The beloved and dreaded coming-of-age story! Everyone has one to tell. Some of us have several. The best ones are instantly familiar and indelibly singular. How do we imbue these deeply personal stories with both specificity and universality? How can we ensure our contribution to the bildungsroman genre contains both originality and authenticity? Well, first you have to write. A lot. Which is what we’ll do in this two-day intensive. Through a series of prompts, exercises, and discussions of readings and film clips, we’ll study, imitate, and write our own material. As this will be a generative course, emphasis will be on writing and reading as much possible. In addition, we'll read our work aloud and learn strategies for revision, completion, and submission.
We’ll also expand the definition of "coming-of-age" beyond what is typically represented in the canon. While traditionally, the term bildungsroman refers to a genre of literature that follows a protagonist’s journey from childhood to adulthood, in this workshop, we’ll use it loosely for any story that contains the following elements: first experiences (first love, first sexual encounters, first heartbreak, first time loving home, and many others), the struggle and discovery of identity (especially against one’s family, community, or society) and the loss of innocence (heartbreak and disillusionment.) With this broader definition, we can open up space for a multitude of stories while being able to hone in on a structure and format that best serves your particular story. By the end of the two days, everyone should have at least ten pages of brand new writing that they are excited to keep working on. Writers of all levels welcome.
-Learn the traditional structure of a coming-of-age story so you can go forth and experiment and create your own structure(s)
-How to evoke genuine emotions in writing without relying on sentimentality
-Writing about trauma in a way that honors and complicates it
-Working rigorously with nostalgia rather than relying on it as a shortcut
-How to tell a story that has been told a million times in a fresh and new way, and conversely, if you are telling a story that hasn't been told much, how do you invite curiosity and provide context without being didactic?
-Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students will be given a five-page writing assignment a week before class starts and should complete it and bring a copy to the first day of class. In addition, they'll be sent a few short pieces to read beforehand.
Jenny Zhang is the author of the short story and poetry collections Sour Heart, Dear Jenny, We Are All Find, and (forthcoming) My Baby First Birthday. She is the recipient of the Pen/Bingham Award for Debut Fiction, the LA Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and an O. Henry award. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Harpers, N+1, and elsewhere. She has taught at Columbia University, The New School, and various NYC public high schools. She has an MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a BA in Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity from Stanford University.
"Jenny Zhang’s astounding short-story collection, SOUR HEART, combines ingenious and tightly controlled technical artistry with an unfettered emotional directness that frequently moves, within single sentences, from overwhelming beauty to abject pain."
"As I read, I quickly realized this was something so new and powerful that it would come to shape the world, not just the literary world, but what we know about reality. Zhang's version of honesty goes way past the familiar, with passages that burst into a bold, startling brilliance. Get ready."
"SOUR HEART hosts a well of emotion, but its critical organs are also intimately linked to the young female body that is hot, sticky, brazen, penetrable. These sensibilities seep into Zhang’s prose, in which interior and exterior collide in narrative jumps, associative imagery and long passages of idiosyncratic dialogue. "