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ACE2477 Memoir and the Craft of Personal Writing: a closer look at non-fiction authors and their creative methods (on campus only)

Started 31 Jan 2024

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Full course description

Course Overview:

In this course we will delve more deeply into non-fiction as a genre and study the art of memoir / autofiction and the personal and lyric essay. We will look closely at work by Ocean Vuong, Nastasha Trethewey, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Rebecca Solnit amongst others, as well as the historical pioneers  of the form such as Michel de Montaigne, George Orwell, Annie Ernaux, Joan Didion, Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag and more.

Each week we will look at an author’s work in detail and write our own pieces of creative non-fiction inspired by their particular methods, insight and practice, bringing our own experiences and passions to the page.

Students will aim to produce one piece of longer work of up to 4000 words from a combination of class and homework exercises with writing prompts or alternatively two shorter ‘chapter’ style pieces, with a view to the excerpts eventually forming the body of a collection, or longer book. There will be an opportunity after each class for students to submit short fragments for workshopping by the group, or alternatively just by me in the form of constructive editorial suggestions.


Note: This has been designed as a stand alone course. There is no need to complete ACE2449 short course Memoir-Writing in Focus course first, as each focuses on work from different authors. However, if you have already completed the other course this is an appropriate follow-on to bring work you may wish to expand from the initial course, in a friendly and supportive peer group environment.    


Course Practicalities: 

This course will run on Wednesday mornings over 8 weeks from 10.30am - 12.30pm.

Venue: Cork Enterprise Centre, Room G09 (B), Distillery Fields, UCC, North Mall Cork.

Closing date for applications: Monday 22nd of January 2024.


Course Content: 

Week 1 – The Female Trailblazers – a historical overview. We will identify different genres within nonfiction and look at the political and personal essay through the ages, revisiting 18th and 19th century female writers such as Virginia Woolf, the transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, and Mary Wollstonecraft as well as modern political personal essays from Roxane Gay to Rebecca Solnit and Jia Tolentino. Class exercise and homework.

Week 2 – Men of Letters and their Contemporary Relevance. We will identify some of the most respected and contentious essaysists in the genre going back to the 16th century. We will discuss writers such as Albert Camus, George Orwell and Michel de Montaigne and discuss what influence or impact those works have on the personal or political essay today. Class exercise and homework.

Week 3 – Art and the Essay. We will read Irish writer Sara Baume, American academic Christina Sharpe, Susan Sontag, Gertrude Stein and John Berger amongst others and look at how art impacts our own personal writing. A focus will be Just Kids by Patti Smith which recounts her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe against the backdrop of the New York City art scene. Class exercise and workshopping of homework.

Week 4 – Love, Parenting and Queer Kinship. We will look at the wide range of autofictional writing spanning approaches to writing about caregiving and relationships, from Rachel Cusk and Sheila Heti to Karl Ove Knausgård, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Carmen Maria Machado and see what is possible to explore within this most personal of subjects. Class exercise and homework.

Week 5 – Poets as Memoirists. (Part One). Taking examples such as Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Nikki Giovanni’s Gemini, we will look at how poets approach the process of writing of creative nonfiction. Class exercise and workshopping.

Week 6 – Poets as Memoirists. (Part Two). We will look at contemporary poetic memoir such as Mark Doty’s Firebird, Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy, Natasha Trethewey’s Memorial Drive, Ocean Vuong’s poetry, memoir and essays and will have a special guest reading. Class exercise and homework.

Week 7 – Ghosts in the Memoir. We will read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and excerpts from Hilary Mantel’s Giving up the Ghost and Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat and look at how the supernatural is threaded into personal narrative. Class exercise and workshopping.

Week 8 – Summary of memoirs explored, Q & A session, writing exercise and class discussion and presentation / workshopping of final CNF piece written over the eight weeks.


Course Lecturer:  

Lucy Holme is a writer and mother from Kent who lives in Cork, Ireland. She gained a BA in English at Manchester University and then travelled the world, working in the private yachting industry as a chief stewardess, sommelier and purser. Her poems feature in PN Review, The London Magazine, The Stinging Fly, Southword, Atrium, Poetry Wales, Wild Court and Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal amongst others. She was shortlisted for The London Magazine Poetry Prize 2023 and for The Red Line Poetry Competition and her debut chapbook, Temporary Stasis, which was shortlisted for The Patrick KavanaghAward, was published by Broken Sleep Books in August 2022. She was granted an agility award by the Arts Council this year to work on her first full poetry collection. She was a runner up in Southword’s Literary Essay Competition 2023 and her CNF features in The Pig’s Back, Banshee, Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal and Annie Journal, and is forthcoming in Southword. A collection of personal essays will be published by Broken Sleep Books in September 2024. She holds an MA with distinction in Creative Writing from UCC and is currently studying for a PhD in Poetry also at UCC. She is co-editor of new Cork based literary and visual arts journal, The Four Faced Liar.


Entry Requirements:

Applicants must be at least 18 years old at course commencement.

Contact Details for Further Information


Please note our refund policy as follows
100% refund  if student cancels before course commencement
100% refund if student's course is cancelled due to insufficient numbers. 
If the student cancels after the first week of the course - full refund minus €50 processing fee