This course is designed for writers at all stages of their careers to dedicate time and space to writing through illness either in a fictional or creative nonfictional exploration of experiences of the mind and/or the body. We will engage in the close reading of texts that are committed to this work, including narratives by: Audre Lorde, Mieko Kawakami, Melissa Febos, Miriam Toews, Yiyun Li, Paul Kalanithi, Annie Ernaux, Akhil Sharma, Edouard Louis, Meghan O’Rourke, and Leslie Jamison.
We will have weekly in-class writing exercises based on the selected readings to begin the practice of saying the unsaid and learning to put language to our experiences either in fiction or creative nonfiction.
Writing Through Illness will conclude with a writing workshop where students will have an opportunity to share work they’ve developed during the course to receive in-class feedback from their peers and the instructor. Students will also be given written feedback, line edits, and a longer feedback letter from the instructor.
The purpose of this course is to guide students in the process of writing about illness in a way that honors their experiences and also moves them toward self-expression and self-expansion on the page.
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.
Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.
- Students will deepen their understanding of how writing about and through illness can help us better process our experiences and how the act of writing can lead to self-reclamation
- Through extensive close-reading and a series of in-class writing exercises, students will gain the necessary tools to help transfer their experiences of illness onto the page where they can be better examined/explored/unpacked
- Students will complete the course with at least one polished piece of prose about explorations of illness that they may pursue a path to publication for
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Writers will have brief weekly readings and in-class writing assignments. There will be one formal writing assignment during the course: a short piece of fiction or creative nonfiction that students will present for workshop.
Students will receive written feedback on their submission from their peers and the instructor. The class will also feature collective close-reading and classroom discussions on the texts as well as informal opportunities to share in-class writing.
Week 1: Introductions; Discussion on How To Write Through Illness; Close Reading; In-Class Writing Exercise; Reading Assignment.
Week 2: Discussion of Reading Assignment; In-Class Writing Exercise; Close Reading; Round 1 Writing Assignment; Reading Assignment.
Week 3: Round 1 Workshop; Discussion on Reading Assignment; In-Class Writing Exercise; Round 2 Writing Assignment; Reading Assignment.
Week 4: Round 2 Workshop; Discussion on Reading Assignment; In-Class Writing Exercise; Final Thoughts on Writing Through Illness
Jenessa Abrams is a writer, literary translator, and practitioner of Narrative Medicine. Her fiction, literary criticism, and creative non-fiction has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, Tin House, Electric Literature, Guernica, BOMB Magazine, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships and grants from MacDowell, the Ucross Foundation, the Norman Mailer Center, the Vermont Studio Center, the New York Public Library, and Columbia University, where she earned her MFA in fiction and literary translation. Currently, she teaches writing in the Narrative Medicine Program at Columbia University.
"Jenessa was a pleasure to work with at the Chicago Review of Books. She turned in strong work and made the editing process a breeze. The CHIRB was lucky to have her writing on the site."
“Jenessa knows how to identify the emotional truth of a book. We worked together on a review she wrote for BOMB about Melissa Febos’s Abandon Me, a complicated text to write about because it’s formally unconventional and much of its messaging is implicit, deeply woven into its fabric. Jenessa dug into all these facets and separated the threads into different points of argumentation, setting up the review so the reader was prepared for its various eddies and angles. Jenessa has an incredible work ethic. She’s open-minded, collaborative, intuitive, willing to challenge herself, and always respectful of deadlines. She’s worked with my other editorial colleagues at Guernica and the Rumpus — they have all had glowing things to say about her. It’s rare we get to work with a writer who is versatile, compassion, unpretentious yet rigorous. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity.”
“I have been so grateful to work with and be taught by Jenessa Abrams over this past year. I have taken several writing courses in my academic career, however Jenessa has offered the most in-depth, personal, and generative feedback of any writing professor I've had. Her in-line comments on my writing have made me feel incredibly known and I am so grateful for her keen eye to note where prose can be sharpened or deepened. Her presence made me feel immediately comfortable to take risks in my writing both in style and subject matter. I feel I have grown in so much confidence in my voice as a writer and I attribute so much of that to the encouragement and guidance I have received from Jenessa.”
"Jenessa is one of the most thoughtful and generous teachers I have ever worked with. She gently pushed me to go deeper into my writing, to think critically about my practice and who I am as an artist, while simultaneously creating a safe space to meet me exactly where I was. Jenessa provided extremely attentive and helpful feedback; her love of teaching and her enduring respect for her students was always felt."
“Jenessa's unique gift as a teacher is the ability to identify and develop each individual student's talent and interests, even those they did not know they themselves had, and provide them with the skills to develop those very talents and interests. This pedagogy requires deep, careful attention and individualized assessments that meet students where they are; the exact opposite of an overly didactic and stifling one-size-fits-all approach. She excels at building a classroom atmosphere in which honest feedback and growth can occur, and she has the skills, passion, and experience as a writer and teacher to create a strong foundation to her courses. Having found her to be one of the most effective teachers I have worked with in many years, I have no doubt that any student would benefit immensely from having her as an instructor, and that the program she is a part of will be that much better for it.”
“I have trouble verbally expressing myself but Jenessa made it so that I felt comfortable enough expressing myself both in class and on paper. She also taught me a lot which has allowed me to not only become a better writer but a better person.”
"Jenessa exhibited genuine care for her students and pushed her students to do better. Throughout [her course], I found myself not only getting better at writing but also finding joy in writing."
"I was consistently reminded of my potential and encouraged, as a result I feel much more confident in my abilities."
"The time she puts into helping her students perfect this craft allows them to succeed in whatever setting. She also makes sure that each and every single one of her students feel comfortable and confident in themselves. She is very understanding.”