• Home
  • The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir // with Jennifer Browdy, PhD

The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir // with Jennifer Browdy, PhD

  • 25 March 2020
  • 05 May 2020
  • Online
  • 4

This six-week online course starts out from four fundamental premises about writing memoir:

  • Everyone has a life story worth exploring in writing;
  • Even if you don’t intend to publish your writing, the journey is worth taking as a voyage of self-understanding;
  • You don’t have to “be a writer” to write with passion and purpose about your life, in ways that others will find compelling and meaningful;
  • You don’t have to have a plan in place before you start writing; in fact, it can be better to just set off on the journey in a light-hearted way, without too many expectations or concerns.

In her Nautilus Award-winning writer’s guide, The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir, Jennifer developed a unique elemental journey framework, which she put into practice in her own memoir, What I Forgot…And Why I Remembered. The elemental journey uses the four elements—Earth, Water, Fire and Air—as potent metaphors for different stages and aspects of our lives. 

In this course, we’ll work with a different element each week, engaging with a variety of thought-provoking prompts that will invite you to write about key people, places and events at different stages of your life. You will explore the passions that have sent you off in new directions, as well as the challenges you have encountered in life. 

Worksheets, memoir excerpts and discussion questions will encourage reflection on the multifarious ways that a life story can be told. “The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir” will spark your creativity, generating a substantial amount of new writing while also offering specific guidance on how to refine your story, find your audience, and craft a dynamic, transformative memoir. 

See more at Jennifer Facebook event page and read Jennifer's "Purposeful Memoir as a Path to a Thriving Future," published in The Artful Mind here.

Week by Week

Week 1 / Embarking on the Journey

The first week will provide an introduction to the theory and practice of purposeful memoir, including some first forays into defining your own purpose in writing memoir, along with initial “warm-up” writing exercises.

Week 2 / Earth: Returning to the Ground of Childhood

Earth is an appropriate metaphor for the childhood years, birth to age 12, when so much of our personality is formed and our values set. We’ll read short excerpts from accounts of childhood by acclaimed writers such as Joy Harjo and Terry Tempest Williams, and begin to dig into key scenes from your own childhood.

Week 3 / Water: Joining the Cultural Stream of Your Time & Place

In the teenage and young adult years, the decade from 13 – 23, we join the cultural flow of our time and place, and either begin to swim with the tide, or strike off in our own direction. We’ll read accounts of these sometimes tumultuous years by memoirists such as James McBride and Audre Lorde, and begin to chart the waters of your own experience. 

Week 4 / Fire: The Passions, Trials and Tribulations of Adulthood

Fire is a potent element, which can represent both our passions and the challenges that come into every life. This week we’ll explore how the more fiery passages of our adult lives have unfolded, noting the ways that they connect to our formative experiences in childhood and youth. We’ll read some published narratives of claiming one’s passion as well as going through adult trials and tribulations, for example in memoirs by Eve Ensler and Gloria Anzaldua.

Week 5 / Air / Finding Your Purpose, Audience and Timeline

Air represents the space of reflection, and in this penultimate week of the class we’ll take some time to look back over the writing we’ve done, and think about defining a purpose and a target audience for the memoir you want to write. We’ll also do some work with timeline—aligning your personal history with the larger historical landscape of your time and place. 

Week 6 / Bringing it home: polishing and next steps

In the final week of the class, you’ll be invited to revise and polish one piece of writing to share with the group for peer and instructor feedback. We’ll also work on crafting a personal, purposeful “mission statement” for your memoir work, which will give you a firm platform from which to launch the next stage of your writing journey. 

Who Should Take This Class

Purposeful memoir is a contemplative practice that is excellent for people who are interested in writing a memoir for publication, as well as for anyone who would like to use writing as a means of reflecting more deeply on their life story. The class creates a welcoming circle that invites connection and community-building as we embark on an individual and collective exploration of our life experiences as they have unfolded in the larger landscapes of our time and place. 


In this online class our intention is to come together as a warm, encouraging writing community to inspire each other on a shared journey of inquiry into our lives. Each week a new set of resources, reflections, worksheets, and writing prompts will be released, offering multiple entry points into your own life story. Students should expect to spend 2-3 hours per week perusing resources and readings, participating in forum discussions, and responding to the writing prompts. There will be optional opportunities throughout the course for sharing excerpts from your writing for peer and instructor response, following structured guidelines for productive feedback. 

About the Teacher

Jennifer Browdy earned her MA and PhD in Comparative Literature at New York University; she has taught literature, writing and media arts at the college level for more than 30 years and is currently chair of the Language and Literature Division at Bard College/Simon’s Rock. Her memoir, What I Forgot ...And Why I Remembered was a finalist for the 2018 International Book Awards. Her writer’s guide, The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir, won a 2017 Nautilus Silver Award for “books that make the world better.” 

The Founding Director of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, an arts organization she ran for seven years, Jennifer has long had an interest in adult education and community arts activism. She provides coaching and manuscript review for authors in fiction and nonfiction, and offers memoir workshops nationally and internationally, including 2019 workshops at Mt. Holyoke College, the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia, Kripalu, Bioneers and the Transformative Language Arts Network. 

Jennifer is the editor of three anthologies: Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin America & the Caribbean (Beacon Press, 2017); African Women Writing Resistance: Contemporary Voices (University of Wisconsin Press, 2010); and Writing Fire: Celebrating the Power of Women’s Words (Green Fire Press, 2017). As publisher of Green Fire Press, Jennifer recently published Nature, Culture & the Sacred: A Woman Listens for Leadership, by Bioneers co-founder Nina Simons (Nautilus Gold Medal, 2019), and Wisdom Lessons: Spirited Guidance from an Ojibwe Great-Grandmother, by Native American activist Mary Lyons. She is also the editor of the online magazine Fired Up! Creative Expression for Challenging Times

Find out more at JenniferBrowdy.com

Recent articles and interviews with Jennifer on purposeful memoir:

“Purposeful Memoir as a Path to a Thriving Future.” The Artful Mind. Dec 2019/Jan2020.


Hyacinth Podcast - Episode 4, December 2019. “Memory Work: How our personal stories and public histories affect the way we move through the world.”


Other interviews and media here: https://www.jenniferbrowdy.com/media/

The TLA Network exists to support and promote individuals and organizations that use the spoken, written, or sung word as a tool for personal and community transformation.

Access our policies: Cookie Policy, Privacy Policy, Terms of Use

The Transformative Language Arts Network is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization

1741 Valley Forge Road, #175, Worcester, PA 19490 | tlan.coordinator@gmail.com

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software