Writer and teacher Natalie Serber‘s weekend workshop, Writing About Ourselves, runs Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2, and is open to writers of all levels.
Leave with a collection of prose pieces or the start of a longer project after this class, where you’ll explore and rediscover the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
What’s one thing you hope your students will take away from the class?
I want my students to walk out of this workshop, of any workshop I teach, knowing that their story told in their unique voice absolutely matters.
What sorts of writers will you be reading/assigning in class? Why?
We have so little time together in this weekend workshop that I want to spend most of it generating work and then hearing what we’ve gotten down on the page. For inspiration, we will be reading short selections from Lydia Davis, Elizabeth Tallent, Charles Baxter, Abigail Thomas, Anton Chekov, Denis Johnson, and Toni Morrison.
What’s your teaching philosophy?
I am very protective of the writing time and the work. My goal is that no one ever leaves a workshop of mine feeling shut down. We learn equally from what we do well as we do from our failures. Often, we are so close to our work that we cannot tell which is which. By focusing on what’s working in a story or essay, what isn’t working becomes more obvious. Questions I keep in mind: What is this story/essay about? Who tells the story, why now, and to what effect? Is character revealed through action? How is place utilized (or under utilized)? How does the writer manage time? Answering these questions helps the writer come to discover what is emerging, or trying to emerge, in their work.
What advice do you have about getting into the habit of writing regularly?
Don’t be picky about where and when. If you need a beautiful, quiet space and a chunk of time to get the work done, it may not happen. Our lives are busy and complicated. My advice is to steal writing time wherever you can. Write for 10 minutes in your car in the grocery store parking lot. Write during your lunch break, on a bench in the park. I wrote in my car outside my children’s pre-school. It’s amazing what you can get down when you know you only have 10 minutes.
Are any of your works online and available to the public?
You can find “Developmental Blah Blah,” a short story from my collection, Shout Her Lovely Name (Mariner Books), over on the terrific 5 Chapters website. My book reviews are up at The New York Times, The Oregonian, and The San Francisco Chronicle.
What are you working on right now? Where did the idea come from?
I’m working on a novel about a family living in a small town in Oregon. The mother is recovering from breast cancer treatment, dealing with the changed landscape of her body, and her daughters, twin thirteen-year-olds, are also facing new bodies. The girls occupy the liminal space between childhood and adulthood. I like the tension created by the X plotline—the rising of the girls’ experiences and the falling of the mother’s—intersecting in the novel. Of course it’s like life, but it’s distilled in my novel. The mother’s body changes so swiftly due to her treatment and the girls, in possession of this new power and vulnerability, make some terrible decisions.
The novel was inspired by an image I saw, of a yellow canary, its wing sticking out in an awkward position, stranded amidst some litter near a brick wall. The discovery of the bird became the inciting event for my novel.
Let’s talk writing inspiration—what’s the No. 1 thing that drives you to write?
I write for the same reason I read, to feel less alone, to remember that I’m human.
Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how?
Natalie Serber is the author of a memoir, Community Chest (Two Sylvias Press), and the story collection, Shout Her Lovely Name (Mariner Books), a New York Times Notable Book of 2012, a summer reading selection from O, The Oprah Magazine, and an Oregonian Top 10 Book of the Pacific Northwest. Her fiction has appeared in The Bellingham Review, Gulf Coast, Inkwell, and Hunger Mountain. Essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Rumpus, and Salon, among others. She has been the recipient of the John Steinbeck Award, Tobias Wolff Award, and H.E. Francis Award, and one of her stories was shortlisted in Best American Short Stories. She teaches fiction and the personal essay at Marylhurst University, the Attic Institute, and at various conferences including Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Natalie received her MFA from Warren Wilson College. She lives in Portland, Oregon.