spaced for our potluck and reading on 1/16. And a quote or excerpt of your own from a book or story you like.

Link to Handout 12/19/19:

On Going (Back) by Jill Talbot

Prompt: What is the story or event you’re burning to write about that you haven’t written about yet?

Link to Handout 12/5/19: 

The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

Prompt: Slow down….Tell the story of an important or a usual hour or few hours. Use details, imagining  to stretch it out. Fiction has so much to teach us about writing about ourselves.

Link to Handout 11/21/19:

Us and Them by David Sedaris

Prompt: Neighbors and the Neighborhood

Link to Handout 11/14/19:

Seeing by Annie Dillard 

Prompt: A favorite childhood object

Link to Handout 11/7/2019:

My Dad Tried to Kill Me with an Alligator by Harrison Scott Key

Prompt: In the Summer of…

Link to Handouts 10/17/2019

Nearing 90 by William Maxwell

Prompt: Turning Points. Write about a significant age in your life–turning six, turning fifty, turning 81–or alternatively, someone you know and their significant birthday. Linger in details. Rely on the beauty of a scene. Allow the details  to tell you what the piece–and that age–is abut in a deeper sense beyond the obvious, say getting your driver’s license. (Prompt and reading taken from Marylin Abildscov.)

Link to Handouts 10/10/2019

Mother Tongue by Amy Tan

Only Daughter by Sandra Cisneros

Prompt: Write about the influence of a family member, guardian, or  community member on your life or your family’s life as a whole.

No Class 10/3/2019

Link to Handouts 9/26/2019

My Life, Matthew Zapruder

My Body is a Cage of My Own Making by Roxane Gay

(The above is not the exact excerpt I passed out in class but that’s okay.)

Prompt: Write two pages about something or someone being broken. Or about broken-ness.

Link to Handouts 9/19/2019

Housesitting by Marilyn Abildskov

Prompt: Where I’m From…

Link to Handouts 9/12/2019

How I Came to Own My Name by Lauren DePino

I Survived the Blizzard of ’79 by Beth Ann Fennelly

Prompt: Write Two Pages About Your Name or an Important Name in Your Family or Two Pages beginning with, I Survived…

Link to Handout 9/5/2019

There’s No Recipe for Growing Up by Scaachi Koul

Prompt: Write Two Pages of Nine Things You Don’t Remember or Nine Things You Do Remember About Growing Up.


Link to Handout 4/22/19

Polish or write a new piece for our final reading next week.

Prompt: Take a holiday, any holiday and write about how well it went. Or similarly, how everything went wrong.

Link to Handout 4/15/19

Excerpt Chapter One, The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr

Prompt: What is your sharpest memory of someone or an event that transpired? Bring it back to life like Mary Karr.

Link to Handout 4/9/19

Total Eclipse by Annie Dillard

Prompt: Did you ever take a trip that had unexpected results? Or a journey that meant something more in the end? Get specific: Focus on detail as Dillard does.

Link to Handout 4/2/19

The Fourth State of Matter by Jo Ann Beard

Prompt: What is that burning story you haven’t written yet? What is the story you’ve been dying to tell?

Link to Handout 4/25/19

Singing by Patricia Sammon

(Optional) Prompt: Singing or Song, however that resonates with you. Maybe a song that defines you at a certain point in your life or a song you always find yourself singing.

Link to Handouts 4/18/19

Excerpt from Leaving Tinkertown by Tanya Ward Goodman (handed out in class)

Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Homework: Beginnings. If you’re stuck, make a list. When I was born…When I was ten….When I was 18…

Links to Handouts 4/11/19

On the Elliptical Machine, You Ask Your Mom How Her Week Went by Rachel Peckham

The Power of a Name by Rebecca Tamás

Homework: Write about the origins of your name, or the naming and/or re-naming of someone or something, or the difficulties of a having your name.


Links to Handouts 3/7/18:

Begin Again: On Endings in Nonfiction by E.V. De Clyre

Narrative versus Exposition by Aaron Gilbreath

He & I by Cade Leebron

How to Become a Writer by Lorrie Moore

Painted by Lauren Rheaume

Homework: Write a portrait of someone in your life focusing on them or your relationship with them like in He & I.

Links to Handout 2/28/19:

Toward a Unified Theory of the Doughnut by Elizabeth McCracken

“I should hate forever to be a burden to you”: Lessons in Love from Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West by Jeanna Kadlec

Homework: Goodbyes, saying goodbye to someone or a place or a time in your life

Links to Handout 2/21/19:

Six Glimpses of the Past by Janet Malcolm

Girl Underwater by Heather Sellers

What Happens There by John D’Agata

What is Memoir? Patricia Thang 

Homework: Water. Slow down a moment in the water, underwater, almost drowning. Or write about metaphorically drowning. The important part of this assignment is to slow down a moment as in Girl Underwater.

Links to Handout 2/14/19:

Father Time by David Sedaris

Work (and Bees) by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

Homework: Write three pages about whatever you’d like really focusing on a scene(s) in your piece. If you need a prompt, write about a hobby or craft as a means to talk about something else about your life like Christine Hyung-Oak Lee or using a humorous tone like David Sedaris.

Links to Handout 2/7/19:

Blood and Whiskey by Sondra Kline

180 Sumac by Julia Scheeres

Don’t Tell But Show by Natalie Goldberg

Homework: A special family photograph you may have or a photograph you’ve taken in your mind’s eye or describe a photograph you should have taken.

Links to Handout 1/31/19:

Tilt by Pat Foran

The Meek Shall Inherit Memoir by Harrison Scott Key

Homework: Write about your first job or an interesting job or the most boring job you’ve ever had.


Link to Handout from 10/25/18:

“The Kuhreihen Melody,” an essay by Peter Selgin

Link to Handout from10/18/18:

Ticket to the Fair by David Foster Wallace

Homework: Write about a time you were accused of something you didn’t do.

Link to Handout from 10/11/18:


Try to profile someone else in your memoir:

Under The Influence by Scott Russell Sanders

Links to Handouts from 10/4/18:


For this assignment, try to move through a span of time like eight years like Joan Didion does with flashbacks mixed with exposition. Or write over a large span of time by focusing on a relationship that went wrong like in Adrienne Sharp’s essay, I Remember You.

Goodbye To All That by Joan Didion

I Remember You by Adrienne Sharp

Links to Handouts from 9/20/2018…NO CLASS (9/27):

Homework: Write two pages about your earliest memory like Jeannette Walls or arriving somewhere new (a job, city, country) like Wesley Gibson. Email your pages by next Thursday to the whole group via email.

Excerpt from The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

The Love of My Life by Cheryl Strayed

excerpt from You Are Here by Wesley Gibson  (not what I read aloud in class, but similar)

Links to Handouts from 9/13/18: 

Homework: Write two pages about a time you got into trouble or Write about a summer that changed everything. Or both.

A Snowy Bogota by Ingrid Contreras

Our Perfect Summer by David Sedaris

Maybe It Happened by Joanne Beard


Links to handouts from 9/6/18: 

Homework: Write your own brief history.

Life Span by Molly Giles

How To Write Your Memoir by Abigail Thomas