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Word Works | Melissa Febos: In Praise of the Confessional

April 9, 2021 at 6:00 PM PDT

Melissa Febos

There is often a false binary drawn between the therapeutic and the artistic, as if making good art cannot be therapeutic. In her Word Works lecture, memoirist Melissa Febos—author of the critically acclaimed memoir Whip Smart and the essay collection Abandon Me—will discuss the therapeutic power of writing about intimate or traumatic experiences and how aesthetics play into that process.

After the talk, Febos will be interviewed by Hugo House prose writer-in-residence, Ruth Joffre.

All Word Works events this season will take place online. Tickets cost $15 general admission, $12 for members. We also have a $5 option for students or anyone who is financially disadvantaged. Tickets can be purchased at the bottom of the page.

This event will take place via CrowdCast, Pacific Time.

For tickets to all six Word Works events, purchase a series pass here.

Melissa Febos is the author of the memoir Whip Smart and the essay collection Abandon Me, which was a LAMBDA Literary Award finalist, a Publishing Triangle Award finalist, and an Indie Next Pick. Her third book, Girlhood, an illustrated essay collection, is forthcoming on March 30, 2021 from Bloomsbury. A craft book, Body Work, is forthcoming in 2022 from Catapult. In 2018, Febos was the recipient of the Jeanne Córdova Nonfiction Award from LAMBDA Literary and the Sarah Verdone Writing Award from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. She has been awarded prizes and fellowships from MacDowell, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Ragdale, Prairie Schooner, and others.  She is an associate professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches in the nonfiction writing program.

“We all craft a story we can live with. The one that makes ourselves easier to live with. This is not the one worth writing. To write your story, you must face a truer version of it. You must look at the parts that hurt, that do not flatter or comfort you. That do not spare you the trouble of knowing what made you, and what into. I used to wonder if my own difficulty in doing this made me a hypocrite. Now, I’m not sure I believe in hypocrites. We often prescribe for others the thing we most need. It is part of how we learn.”

―Melissa Febos, from Abandon Me

Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast, which was longlisted for The Story Prize. Her fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Kenyon ReviewGulf CoastPleiadesPrairie SchoonerNashville Review, and elsewhere. Her months-long interview series with the authors, editors, and curators of craft books, essays, and resources is freely available on the Kenyon Review blog. A graduate of Cornell University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Ruth lives in Seattle, where she teaches at Hugo House and co-organizes the Fight for Our Lives performance series.

Word Works craft talks by novelists, essayists, poets, and memoirists focus on writing as process rather than finished product, examining how language works to inspire and provoke new ideas through live close readings of the writer’s own or others’ work. These talks are designed to apply to writers of all genres as well as illuminate well-known works for avid readers. The talks are followed by an interview with a noted editor, writer, or critic.


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