Online | Nonfiction | Memoir | Workshop

12-Week Online Memoir-in-Essays Generator: Write Your Nonfiction Proposal & Sample Chapter

We are currently in the process of reviewing applications to this course. If you haven’t yet applied and would like to send in an application, please do so with the understanding that we will place your application under consideration for our waitlist. 

This class is for nonfiction writers interested in personal narrative and less linear, more inquisitive and fragmented book forms. In twelve weeks, Cinelle Barnes will guide the class through ten reading assignments and ten generative prompts that aim to yield ten essay ideas or drafts unified by a most-fitting theme, quest, or form.

And because nonfiction projects are mainly sold to publishers on proposal, this 12-week generator's goal is to equip writers with a working skeleton for a submission-ready proposal.

Cinelle will bookend the course with two sessions on proposals.

We'll read summaries and excerpts from nonfiction books by Marina Benjamin, Esme Wang, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Eula Biss, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sarah Kasbeer, Elizabeth Rosen, Melissa Febos, and Emily Bernard, among others, studying what it means to set scope, organize ideas, and play with form.

This course also celebrates the anti-composite, offering several ways to see, shape, or sculpt personal narrative. In other words, this course is about the multitudes in you—and how they can all come together to tell a singular, textured story.

Cinelle will draw from her experience of writing the proposals for, and submitting, Malaya: Essays on Freedom and her work-in-progress, sharing the dos and don'ts and maybes of nonfiction proposal writing. She will compare and contrast proposal elements with the finished book: giving a sneak peek into the long, often circuitous process of ideation, execution, revision, and completion.

*No class February 14th

To apply, please submit up to 20 double-spaced pages of a sample essay that best captures your voice and perspective, and that shows the instructor that you write to discover what you're thinking.

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.


- A one-page summary highlighting the cultural relevance of your theme and perspective, describing your ideal audience, and including comparable literature,

- An annotated table of contents displaying your many breadths and depths as a narrator and literary artist, and how the memoir-in-essay format is the best vehicle for your message, and

- An essay showcasing your unique voice, tone, sense of place and time, and attitude, i.e. a sample chapter to whet an agent's or editor's appetite.

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


In week 1, students will be asked to write a summary draft for their nonfiction proposal through a guided and synchronous generative prompt.

This will be followed by ten weeks of ten reading assignments and ten prompts generating ten ideas or descriptions, one submitted weekly, with the aim of culminating in an annotated table of contents. In week 11, students will submit their sample essay or sample introduction of up to 1,500 words.

In the last week, students will receive generous written feedback on their summary drafts, sample essays, and annotated table of contents, and the course will end with the class working synchronously to revise proposals per the instructor's notes and revision prompts.


Week 1: Setting Scope, Organizing Ideas, Giving Shape to Your Awareness

Week 2: Playing with the Essay: Shape as Form; Reading: Marina Benjamin

Week 3: Writing in the Shape of the Body; Reading: Esme Wang/Grace Talusan

Week 4: Writing the Shapes, Colors, and Textures of Nature and Your Nature; Reading: Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Week 5: Writing What Shapes Writing; Reading: Eula Biss

Week 6: Writing and Giving Shape to the Fantastical in Nonfiction; Reading: Maxine Hong Kingston

Week 7: Writing the Shape of What Survives; Reading: Sarah Kasbeer

Week 8: Writing and Researching the Shape of Family, Past and Present; Reading: Neda Semnani

Week 9: Giving Shape to Phenomenon; Reading: Elizabeth Rosen/Susan Tekulve/Cathy Park Hong

Week 10: Writing the Shape of Your Resistance; Reading: Emily Bernard/Melissa Febos

Week 11: Writing A Proposal; Reading: Cinelle Barnes's sample proposals and essays; Submit revised sample summary, annotated table of contents, and sample essay or introduction

Week 12: Feedback received; In-class synchronous editing and 10-minute consultation

Cinelle Barnes

Cinelle is a formerly undocumented memoirist, essayist & educator from the Philippines, and is the author of MONSOON MANSION: A MEMOIR and MALAYA: ESSAYS ON FREEDOM, and the editor of the New York Times New & Noteworthy book A MEASURE OF BELONGING: 21 WRITERS OF COLOR ON THE NEW AMERICAN SOUTH. She has an MFA from Converse College. Her writing has appeared or been featured in the NYT, Longreads, Electric Literature, Buzzfeed, Literary Hub, Hyphen & CNN Philippines, among others. Her work is anthologized in A MAP IS ONLY ONE STORY. She’s a contributing editor, instructor & writer at Catapult.


"Reminiscent of both Jeanette Walls’s memoir, THE GLASS CASTLE (2005), and Sandra Cisneros’s seminal novel THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET (1984), [MONSOON MANSION] is a story of a tragic childhood told in a remarkably uplifting voice. Barnes imbues scenes from her interrupted childhood with an artistic touch that reads like literary fiction. Luminescent and shattering, Barnes’s first book is a triumph: a conquering of the past through the power of the written word.”

Booklist starred review

“I write because I am the last to remember,’ Cinelle Barnes tells us in her essay ‘Why I Write Memoir.’ MALAYA is a sensitive, vibrant book that will help so many of us remember and reflect on the stories we shouldn’t forget. Barnes’s deft writing crosses gaps in time, understanding, and experience, illuminating important truths about our country and culture while also allowing us to bear witness to her own fight for healing, justice, and belonging. MALAYA is a book we need, and Cinelle Barnes is a writer to treasure.”

Nicole Chung author of ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW

"Cinelle Barnes has compiled the most diverse portrayal of the contemporary South I've read to date. These beautifully-written, clear-eyed essays present the American South through the eyes of its Black and brown voices and expand the reader's view of belonging to or hailing from the region. I love this collection and its depictions complicate the South in ways that mainstream America sometimes refuses to believe about our ugly/beautiful South. A MEASURE OF BELONGING is a major contribution to the canon of Southern literature and each of the writers give of themselves fully. It is a book for our times. Welcome to the 21st century!"

Crystal Wilkinson author of THE BIRDS OF OPULENCE

"Cinelle, your feedback is incredible. Thank you! Your notes resonated with me and I am so grateful!"

nonfiction author responding to feedback on nonfiction MS

"Well organized, though-provoking, thorough. Explained boundaries and strategies AND modeled them. Clear, relevant, humane. Excellent teaching of a sensitive topic. WOW!"

former student

"Cinelle deals with extraordinarily difficult material with a very sensitive audience and is mindful while remaining instructive and sharing her story and experience - nice job!"

former student

"The instructor provided a wealth of information, not only about content around the topical area but also about the process. Her incorporation of her own writings in the workshop was powerful and greatly enhanced the class. I bought her book MONSOON MANSION immediately afterward!"

former student