How to Write a Family Memoir

Do you have a family story that you’re bursting to tell? This course will guide you through a series of stimulating writing exercises to help you tell the tale.

Learn how to make use of photos, memorabilia and heirlooms, and explore your family’s culture and recurring themes.

The course dynamic often creates a community of memoirists who continue to support each other after the course is over. It attracts a variety of writers, some of whom intend to write for their family and friends, and others who have publication in mind. Former students have gone on to publish essays and stories. One writing assignment for this course turned into a book.

About the instructor

  • Claudia Cornwall

    Claudia Cornwall, BA Hons, PhD, is a successful freelance writer whose second book, Letter from Vienna, won a 1996 B.C. Book Prize for non-fiction.

    Her articles have appeared in several national publications, including The Globe and Mail and Reader's Digest. She earned her PhD in philosophy from the University of Calgary and has taught undergraduate philosophy at the University of Toronto.

    In 2011, she won a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Journalism Award worth $20,000. Her book At the World's Edge: Curt Lang's Vancouver 1937–1998 was published in October 2011. Find out more at www.claudiacornwall.com.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Online - Claudia Cornwall $504.00 1 Register

Instructional hours: 24

For online offerings, registration may close up to two business days before the course begins. Your course begins on the first date listed and ends six days after the last date listed. The interim dates/times are not your actual online class times.

What will I learn?

By the end of the course, you will be able to do the following:

  • Examine different memoir forms
  • Recognize the elements of a story
  • Identify ethical issues that writing a family memoir raises
  • Acquire a basic understanding of research tools that can help you
  • Differentiate a non-fictional account from a fictional treatment based on fact and evaluate the advantages/disadvantages of these two approaches for your project
  • Gain confidence in receiving feedback about stories that are, by their very nature, quite personal
  • Revise and improve first drafts
  • Write an enticing opening
  • Create suspense so your readers will want to keep turning the pages
  • Develop a theme and focus your writing

How will I learn?

  • Course content will arrive via email
  • You will complete weekly assignments and email them to your instructor
  • Your instructor will provide comments and suggestions on each piece that you write
  • Your classmates will divide into smaller groups of writers, who will provide additional feedback to each other

How will I be evaluated?

You will not receive a grade; however, you will receive comments and feedback on your writing.

Textbooks and learning materials

  • Zinsser, William. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, Revised edition: May 20, 1998: Mariner Books.
  • Other custom course materials will be available by email. 
Course fees do not include textbooks or other materials, which you may purchase from the SFU Bookstore. We recommend you purchase your textbooks as soon as you've registered. Quantities at the bookstore are limited.

Hardware and software requirements 

We deliver this course using SFU's online course management system, Canvas. You will receive course details and Canvas access instructions on the first day of the course. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.

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