Bloom Creates New Memoir and Personal Essay Specialization on Coursera

Olivia DrakeJanuary 15, 20196min
Amy Bloom Hamilton Prize photo c Elena Seibert copy
Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, recently launched a new nonfiction writing course housed on the Coursera platform. This is Wesleyan’s 21st free massive, open, online course (MOOC) offered through Coursera.

Launched on Jan. 14, Bloom’s Memoir and Personal Essay: Write About Yourself Specialization shows participants how to write with confidence. Taught by award-winning essayists and memoirists, this specialization provides tips, prompts, exercises, readings, and challenges that prepare students to write compelling nonfiction.

Bloom, author of two New York Times best-sellers, also is professor of the practice in creative writing and professor of the practice, English. In this Q&A, Bloom discusses the new specialization. (The Q&A also appears on Coursera.)

Q: What is the Memoir and Personal Essay Specialization?

A: The Memoir and Personal Essay Specialization focuses on these two popular forms of creative writing about the self. One of the wonderful opportunities in this kind of work is that memory and observation are even more important than imagination and the ability to create fictional plot lines. Here, you weave all these skills together to help you put to paper the story you’ve always wanted to share.

Q: Who should take this Specialization?

A: Our ideal learner is anyone who wants to tell their story. Age ain’t nothing but a number! Whether you are a 20-year-old with something to say about yourself and the world in which you live, or an 80-year-old with a lot of memories and stories, this Specialization is for you. Your audience could be as wide as the world or as narrow as your family; if you have a story you’d like to share, this is the Specialization to help you create writing from within that people will enjoy reading.

Q: Why was this Specialization created?

A: In 2016, Wesleyan launched a popular Creative Writing Specialization, and feedback from those courses suggested further interest in nonfiction. So we gathered more writers—award-winning memoirists and essayists—and turned our attention to these enormously popular genres, with the intention of presenting answers to the essential questions about writing about the self: how to find your story, how to develop your own distinctive voice, how to create an interesting and powerful narrative, how to pull your story pieces together, and how to make it engaging for the reader. I think we’ve succeeded!

Q: What will learners take away from the Memoir and Personal Essay Specialization?

A: This Specialization is all about creative nonfiction. When our students finish each course in the sequence, they will have written multiple scenes from their life, many of which may be part of a final memoir or essay. Each course presents the ideas of writing creative nonfiction from a new perspective, and students will be able to learn, from each of these four masters of the genre, tools and strategies to further their own works.

Q: What part of the Specialization excites you the most?

A: We all just love the interview segments. The opportunity to talk to great writers about their observations, their techniques, and their own experience in writing has been more fun, and more fascinating, than we’d even expected. We can’t wait for you to hear these dialogues!

Q: What is one of the most surprising things about writing memoirs that you will cover?

A: It is sometimes a surprise, and a little daunting, for people to discover that having a good story or an interesting event in one’s background is not enough to create a compelling piece of writing. This Specialization is designed to help our students get from an interesting moment—or a lifetime of moments—to memorable writing.

Q: What do you want prospective learners to know about the Memoir and Personal Essay Specialization?

A: This is a course by writers, for writers at all levels of experience. Our goal is to open up the possibilities to people who have a wish—even a need—to write about the world without and the world within.