Online | Open-Genre | Seminar

1-Day Online Open-Genre Seminar: The Power of the Epistolary

“Letters have the power to upset, alter and even ruin lives, the embodiment of the idea that the pen is mightier than the sword.” — Evan Fallenberg

Epistolary literature usually takes the shape of letters, but the form also encompasses other documents including journal entries, news articles, blog posts, and emails. For fiction, a heightened sense of realism and accessibility are among the benefits of the form. And then there’s the epistolary memoir, what Parul Sehgal calls “a life told in the form of a letter.”

In this one-day, five-hour seminar, students will explore how stories — fiction and nonfiction, short and book length — can be told effectively as letters. Through the lens of contemporary literature — excerpts from The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, The Heads of the Colored People, Heavy, and Breathe: A Letter to My Sons — we’ll consider the ways the epistolary form frees, constrains, and focuses — sometimes all at once.

This class is ideal for writers who enjoy experimenting with form or who would like to practice experimenting with form. Students will draft fiction and/or nonfiction letters during class that they (or their characters) will never send, letters that convey what they wished they’d said, letters that lament, letters that disrupt, and more. Students may share their work during class if they wish, but no formal feedback will be given.

Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.


- Learn how to strategically choose addressees and subject matters in order to create a compelling literary letter

- Learn how to identify the goals of a literary letter and what to include in it to achieve those goals

- Learn how to choose and develop a tone/voice suitable for the subject matter and goals of a given literary letter

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Students should expect to do some reading (about 90 minutes worth) prior to the class and be prepared to discuss the readings during class time.

Deesha Philyaw

Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and the 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction.


“This collection marks the emergence of a bona fide literary treasure.”


“Our new decade deserves a new literary force with major literary skills. Deesha Philyaw uses the comic, the allegorical, and the geographic to examine Black intimacies and Black secrets. Her work is as rigorous as it is pleasurable to read.”

Kiese Laymon author of HEAVY

“Beautifully crafted. A lovely collection.”

Roxane Gay author of BAD FEMINIST

“Deesha has an impeccable eye for the craft of writing, and her ability to see the vision you hold in your mind and help you to refine the words you’ve used to sharpen the focus of that vision is truly remarkable.”

former editing client

"My first book proposal earned me a book contract and an enduring relationship with a publisher that understands and champions my work. I learned how to write the proposal from Deesha Philyaw. Her instruction has a way of unlocking creativity and the determination to finish a project. That's the kind of counsel and inspiration every writer needs."

Tamara Winfrey-Harris

"Working with Deesha has been an immense pleasure for both my son and me. As our writing coach, she provides her keen insight, encouraging words and exceptional knowledge of the craft in a way that makes writing more accessible. I trust her instinct and would recommend her to anyone!"

former editing client

"Deesha Philyaw is the kind of editor, teacher, and mentor with which every aspiring writer would want to work. She is encouraging, supportive, and detailed. She does not tune your voice so that it becomes hers - instead, she helps you cut away the extra and bring forth only that which is necessary to your story. She is a midwife, helping you birth the characters who live in your head. "

former editing client