“Each of us is an atlas of sorts,” Rebecca Solnit wrote. Place, then—where we are, where we've been, where we are going—is crucial to our writing. Place includes physical surroundings but stretches beyond them, too, affecting the moods, attitudes and outlooks of the writer and her characters.
In this course, open to writers of all genres and experience levels, we will examine two different approaches to writing about place: the insider, who knows the place intimately, and the outsider, who comes to the place with little or no knowledge. Between these two extremes are myriad possibilities and contradictions, many of them occurring simultaneously: We can understand spiritually a place we’ve never been; we can know every inch of a territory and still not grasp its profundity. The first two sessions will consider the insider/outsider duality with a reading, lecture, and group discussion, and will include short, progressive writing prompts (not critiqued) to bring the lessons to life. The final session will look more broadly at the significance of place in writing and how we can apply what we’ve learned. Our goal is to explore how to use the full extent of a place—its physical, emotional, and psychological elements—to better effect in our own work.
The course will culminate in a critiqued writing exercise that applies all the principles discussed. This will be an open-ended assignment and can be a new piece or a work-in-progress. This exercise should be 1,500 words or less.
This class will meet over our video chat platform. You will need to use Google Chrome and a computer to join your class meetings.
- The opportunity to closely and critically read fiction and nonfiction selections chosen for their sense of place and use of place as a narrative element
- Written lectures pertaining to each reading and its craft lessons
- Instructor-led group discussions about the readings and the topic of place as a rhetorical device
- A culminating writing exercise designed to evoke and strengthen our conception of place
- Access to a nurturing community of writers and readers
- The full resources of Catapult's custom-built online classes platform (including live text chat, story editor, and discussion threads)
- More confidence as a writer, on and off the page!
Week 1: “Where Fields Try to Lie” and writing as an insider
Week 2: “The Foreign Spell” and writing as an outsider
Week 3: “Place in Fiction” and applying the lessons of place to our work
Courtney Balestier's writing has appeared in The New Yorker online, Lucky Peach, the New York Times, Oxford American, New York, and Wired. She has been anthologized in Cornbread Nation 7: The Best of Southern Food Writing and nominated for a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award and a Pushcart Prize. She is a writing editorial board member of Looking at Appalachia. A native West Virginian, she is at work on a novel about identity, class and the Appalachian "Hillbilly Highway" migration to Detroit, where she is currently based. She also hosts the writing podcast WMFA.
"I left with more insights into writing setting, how to think more deeply on my responsibilities and the freedoms of writing places as an insider or an outsider, and the inspiration to explore these ideas in my current work. "
"I had the great pleasure of working with Courtney Balestier as her editor at LUCKY PEACH magazine. There she wrote, among other things, a piece ostensibly about ranch dressing, but actually a lovely picture into growing up in West Virginia, rooted in—and evocative of—time and place. As a writer, Courtney is intelligent, responsive, and hardworking; as a human, she's helpful, empathetic, and curious. One would be fortunate to have her as a teacher!"
"Courtney Balestier is the kind of magazine editor service writers dream about. Her vision for the piece is compelling and her expectations made clear from assignment. She knows her readership inside and out and will help you sculpt your copy until it speaks to them, without losing your voice in the process. Her line edits are incisive and there's never any runaround when it comes to revisions."