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Interview with Beth Kephart, Juncture Workshops Co-Founder

In case you missed my review of this must have workbook — Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit — you must check out my review.

Today, Beth Kephart stops by to answer a few questions about her workbook and Juncture, memoir workshops and a newsletter.  Please give her a warm welcome.

After teaching memoir at Penn, what prompted you to create your own series of workshops focused on writing memoir?  Was the process from idea to launching your first workshop long? And what obstacles did you face and how did you deal with those?

Serena, I helplessly love memoir. I read it with real hunger, deep interest, open questions. I have been asked by many adult writers if I could work privately on individual manuscripts. I have given memoir talks across the country and run one day memoir workshops in communities and seen what can happen when adults gather to write about their lives. It felt like it was time to create something like Juncture. It took more than a year to roll this out. We wanted to make something beautiful. Find the right sites. Create a gorgeous web site and brochure series. Build a robust syllabi. It took a lot of time and love.

Juncture is a joint project with your equally talented husband; how has that journey been?  How do you find artistic balance when you’re working closely together?

Bill is enormously talented. I love his art, his eye, his interest in building meaningful and artful communities. We have collaborated on many projects throughout the years. The creation of Juncture, which involves an Illustrated newsletter, videos, and the workshops themselves, has been deeply engaging and very personal and something we talk about and plan together. We rarely disagree on any aspect of this initiative.

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook is a collection of exercises or more.  Are these the same exercises you use in your workshops?  What have been the reactions from participants to those exercises?

I actually never teach the same thing twice. I develop themes for each workshop and work towards them. I may teach some version of some of these exercises but mostly what is in the book was created for buyers of the book. The exercises are holistic. One thing builds to the next and the next. You can do each exercise as a singular experience or you can progressively build toward key elements of your memoir. I loved thinking about the accretive process.

While I never teach the same thing, while I build an intense curriculum that creates many opportunities to study memoir and to write multiple pieces, while I supplement all teaching with excerpts I have on hand and use to develop ideas that rise spontaneously … I always see incredible growth in the Juncture writers over the five days we have together. The kind of growth that makes me cry. And because these writers most often come back for another session months later, I see how they have continued to find their voices and stories in the meantime. It is hugely emotional to be a part of this. We memorialize the experience with a book each writer receives. Portraits Bill will take. Final pages published. Proof of our community and process.

You’ve included illustrations from your husband in this workbook. Did you give him the freedom to create anything he wanted or did you offer him guidance?  Are there plans to include photography in future editions (I know there will be second and third editions)?

Bill has absolute freedom with the art. I am surprised by each sketch he shows me. I love each sketch. His work makes me happy. No plans for another version, but yes, as I have established, I can’t stop thinking about memoir. 

For those interested in signing up for your workshop, what advice would you give about preparing for the workshop in advance? How should they approach the experience? Do you expect them to have a memoir project already in mind?

I prepare my workshop goers. Two months ahead of time the participants are sent PDF packages with excerpt readings, assignments, a guide to the one full book we all read as part of the process, and so much more. I run a workshop for those who have not yet defined their memoir project and one for those already deep into their book. They are entirely different and very respectful of where each writer is in the process.

Thank you, Beth, for sharing your thoughts with us.  If you’re looking for a great memoir teacher, Beth is your lady.

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 210 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit, is the perfect workbook for budding memoirists because it provides not only writing exercises but enough room to write inspirations down.  Users can even staple additional pages in the book if they need more room.

What I love about the workbook, other than that it is written by Beth Kephart, is that the illustrations could jog the brain into writing and the exercises vary from writing about a first memory to writing a poem about an event.  Born from her Juncture workshops, Kephart uses those experiences to offer writers exercises that will leave them inspired to tackle that memoir or other writing project they’ve been thinking about.  For example, in the writing about your first lie exercise, there are tips about finding the bigger story in the lie, as well as suggestions to think about the details to make them alluring and to think about who you were before the lie was told and who you were after it was told.

The workbook is broken down in to finding your voice, finding the true you, hunting for memory, navigating your world, using photographs to job memory or inspire, and many other topics.  I love how the exercises help you tease out details for your writing, and by the end of the workbook, you should be prepared to tackle that memoir or other work you’re looking to finish.  Always remember that the truth matters and that your memoir is not just about you!  Very sage advice.

If you’re looking for a workbook full of exercises to get you thinking outside the box, Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit, is the one, especially if you’re writing a memoir.  Using your imagination, you could also adapt the exercises to suit your fiction writing needs or just get writing in general, if you’re a little rusty.  Kephart has done it again.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of twenty-two books, publishing memoir, young adult literature, a corporate fairytale, an autobiography of a river, and an essay/photography collection.

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir (Gotham), based in part on Kephart’s teaching at Penn (where she won the 2015 Beltran Teaching Award), won the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award (Motivational Category), was featured as a top writing book by O Magazine, and was named a Best Writing Book by Poets and Writers. Small Damages (Philomel) was named a 2013 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book and a best book of the year by many publications. Going Over (Chronicle) was the 2014 Parents’ Choice, Gold Medal Winner/Historical Fiction and a Booklist Editor’s Choice. One Thing Stolen (Chronicle) was a 2015 Parents’ Choice Gold Medal winner. Kephart’s 2014 Shebooks e-memoir is Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss One Wing at a Time. Her 2013 middle grade historical novel, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent (Temple University Press), was named a top book of the year by Kirkus.

