Interview with Memorist – Jessica Handler


Today I’m back to introduce you to another of our nine workshop presenters from this years upcoming Writers Conference at The Turnage Theatre on March 19th, 2016.

Jessica HJessica Handlerandler  will be presenting a workshop called: “There’s More Than “Me” in Memoir,” on how to write and tell a well-written story. She is the author of Invisible Sisters: A Memoir, and Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss. Her nonfiction has appeared on NPR, in Tin House, Drunken Boat, Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and More Magazine.

The oldest of three sisters, and the only one still living. Her sister Susie died of leukemia when she was eight and Jessica was ten. Her sister Sarah died of a rare blood disorder called Kostmann’s Syndrome, effectively the opposite of leukemia, when she was 27 and Jessica was 32.

Jessica Handler

She earned her  MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte (N.C.) and a B.S. in Communication from Emerson College in Boston.

Honors for her writing include residencies at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, tJessica Handler - Invisible Sisters (2)he Hambidge Center for Creative Arts & Sciences, a 2010 Emerging Writer Fellowship from The WJessica Handler - Braving the Fire (2)riters Center in Bethesda, Maryland, the 2009 Peter Taylor Nonfiction Fellowship at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and special mention for a 2008 Pushcart Prize. She currently lives in an old house in Atlanta, with her husband and more than one cat.

Without further delay, here is our interview with Jessica Handler:

Question:  What do you feel makes a good memoir?

A good memoir relates the author’s experience and his or her understanding of that experience. These are what I teach as the “nominal” and the “substantive” elements of memoir. It’s one thing to write about what happened to you, but it’s an entirely different level of craft and engagement with the reader to write about what that experience has come to mean to you, and why, or how you’ve changed and grown as a result of that life-changing experience.

Question:  After the facts, what is the most important part of non-fiction?

What a great question. Thanks for emphasizing facts! The most important part of creative nonfiction, after the facts are applied to the story, is how the author uses those facts. Are they using the facts as direct reporting, or are the facts a lens through which the author sees his or her story? How can those well-chosen facts support and add to the narrative? What do we leave out, and why do we make that choice?

Question:  What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had in your writing career?

Without a doubt, the most rewarding experience for me continues to be reader reactions to Invisible Sisters: A Memoir. When a reader tells me that my story, and my family’s story, has helped them know that they’re not alone in their own story of loss, then I feel like I’ve done something more than write a book that celebrates my family and who we could have been.

Question:  Do you have a favorite workshop you teach?

I love to teach, so I could say that my undergraduate classes in long form essay, or in narratives of the self, or screenwriting are my favorites, but then I’d be leaving out my workshops about memoir, about writing well about trauma, or about the role of research and discovery in nonfiction.  Can we say “all of them?”

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? If you haven’t already registered for the conference you need to go to our website and do it before you miss this year’s fantastic line-up. Remember, you only have nineteen days until the conference festivities begin with our amazing Friday night Kick-Off Event on March 18th with our keynote speaker, Southern writer, Sharyn McCrumb. Pitch the Publisher and Writers Open Mic are back again this year.

On Saturday, March 19th, the 4th Annual Pamlico Writers Conference & Competition begins at The Turnage Theatre. This year’s theme is “Exploring the Writer’s Voice” and we’ll have nine workshops centered around various aspects of the writer’s voice. Our day begins with a panel discussion on voice (Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction), after that we break up into three sets of three workshops during the rest of the day. Check out our website and see which of the workshops you’d like to attend and don’t forget to sign-up before it’s too late.


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Looking forward to meeting all of you at this year’s conference.

Kay Wilson


Co-sponsored by: 2 Arts of the Pamlico


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