Online | Nonfiction | Seminar

2-Week Online Nonfiction Seminar: What's at Stake in the Personal Essay

We all have important stories within us worth telling. We tend to know which ones those are, but we’re not always sure what makes them important, what in them will engage, move—and even change—our readers. These are the big, universal questions a story grapples with, the high stakes of every great personal essay.

In this two-week crash course for writers both new to the form and those looking to deepen their practice and take their personal essay writing to the next level, we’ll learn how to develop, sustain, and (not so tidily) resolve those stakes that make a personal essay compelling and meaningful. In lieu of a workshop, writing exercises will help guide students’ learning, pushing them to unearth the stakes and important questions in their own stories. Students will have access to lectures on craft, selected personal essays, and essay draft samples that give an intimate look at the process of revision. Over these two weeks, writers will learn to read and edit their own work with a close eye for what makes a personal essay matter to readers, and sell to editors. 

This class will meet over our text-only chat platform. There will not be any video or audio component to class.


- The opportunity to learn how to take a personal essay from idea to fully realized draft

- Access to written lectures on the craft of personal essay writing

- Instructor-led group discussions about selected readings

- Access to first, second, and third drafts of successful personal essays

- A greater understanding of what literary editors are looking for in personal essays

- Greater familiarity with the process of pitching and submitting personal essays to publications


Week One: Establishing Stakes in the Personal Essay

Week Two: Developing Stakes and Turning Points

Simone Gorrindo

Simone Gorrindo is an independent developmental editor, and formerly a Senior Editor at Kindle Singles and Vela. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Longreads, The Christian Science Monitor, The Best Women’s Travel Writing, and others. She holds an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University, and has received fellowships and grants from the International Women’s Media Foundation, the Georgia Council for the Arts, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and the Scripps Howard Foundation. She lives in Tacoma, Washington with her husband and two children.


"Simone Gorrindo is one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with—the type of editor who left me a better writer than she found me. Early in our work together, I was relieved by her honesty, not only because her critiques were delivered gently but because I could tell that what she was saying was absolutely true. She honed right in on the places I hoped were invisible: where an idea wasn’t full or a sentence lyrical but empty. With a patient and persistent attention, she helped me to find language that was more precise and ideas that were more complex and closer to the truth. She worked diligently, with a keen eye for language and an utter devotion to clarity. Later, when I worked beside her as an editor, her attention to language was always the ideal to which I aspired. And I was constantly humbled by the way she found things I’d missed—anything from unnecessary sentences to stray commas. She works in such a way that seems effortless, but which I am sure is full of focus and care and commitment. She’s the type of editor who understands how close writing is to an author, the type of editor you can trust not to hurry with your work, but to give it everything she has."


"Simone Gorrindo is my first reader for my own writing, and at this point I could not do without her. She has an elegant and nuanced editorial eye and her suggestions for changes are always native to the work in a way that stuns me, because she is so able to meet the work on its own terms, to understand what I was trying to say and could not say. Her own writing is lush and understated, an intricate mesh of ideas that become emotions and emotions that become ideas. As a teacher she is unflappable and tender, insightful and clear, a kind of dogged saint of writing. I am her biggest fan."

Profile Photo Rufi Thorpe author of DEAR FANG, WITH LOVE and THE GIRLS FROM CORONA DEL MAR

"Simone Gorrindo is—simply put—the best editor I have ever worked with: brilliant, compassionate, scrupulous and detail-driven. She has an uncanny ability to rapidly digest the point of a piece of literary work and then tell you how to fix whatever is broken. Sometimes, she will demand that you fix it yourself, when she intuitively senses that only you, the writer, can address a hole or broken bridge in your work. But she is relentless and perfectionist; she will treat your writing as though it is a newborn baby with all its attendant needs. The metaphor doubly applies because she has an enormous heart: for all the putting you through your paces, all the questions she raises, she does so with so much care that you barely notice how hard you are working. She wants the essence of your work to come through and she will not let it be bogged down by timeline problems, redundancies, hyperbole, distracting clauses, mixed metaphors, or comma splices. If Simone is editing your work she is also a friend; it is a hat trick she pulls. You just know she cares. She will shape that essay and then she will say she really did nothing at all—just a few notes here and there. She also listens: if you disagree with a note, she wants to have a conversation about it, because she wants to make sure she is getting at what you want to say. She might push back or she might not; she might relent, and then tell you how you have to fix things if you want to hold onto that original sentence. Simone is a details editor. She will not let anything escape that net of hers. She is—like all real artists—obsessive, but in the best way: she will make the finest piece of your writing that it can be. I owe a tremendous amount to Simone; she edited two of my pieces for a literary magazine and much of the praise the pieces received properly belonged at her doorstep."

Leslie Kendall Dye freelance writer

"Simone Gorrindo is the most talented and devoted editor I've ever had the pleasure to work with. It is increasingly rare nowadays to find editors who will take the time to go deep with your work, considering it sentence by sentence, idea by idea, patiently questioning the places where it gets fuzzy or weak and really trying to build it into its best iteration. I've worked with editors at many different newspapers and magazines and she is a throwback to the glory days of editing, when a piece was a collaboration of minds and writers were elevated by their editors. My writing has grown so much from her experience, and I find myself now reading my own work with an eye towards the tendencies she has pointed out. Essays of mine she has edited have gone on to become parts of books and win awards, and never would have done so had she not devoted so much of her time and energy."