Kephart is a National Book Award nominee and a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize. She writes a monthly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune, has given keynote addresses on the state of literature and teaching, and served as a judge for the National Book Awards, the National Endowment for the Arts, and PEN. 

Kephart was one of 50 Philadelphia writers chosen for the year-long Philadelphia’s Literary Legacy, exhibited at the Philadelphia International Airport. Excerpts from her Love: A Philadelphia Affair were the subject of a six-month Airport exhibit. She is a Radnor High Hall of Fame.

Kephart’s most recent book—This Is the Story of You—was published by Chronicle and is a Junior Library Guild and Scholastic Book Club selection, on the 2017 TAYSHAS list, a VOYA Perfect Ten, and a Top Ten New Jersey Book.

Kephart will release two middle grade books with Caitlyn Dlouhy of Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. She is the co-founder of Juncture Workshops, offering memoir workshops and resources to writers across the country.

Mailbox Monday #431

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog. To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Martha, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Loving Robert Lowell by Sandra Hochman

Turner Publishing proudly presents the first of three new literary works by Sandra Hochman, author of Walking Papers. When asked in 1976 by a reporter from People Magazine if her first two novels were autobiographical, Sandra Hochman replied, “My real life is much more fabulous than the books. One day I plan to write about it–men, Paris and women’s liberation. It will probably be called Unreal Life.”

Hochman first met Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Robert Lowell in 1961 at the Russian Tea Room in New York. She was to interview him for Encounter magazine. Hochman was twenty-five and had recently returned from Paris where she had lived with her husband for four years. They were now separated. Lowell was forty-three with plans to leave his wife. Hochman remembers it as the day that changed her life. The two poets fell in love instantly, and before the night was over, they had vowed to stay together forever. In Hochman’s first literary work in almost forty years, she writes in startling detail about the torrid and ultimately doomed affair that would follow.

Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks, a giveaway win from Diary of an Eccentric.

Which would you pick: the person you love or your own dreams?
What would you do if given a second chance at that decision?

Eight years ago Emma Shaw picked her career and family over the man she loved, Fredrick Wentworth. Since then she has built a career in publishing and spends her free time making sure her father and sisters are taken care of. Fredrick has spent the same years building his career as a screenwriter under increasing public scrutiny as a celebrity. When the editor of Fredrick’s first book is injured, Emma is forced to travel with Fredrick on his book tour.

Tension builds for the two former lovers over the course of the tour. Emma and Fredrick must face their emotional baggage and their misunderstanding about how their break-up impacted the other. Will they be able to find their way back together for a second chance at love?

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, which I purchased the minute she announced it.

What are we supposed to do with that lovely, infuriating, instigating, mischievous blank page? Who are we, when we’re being uncommonly honest? Where do we stand, in the landscape of truth? How do we discover and profess the story of our life when lives are such strange and messy things? Frankly, why bother?

In Tell the Truth. Make It Matter. Beth Kephart offers an insider’s look at the making of true tales-and an illustrated workbook to guide the wild ride. Combining smartly selected samples with abundantly fresh ideas, dozens of original exercises with cautions, questions with answers, Kephart inspires, encourages, and persistently believes in those with a story to tell. Write this, Truth says. Read this. Consider this. Discover who you are. Have some honest fun with words.

Truth could not come from a more authoritative source-Beth Kephart, who, as an award-winning writer of 22 books, an award-winning teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, a winner of the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award (motivational category) for Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, a nationally renowned speaker, and a partner in Juncture Writing Workshops, has mastered the art of leading readers and writers toward the stories of themselves. Truth should find a home among high school teachers, college professors, workshop leaders, autodidacts, secret writers and public ones. It is the perfect (graduation, birthday, holiday, friendship) gift-to others, and to oneself.

Dunkirk by Joshua Levine for review for TLC Book Tours.

The epic history of Dunkirk, May 1940: when more than 300,000 trapped Allied troops were dramatically rescued from destruction at the hands of Nazi Germany by an extraordinary seaborne evacuation.

The true history of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians involved in the evacuation during the nine days from 27 May–4 June 1940 has passed into legend.

Now the subject of an epic motion picture from director Christopher Nolan, starring Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance – the story Winston Churchill described as a ‘miracle’ is narrated by bestselling author Joshua Levine in its full, sweeping context.

Including new interviews with veterans and survivors, this book goes behind the scenes to explore the real lives of those soldiers, bombed and strafed on the beaches for days on end, without food and ammunition; the civilians whose boats were overloaded; the airmen who risked their lives to buy their companions on the ground precious time; and those who did not escape.

Told from the viewpoints of land, sea and air, Joshua Levine’s Dunkirk is a dramatic account of this glorious defeat.

What did you receive?