More than Memoir

3 points
Session I: May 26 - July 2
M, W 10:00 am - 12:10 pm
Instructor: Cris Beam
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Many of us want to write memoirs, but families—troubled or not—are loaded territory. Memories conflict with family lore; trauma in the past can trigger trouble in the present; and only the dead don’t mind when you spill their secrets. How do we navigate wisely, mining recollections without either slipping into solipsism or pandering to an imagined audience? In this class we’ll look at writers who have done it, such as James Baldwin, Annie Dillard, Vivian Gornick, Richard Rodriguez, and Sister Souljah, to trace their fault lines and unearth their strategies for remaining faithful to their readers while truthful to their lived experience.
This is a writing-intensive course, and students will write and workshop several family scenes. With the student work in hand, we’ll be able to explore issues of voice and point of view, and ways to gain enough emotional distance from characters to make them both believable and three-dimensional. We’ll build these scenes into a few full-length stories or, if a student wishes, chapters for a larger work.

Tuition & Fees
Most summer courses are offered at the standard Continuing Education tuition rate of
$1,570 per point ($4,710 for a 3-point course).
For more information on tuition and course fees, please refer to our Tuition & Fees page.

Materials Fee: $20
For questions about School of the Arts course content, please write to our summer team at For all other Summer Program questions, including admissions, registration, and billing, please contact the School of Continuing Education summer team at, or 212-854-9666.

About the Instructor

Cris Beam

Cris Beam is the author of To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013), which was a New York Times Notable Book; I Am J (Little, Brown 2011), which was named a Kirkus Best Book and Library Guild Selection and is the first book with a transgender character to be placed on California's recommended reading list for public high schools; and Transparent (Harcourt 2007), which won a Lambda Literary Award and was a Stonewall Honor book. more

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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.