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Meet the Teaching Artist: How to Write a Tragicomic Memoir with Elissa Bassist

by Writing Workshops Staff

6 months ago

Meet the Teaching Artist: How to Write a Tragicomic Memoir with Elissa Bassist

by Writing Workshops Staff

6 months ago

We are beyond thrilled to introduce you to the incredible teaching artist Elissa Bassist, who will be leading an exciting new series of craft seminars on how to write funny/memoirs. Elissa is she the editor of the "Funny Women" column on The Rumpus, and also the brilliant author of the memoir, Hysterical.

With a knack for cultural and personal criticism, her writing has been published by The New York Times, Marie Claire, and Creative Nonfiction, just to name a few. In her seminar, Elissa is ready to spill all the juicy details on how she accomplished the seemingly impossible task of writing a full-length book about herself. She'll divulge her invaluable insights, secrets, and instructions on the "rule of three," while sharing her own notebooks, rejections, research tales, and revision strategies. This seminar is a golden opportunity to learn how to captivate total strangers with your own life story, master the art of tragicomic comedy writing, and infuse humor into every aspect of your craft. So, whether you're an aspiring memoirist, a comedy writer, or simply looking to expand your artistic toolbox, this is the class for you. Get ready to be inspired, empowered, and equipped to offer the world a unique perspective it's been missing.

Hi, Elissa. Please introduce yourself to our audience.

Hi, I’m Elissa Bassist, a long-time editor, humor writing teacher, and the author of the award-deserving tragicomic memoir Hysterical. My dog's name is Benny, my ex-boyfriend's name is Fucktaco, and both of my therapists are named Gabi. As for my qualifications to teach this class, I've had 20+ years of therapy and have endured many tragedies (that I've turned into comedies for money and semi-fame). I look forward to our future friendship.

What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft? Or is this just your jam and you love it?

1.) Writing a book about yourself and your exes is hard, and I want to make it easier by telling students every hack I have.

2.) I think it's fun to make readers laugh while RIPPING THEM APART.

3.) We need more ways to talk/write about tragedy that help writers and readers process and heal-ish.

4.) I need to sell more copies of my book to impress my enemies.

Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?

Three straight hours of crying. Just kidding. For 2-ish hours I’ll lecture/gossip about how, exactly, to write a tragicomic memoir, and students will brainstorm a lot throughout class. The last 30 minutes is for students to ask me any professional or personal question. There will be infinity handouts, a decent number of pep-talks, and zero discussion of Succession. My favorite part of the class is when I talk and everyone writes down what I say.

What was your first literary crush?

Jonathan Safran Foer--DO NOT TELL HIM

What are you currently reading?

Everything. Monsters by Claire Dederer; I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (watching TV is reading/writing when you do it right); The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick; She's Nice Though by Mia Mercado; Vagina Obscura by Rachel E. Gross; Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, M.D.

Where do you find inspiration?

My 3a.m. thought spirals.

What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?

Write like a motherfucker. Recently I saw a TikTok where Cheryl Strayed defined the term, “‘Writing like a motherfucker’ means ultimately, really, deeply trusting yourself and saying, ‘I am not going to sit around and worry about whether what I have to say is important or that people are going to like what I’ve written or anyone’s going to be interested in it or if it matters or if it’s good enough or any of that stuff.’ 

But that what you concern yourself with is what is inside of you, and you concern yourself with getting all of that out. That you don’t write to please people. That you don’t write to publish. That you write with wild abandon: what’s in your mind, what’s in your heart. That you trust your intuition. That you follow where the writing leads you. That you say on the page or on the screen what you’re absolutely terrified to say out loud in your own life. That you trust that it’s going to be okay if you tell the truest truth that could possibly bear.

And I found that when I write in that way…is that all of the fears that I have…about being rejected, about people saying, ‘Why would I read this?’ or ‘You’re too much’ or ‘I’m going to judge you’ or ‘You’re a bad person’…all of those fears disappear….And it’s because I genuinely give all of myself to that. I’m incredibly rigorous with that emotional abandon.”

What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?

The craft book on comedy that currently I'm writing with Caitlin Kunkel. Or The War of Art by Steven Pressfield because it explains "resistance" and how to get out of your own way.

Learn More About Working with Elissa

You can learn more about Elissa's upcoming craft seminars and sign up now!

Instructor Elissa Bassist is the editor of the “Funny Women” column on The Rumpus and the author of the award-deserving memoir Hysterical. As a founding contributor to The Rumpus, she’s written cultural and personal criticism since the website launched in 2009. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Marie Claire, Creative Nonfiction, and more, including the anthology Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay.

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