Everyone Has a Story

Online writing class explores the nuances of memoir

Sam Uhl helps aspiring memoirists mine their own gems.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

When she was a little girl, Sam Uhl had the good luck to hear a lot of life stories on days her mother worked in a nursing home. “It was my daycare,” Uhl remembers of the hours when she was free to wander the corridors visiting some of the residents under her mother’s care. “I would toddle into one room or another, sit down and stare at someone until they spoke,” she says. “I heard many life stories that, as they often told me, would ‘make my toes curl.’ Which they occasionally did.”

But those stories were the seed for Uhl’s passion for helping others to tell their own stories, as she will be doing in this month’s three-part workshop “Writing Your Memoirs” from Blue Ridge Community College’s Center for Lifelong Learning, under the banner of her two-decade-old business The Cheerful Word. It was born when an astute businesswoman for whom Sam was ghostwriting a memoir gratis wondered why she wasn’t charging for the service.

“I began teaching workshops back in 2006 when people started showing interest in writing their own stories instead of having me ghostwrite them on their behalf,” she explains. She’s been college-certified for many years to teach the craft. “Memoir, as I teach it, is more about shifting the perspective on your life experiences to see what gems they uncover,” she explains. “It’s a method of self-exploration and discovery of how worthy and wonderful you are, without it feeling like therapy.” 

Although of necessity the three-class workshop will be conducted online, it’s nothing new for Uhl, who has been creating online workshops with international students for seven years: “I have lots of practice creating an intimate, safe and fun setting online during which students engage easily with one another.” She especially remembers one workshop with an 84-year-old and a 19-year-old who became close despite their age gap. “After eight weeks of examining themes on major life topics, they became, and still are, best friends,” she notes.

Paradoxically, Uhl believes that the subject of a memoir isn’t just the writer — even if some potential students think that their life is either too boring for anyone else’s interest, or too packed with incident to wrestle into a narrative. “I assure both groups that memoir is easy to write because it’s not utterly focused on oneself,” she explains. “A good story involves the writer’s experience with other people, places, adventures, values, beliefs, hardships overcome. It brings a story that’s both interesting to write and interesting for others to read.”

Sam Uhl’s online course, “Writing Your Memoirs,” will meet on three successive Thursdays via Zoom, Feb. 4, 11, and 18, from 10am-noon. $40/members, $50/nonmembers. Registration deadline is February 3; forms must be mailed in. To register, visit brcll.com; for more information, call 828-694-1740. Learn more about A Cheerful Word at www.cheerfulword.com.

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