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Michael Steinberg's Blog--Fourth Genre: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction

AWP Virtual Conference 2021- "When Confession Isn't Enough: Adversity, Art, and Remembering Mike Steinberg"

AWP Virtual Conference 2021

Wednesday March 3 to Sunday March 7

Registered participants with AWP, please join us for our Zoom panel:

"When Confession Isn't Enough: Adversity, Art, and Remembering Mike Steinberg"

Thursday March 4, 6:20 to 7:20 EST


Writers frequently choose to write about personal tragedies such as debilitating illness and loss. The result is often a direct confessional that bemoans or simply describes those difficulties. Our panel of veteran teacher/writers will offer examples and strategies to help writers transform traumatic experiences into artfully crafted, fully dimensional, personal narratives. We face a sad and strange dilemma: panelist Michael Steinberg died in December 2019. We will discuss our topic and honor him by using examples of his work and advice.


During the online presentation, AWP encourages presenters and attendees to interact in the text-based chat box as they can. Events will be on-demand after their premiere until April 3, 2021. A video of the panel will be available after April 3.




Event Participants: Thomas Larson, Mimi Schwartz, Sandi Wisenberg, and Michelle Morano


Good evening and welcome to "When Confession Isn't Enough." It's a topic that all of us have dealt with—and continue to deal with as writers and as teachers. One of the strong impulses to write—be it memoir, poetry, drama, or fiction—is to capture and make sense of the difficulties we face in our lives. But to engage our readers—to avoid the "Why do I need to know that?" response—we must do more than describe the event. We must make the struggle of living through the event, in turn, make readers say, "Ah, I do need to know that!" What literary alchemy makes the difference? This is what we will discuss, using examples form our own writing and that of others we admire (or not).


What We Will Be Talking About


·      Thomas Larson


In writing a memoir about my relationship with my mother (perhaps the most depressed, inner-oriented, and distant person I've known), there is a tendency to engage the distance as something denied me, something I deserved and was not given. But that's overtly confessional. Instead, I find her far more interesting when I engage the distance as a kind of intimacy that she had with unknown and fearful forces and that I have with distance or unrevealed aspects in my own life. To write of her as spirit who embodies her ghost and haunts me (literally), I hope to turn the adversity she faced in life into an artistic expression that also makes sense in my life.


·      Mimi Schwartz

My focus will be on strategies for writing about grief in ways that provide comfort, insight, and better storytelling. I'll talk about two in particular: the role of humor and the gathering of OPV (Opposing Points of View) and how they enable writers to move beyond what Vivian Gornick calls "the situation" and find the deeper meaning of "the story." Using examples from other writers and my own work, I will show examples of illustrate tips and caveats for exploring adversity in memoir.


·      Sandi Wisenberg

I will talk about distance, how most of the time the best traumatic pieces become dynamic when there's a distance between the now of the narration and the then of the event. That distance allows contemplation but also a variety of new emotions. I will give examples and perhaps talk about exceptions.


·      Michele Morano

Michele Morano's presentation will focus on what Michael Steinberg called "the permission the [creative nonfiction] writer gives him/herself to imagine and rearrange." She will discuss the artistic dilemmas of writing about suicide and will share a short excerpt from an essay in which her solution to those dilemmas was to move away from a reliable narrator and to embrace a playful meta-discourse on the craft of creative nonfiction. 




 Links to pieces by and about Michael Steinberg:


State Diner, 1957 by Michael Steinberg




Michael Steinberg: A Remembrance and a Review by Thomas Larson





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