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Meet the Teaching Artist: Writing a Memoir About Your Job with Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

by Writing Workshops Staff

8 months ago

Meet the Teaching Artist: Writing a Memoir About Your Job with Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

by Writing Workshops Staff

8 months ago

We are pleased to introduce Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman, the instructor for Get to Work: Writing a Memoir About Your Job. Jessica, the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Sounds Like Titanic, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, brings her notable experience to this course. Her work has been published in McSweeney's, The New York Times Magazine, and Brevity, and she serves as an Associate Professor of English at Northern Kentucky University.

This seminar is an opportunity for writers to explore a frequently overlooked area in literary memoirs: the workplace. With Jessica's guidance, participants will learn how to craft narratives from their professional experiences, whether from past or current jobs or roles assumed for the purpose of writing. The course aims to uncover what these experiences can tell us about larger societal issues and how to approach writing about work in a way that is both insightful and safe for one's career. It includes discussions on selected works where authors have successfully written about their professional lives, practical writing exercises for vividly portraying work experiences, and the option for participants to share their work for constructive feedback. By the end of the seminar, attendees will gain fresh perspectives on writing about their professional lives, along with tips for doing so in a creative and cautious manner.

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?

I created "Get to Work: Writing a Memoir About Your Job" because I love reading memoirs about people at work, and I don't think there is enough literary writing on this subject. I want to encourage people to think about their work lives as a rich subject for writing, address the real challenges that come with writing about this subject, and introduce exercises to help writers get started writing about their jobs.

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?

I follow a simple but effective process for all of my teaching: First I introduce some big questions and ideas on the subject (What does it mean to write about work?). Then we take a close look at some excerpts from successful memoirs that model various writing strategies. We name and isolate those strategies, then practice doing some. My favorite part of each class is when students share what they've been able to write in just a few minutes (if they want to - there is no pressure to share).

What was your first literary crush?

I don't know if I've ever felt a literary crush. From a young age, I was obsessed with reading in part because it offered escape from the middle school world of crushes and heartbreak. Like many, what I'm in love with when I read is the act of putting my mind in a world that is completely outside of my own.

What are you currently reading?

Emergency Sex by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, & Andrew Thompson. I picked this up randomly, and it has turned out to be a very readable, collectively-written memoir about working for the UN in the 1990s.

How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?

I am constantly collecting moments from my life - things people say, quotes from what I'm reading, random thoughts that occur to me - I send these all as emails to myself. When these random moments begin to reveal a larger story, I know there's a writing project worth exploring.

Where do you find inspiration?

Reading. Reading, reading, reading.

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?

When I was in graduate school, I had a professor, Brenda Wineapple, who encouraged us to take material we had and put it in a narrative structure that we usually looked down upon. I took my material and put it into a collage of short snippets. Prior to this, I had always thought the collage-snippet structure was annoying/pretentious. But that exercise led to a huge breakthrough in my writing, and allowed me to find the right structure for my first book.

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

Abigail Thomas's Thinking About Memoir is hands down the best craft book I've encountered on memoir writing. It is a moving, hilarious, instructive delight. And sadly out of print, though still available used online. My students universally adore it.

Bonus question: What’s your teaching vibe?

Organized and empathetic. The organization is part of the empathy; I value my students' time and try to pack in as much learning as I can, while also making space for us to just connect with one another as humans.

Learn More About Working with Jessica:

You can learn more about Jessica's upcoming Get to Work: Writing a Memoir About Your Job Zoom Seminar, and sign up now. Join us for this unique seminar with Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman and begin turning your work experiences into engaging memoir stories.

Instructor Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman (Chick-KET-toe HĪND-man) grew up in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her debut, Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir was named a finalist for The National Book Critics Circle Award, a “best book of 2019 ” by Amazon and Vox, described as “moving” by the New Yorker, “outrageously funny” by O, The Oprah Magazine, and “fascinating,” by NPR. Her recent writing has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The New York Times Magazine, Brevity, and Hippocampus. She holds a BA in Middle Eastern studies and an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and a PhD in English from the University of North Texas. She is an Associate Professor of English at Northern Kentucky University where she recently won the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award and the Excellence in Research, Scholarship, & Creative Activity Award. She lives in Newport, Kentucky with her husband, the astronomer Nathan De Lee.

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