Advanced Memoir Workshop: World Building & the Art of Revision

Instructor:  mia susan amir
Dates:  Weds. 6:00pm – 9:00pm, Jun. 24th – Aug 5th. Community Reading: Aug. 7th
Number of Sessions:  8 (incl. dress rehearsal & Community Reading)
Registration fee:  $200.00 – $350.00, sliding scale based on income level
Limited bursaries and scholarships available
Maximum number of participating writers:  9
Venue:  Playwrights Theatre Centre, Vancouver, BC, Unceded Coast Salish Territories


This 7-week Advanced Memoir Workshop will bring together an intersectional and intergenerational group of writers, 18 years and older, to engage in a rigorous exploration of craft. Through intensive engagement with assigned readings, peer work, prompts, embodied creative exercises, and lively craft discussions, writers will strengthen their techniques in the difficult work of world building, and the art of revision. Writers will bring one currently-in-progress work of prose, ten to twenty-five pages in length, to this workshop, and will further develop this piece through our learning journey.

Why world building?

When we seek to lift stories from our lives into provocative and transformative narrative, it is our work as writers to induct our readers into the fascinating, rich and unique worlds of our characters; no matter how common or translatable we may perceive or believe them to be. In turn, building compelling worlds for our characters to live in helps readers to understand their motivations and actions, makes visible their value systems, and brings energy to our stories by giving our readers a palpable understanding of the stakes.

In this workshop we will use the body, memory (including bio and ancestral), the environment, the archive, and the imagination, to engage in an immersive exploration of the linguistic, social, political, cultural, internal and physical worlds of the characters that inhabit your stories. We will uncover the secret codes and languages, curious bodies, distinctive landscapes, nuanced dynamics, and emotional truths that shape your characters’ lives. We will develop radical intimacy with the quest/ion(s) that guide your work.

Why revision?

When we compost we throw a bunch of organic matter together, and the heat that is generated by the process of decomposition is what turns that matter into nutrient rich, fertile humus; something that can be used to grow other things. Writing is a lot like composting. In the first, and subsequent drafts of a piece of writing we are often downloading as much as we can onto the page. Throwing it all together. Following all of the echoes. To be worked into sites of powerful, clear, beautiful, impacting prose, to develop our writing into something that can be used to grow new ways of documenting and considering the world, our drafts need heat. In the case of writing our heat is revision. Through revision we experiment with and make decisions about what structure best elevates our stories, what elements must necessarily be included and cut away, and what aesthetics best serve the telling.

Themes we will consider:

  • The question of “Truth” in the context of memoir, with particular attention to emotional, observable, and verifiable truth
  • The development of the self as a character
  • Writing beyond binaries
  • The ethics of writing and sharing stories that involve and implicate ourselves and others
  • The way personal narratives are always reflective of and in conversation with the world in which we live, even when their scope is tiny
  • The act of memoir as an inherently political and politicized act
  • The role of memoir in healing and transformation; community and movement-building; visioning and constructing a more just world

Workshop Structure:

  • Participating writers will work together as part of an innovative, supportive, collaborative community that supports creative risk-taking
  • 6 evening sessions, 3-hours in length will run once a week for the full duration of the workshop, starting the week of Jun. 24th. Weekly sessions will include a  combination of the following elements: physical warm-ups, the investigation of assigned texts, creative writing prompts, craft discussions, peer workshopping
  • Participants will meet once each week (either in-person or remotely) with 2 other writers from the workshop
  • Each participant will have 2 one-on-one mentorship meetings with the instructor
  • Each participant will engage in 2 major revisions of their work
  • Participants will attend a dress rehearsal for the Community Reading on Aug. 5th
  • Participants will be invited to share new work generated through the workshop at the Community Reading on Aug. 7th

Participating writers will leave this workshop with:

  • Prompts and exercisers to support continued work
  • Exposure to theories of writing and storytelling
  • New skills and versatility in the craft of creative writing
  • A new community of creative minds to work with in the future
  • One piece of writing has been workshopped and revised, twice
  • An experience of public performance.

A note about the Registration Fee:

Successful applicants will be required to pay a sliding scale Registration Fee. Those earning a living wage should consider paying the full amount. Limited Bursaries and Full Scholarships, as well as payment options, are available for those interested in applying but for whom the fee is a barrier. Those wishing to be considered for a Bursary, Full Scholarship, or alternative payment option are required to submit a Letter of Need with their application, as detailed on our application page.

Guiding Philosophy:

Our unique and common stories often live in our bodies, our homes, the places we work, the ways that we love, where the daily impacts of the systemic forces that shape our lives are most real and yet most individualized, isolated, unseen, and unnamed. Our narrative silences are what ultimately allow dominant social, political, economic, environmental, cultural, religious, relational and emotional stories to remain intact.

If as Thomas King says, “the truth about story is that’s all we are,” then we can consider the telling of our stories, stories that disrupt and dissolve what we take for granted, as a necessary and sacred act; because the truth about story’s power, is that’s what we become. As Freire writes, “it is in speaking their world that people, by naming the world, transform it,” and when we write our stories, we work to fill the abyss where narratives reliant on our individual and collective silences would otherwise operate. Writing our stories assists us to excavate the meaning of our experiences, helps us to see, know, and reclaim ourselves, to look beyond the perimeter of the spaces we have been limited to and/or limit ourselves to. (Freire, Herman) What Linda Hogan writes of ceremony can in this sense apply to the act of writing our stories:

…[it] is a part of a healing and restoration. It is the mending of a broken connection between us and the rest. The intention of a ceremony is to put a person back together by restructuring the human mind. This reorganization is accomplished by a kind of inner map, a geography of the human spirit and the rest of the world. We make whole our broken-off pieces of self and world. Within ourselves we bring together the fragments of our lives in a sacred act of renewal, and we reestablish our connection with others.

In speaking our world, we bring our stories into dialogue with the stories of others. We make communal our inheritances. (Freire) In telling our stories, to and with each other, we can find the critical spaces where our stories intersect and diverge; observe the impacts of the large world in our small lives; and strengthen our ability to build recognition across difference by witnessing evidence of our common humanity. In telling our stories, we can stitch together, as Freire suggests, a more objective understanding of the world in which we live; increasing our ability to enact meaningful change rooted in a deep engagement with our lived experiences.

As Fenton Johnson writes, memoir, as “a vehicle for subjectivity,” offers a poignant entry point “to truth, the enduring, timeless wisdom that enables us to have and keep faith in ourselves and in each other, in our collective capacity to live in harmony with each other and with our planet.” Memoir as an act of dialogue expects and requires others who are participant to, invoked in, and implicated directly by the stories we write; and who are on their own quest to remember and name.

Telling our stories holds the potential for political shift, spiritual recovery, and social healing, where we can start to create as opposed to react to narrow framings of the world; where expression of our truths and identities are able to emerge from a generative place. In writing our stories we leave the territory of hegemonic polarization and enter what Gloria Anzaldua terms Nepantla, “a liminal space, a space where you are not this or that […] but where you are in a kind of transition […] in the midst of transformation.”