This course will consider various approaches for blending autobiographical writing with cultural criticism. Memoir can provide a cultural critic a connection to both the larger world and the body, offering a sense of both embodiment and context. For memoirists, the incorporation of cultural criticism can move a personal story beyond the self, situating it within a social and historical landscape. In this class, we will look at contemporary forms and models for mixing memoir with various forms of criticism. We will also consider questions of form, narrative, voice, balance, shape, and blend.
This class is open to writers exploring cultural phenomena, trends, objects, or issues through or in tandem with a personal story or framework, as well as those looking to hone their skills weaving autobiography with cultural history and/or critical theory. It is also open to those writing reviews or other essays about or inspired by books, film, television, visual or performance art, fashion, or other media who want to use personal experience to deepen their analysis. This class is open to all levels, but it is recommended that students have some workshop experience and a rough idea for an essay before beginning the course.
Students will leave this class with one completed nonfiction essay, verbal and written feedback, and advice for further revision and publication, and a deeper awareness of their own style for combining the personal and the critical.
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.
- Complete one essay or other nonfiction piece, with written feedback from your instructor and other classmates
- Models and methods for blending autobiography, theory and/or criticism including and beyond braiding techniques
- Suggestions for possible publications for your piece
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
It is recommended that students have a rough idea for a subject or story before the start of the course. Students should expect to settle on a concept and form, as well as complete some preliminary writing, for a 1,500-2,500-word essay or other nonfiction piece in the first session. Students will receive early generative verbal feedback from students and the instructor.
Over the next week, students will complete their pieces. In the second session, students will receive more extensive written and verbal feedback and suggestions for revision and publication from other students and the instructor. Expect to complete the course with a polished piece ready for submission, as well as strategies for mixing the personal and critical in any future writing.
Session 1: We will focus on the basics of combining the personal and the critical. Students will share preliminary questions and essay ideas, then we will look at forms, models, and experiments contained in essays and book excerpts by authors such as Carmen Maria Machado, Leslie Jamison, Alice Bolin, Brittney Cooper, Jia Tolentino, Hanif Abdurraqib, Joan Didion, and others. Readings may shift depending on student interests. In the second half of our session, we will follow a generative, guided, working group model. Students will settle on a concept and form for their essay, and we will write together, culminating in brief sharing and feedback. In the week between classes, students will complete their piece, and come to the second session with a complete draft.
Session 2: With their completed essays in hand, students will share work, and receive more extensive feedback from other students and the instructor. We will also discuss the pitching and publication process, exploring publications that are friendly to each student’s unique essay forms.
Amanda Montei is the author of Two Memoirs (Jaded Ibis Press) and The Failure Age (Bloof Books). She holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts and a PhD from the Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo. Her poetry, fiction, essays, and criticism have appeared in Slate, The Believer, Vox, HuffPost, Rumpus, Salon, Ms. Magazine, as well as numerous literary journals and scholarly publications. She has been teaching for over a decade at the college level and in community arts programs. For three years, she was editor of the literary journal P-QUEUE, and she previously co-edited the small press project Bon Aire Projects. Amanda lives in California with her partner and two children.
Author photo courtesy of the author.
"Amanda Montei deftly evokes the splendors and miseries of her childhood in LA, a fabulous country of the mind, a land unlike any other. The riches to rags narrative she offers breaks your heart at a hundred intersections; it is a story populated by the demonic energies of family and school life, polished and broken into shards of crystal… With relentless subconscious force Montei’s genealogy slams against her personal life story, creating a stunning reverb effect.”
“In this deft, funny, sad, and strong memoir, Amanda Montei shows a remarkable skill for zooming in on the hilarious, unbearable, sometimes heartbreaking detail (watch for the polyps!), then panning out to give a memorable portrait of a time and place (Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s, with all its deceptive, and sometimes real, glamour). It’s as much discovery narrative as recovery narrative, as its author explores the deep mysteries of both mothers and memory with a wry and steady hand.”
"Amanda's course was nurturing, generative, inspiring, and just such a powerful 4 weeks. No one wanted the session to end which speaks to her ability to not only create a compelling course but also encourage healthy discussion and vulnerability. "
"This course buoyed me and made me feel connected to other writers at a time when I was feeling very disconnected from the writing world. I was blown away by the diversity and depth of readings, the spirit of support and camaraderie, and the quality of both submissions and feedback from fellow participants. Amanda led the course with such insight, compassion, and intelligence—I also thoroughly enjoyed the prompts… as well as the discussions and ways in which we were all inspired to engage with the reading material, and each other's work, on a weekly basis. I will miss it!"
"It was a galvanizing and inspiring and safe place to be and listen and create."
"This class nurtured, inspired, and challenged me."
"[Amanda’s] course materials and writing prompts were impeccably curated and thoughtful, and she created an honest and supportive "classroom" space on Zoom. I am grateful for the community I found through this course!"
"Amanda held a space that was simultaneously gentle and intellectually compelling, her feedback was prompt and through and the writing portals were well thought out and generative. I'm so grateful to have had this opportunity."