INTERVIEW WITH SHARON HARRIGAN
When did you first feel like a writer?
When I was twelve I won a writing contest and had my poem and photo published in the local neighborhood paper. When I was fourteen, I started taking poetry classes at the Detroit Institute of Arts every Saturday. I was the only kid, but everyone treated me like a peer. Like a fellow writer. That’s when I realized I could be a writer—or, maybe, that I already was. In high school, some of my poems started appearing in a few national literary journals. But it wasn’t the publishing part that made the writing feel real. It was the community of other writers taking me seriously.
What is your philosophy about teaching a writing class?
For me, being a teacher is more like being a coach than it is like being a judge or a critic. My goal is to help writers make their work the best it can be. That includes talking about technique and craft and also providing moral support and encouragement.
If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web. Not only is she a talking spider, she is compassionate and smart, eloquent and generous. She is an innovative and imaginative writer who never gives up until she reaches her goal. She is a loyal and devoted friend. And she does what no one ever believed was possible.
Sharon Harrigan has a B.A. in English from Columbia University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University. She has been teaching memoir writing at WriterHouse in Charlottesville since 2014.
Sharon has published over four dozen essays, reviews, and short stories. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Virginia Quarterly Review, Pleiades, Slice, Narrative, Pearl, Prime Number, Silk Road, Mid American Review, Louisiana Literature, Apercus Quarterly, Rain Taxi, Hip Mama, Fiction Writers’ Review, Streetlight Magazine, Passing Through Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Rumpus. She is a contributing editor at The Nervous Breakdown and at Silk Road Review.
Sharon’s current and former students have published their work in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Rumpus, NPR, Gravel, The Guardian, Gettysburg Review, Bay Journal, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Living Luthern Magazine, Mothers Always Write, Fluvanna Review, Charlottesville Family, The Ethos Collection, and Strong 4 LIfe, among others.
WHAT WRITERHOUSE STUDENTS ARE SAYING ABOUT SHARON
“Sharon always approaches her students as equals, asking them questions about their work that she would of any other fellow writer. “What’s the structure for telling your own life story? Is it chronological? Where does it end? Which parts get more space and emphasis? What’s the climax? What are the mysteries? How do you create suspense? These are issues I struggle with a lot, too.” Thanks to Sharon’s expertise and support, I never feel alone in my writing. We’re in this together.” Carole Duff, Memoir in a Year Part I student 2015
“I enrolled in this year-long class with the intention that I would finally write the memoir that I have been trying to write (in fits and starts) for over ten years. Over half-way through, I am edging towards completing a rough draft of my book. I credit my success on Sharon Harrigan’s generous and steady guidance about memoir craft and process and the support of fellow memoirists in the class who are on similar writing journeys. The class has provided a welcome and, for me, essential container for writing the story I have been both dreading and longing to tell.” Leslie Middleton, Memoir in a Year Part I student 2016
“The Memoir in a Year class is exactly what I needed to get the book out of my head and onto paper. No longer is writing a book a ‘bucket list’ item for me. I’m now moving onto trying to get my book published!” K.T. Sancken, Memoir in a Year Part I student 2015
“I’ve learned more about creative nonfiction in this class than any of the shorter classes I’ve had in the past. The year-long experience has helped me to go deeper, to find a way to create a meaningful narrative arc out of the tangled yarns of my life. Sharon has a gift for teaching with empathy, insight, clarity and knowledge.” Basira Harpster, Memoir in a Year Part I student 2016
“I am so incredibly grateful for the Memoir in a Year course. I did not consider myself a writer prior to joining this year. I simply knew I had a story to tell and I was unsure how to get started. Sharon is an excellent guide through this process. I am so grateful for the friendships, encouragement, education and WRITING that I have accomplished through this course.” Sera S., Memoir in a Year student 2016
“The Memoir in a Year class is exactly what I needed to get the book out of my head and onto paper. No longer is writing a book a ‘bucket list’ item for me. I’m now moving onto trying to get my book published!” K.T. Sancken, Memoir in a Year Part II student 2016
“The first year of the memoir class, I produced a full draft. The second year, I discovered the thread. For this growth and progress, I credit my classmates’ and Sharon’s feedback, the reading and discussion of model memoirs, craft books, and essays, plus in-class and assigned writing prompts. Many exercises led to fruitful revision or provided the basis for my weekly blog posts. If you want to write a book-length memoir, whether you plan to publish or share it only with your family, Sharon’s class is the one for you.” Carole Duff, Memoir in a Year Part II student 2016
“While I’m still finishing my second draft, I have begun meeting with agents. During an agent meeting at a conference I described the work we’re doing in Sharon’s class. He told me I was on the right track and gave me his email address so I can send him the finished product. As I walked out of that meeting, contact information in hand, I realized how lucky I am to have worked with Sharon over the past two years, and how lucky we are to have this program at WriterHouse.” Lisa Ellison, Memoir in a Year Part II student 2016