Nina Schneider: Memoir Writing Series


created at: 2011-03-16
Memoir:  Jewish Life Stories  brought together a small group of aspiring writers in a safe, intimate atmosphere.  We met in quiet classroom in the rear of the Hebrew School where students were first given a writing prompt beginning with “I remember.”  They were asked to free write about any Jewish family event, such as a Seder or bar/bat mitzvah, that involved food (everybody could identify) and where something went awry.  We reviewed the basics of nonfiction story telling:  a first person narrator, a conflict, and the all-important details: both emotional and physical, as well as the use of dialogue and scene.  At the next class, each writer brought copies of their story to read aloud, and the class offered reactions and suggestions.

Many of the students expressed a desire to record their life experiences, including joys and challenges, for both family members and in at least one case, the general public.

In addition to connection through laughter, there were also tears as students felt safe enough to tell some quite serious emotional truths.  Fortunately for me, there were two therapists in the room and a box of tissues.  Each writer received encouragement, as well as kind, honest critique, such as where to add more information, where to cut, and what seemed confusing or out of sequence.

We also shared travel stories to sites of Jewish interest, with the majority of students writing about their trips to Israel.  In addition, we read short pieces by established writers that served as a model for each assignment.  Our last class of this series, held in early March included a workshop of short pieces based on the following assignment:

Reflect on a deep personal struggle accepting someone in your Jewish family from a different culture, religion, race or sexual orientation OR a close family member who has dramatically changed due to illness or injury.  Include at least one flash-forward – speculation about the future. Consider use of irony.  How is background information included- all at once or in chunks?   How does the narrator look for inspiration or comfort from nature or the natural world?

I can’t wait to hear more.  I am excited to encourage students to write down significant memories that may one day be artfully pieced together, like a mosaic, into a full-fledged memoir.  

Nina R. Schneider, MFA, teaches creative writing to undergraduates at Bentley University and to lifelong learners at Wheaton College’s continuing education program.  Her work has appeared in such publications as The New Vilna Review, Flashquake, Quick Fiction, Pindeldyboz on line and The Boston Literary Magazine.  She teaches Memoir:  Jewish Life Stories at the Tiferet Center of Temple Israel of Sharon and serves on the Steering Committee.