As writers of nonfiction, we often write to make sense of the world and to wrestle with questions about our own histories, and the histories of our families and the places we come from. We write to process trauma, grief, isolation, dislocation, and disconnection. But what if we discover that so many of the stories that we’ve been given about our bodies, ourselves, our homes, and our place in them don’t serve us? What if we discover that some of those stories were actually created to harm us? How can we interrogate, complicate, and revise harmful dominant narratives and thus write toward healing, self-love, and a radically reimagined world?
In this course, we will explore research and re-imagination techniques to help us surface multiple understandings, truths, and future possibilities related to a central question that each student is wrestling with in their lives and work. Through body-centered writing exercises and class discussions we will begin to draft revisions to harmful stories. This class doesn’t include feedback on workshop submissions, but students will have the opportunity to discuss projects they are working on and can receive verbal, in-class feedback on writing generated in the course if they choose to share. This course is perfect for serious nonfiction writers of all experience levels.
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.
- How to identify harmful dominant narratives in our own bodies and stories
- How to interrogate, complicate, and reimagine harmful dominant stories through research, community, and self-exploration, including somatic practices
- Advice and feedback on in-class writing exercises, and how to further explore the questions raised/possibilities surfaced in future work
- Advice on how somatic practices can fuel writing
- Examples of works that challenge harmful dominant narratives and open up new possibilities
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
The class will be comprised of a mix of lectures and discussion. I’ll share reading materials, including essays and memoir excerpts that interrogate, complicate, reimagine, and revise harmful narratives. In class, I will introduce students to research and somatic practices that were helpful to me in my own writing about Black womanhood, African history, and my own family histories. There will be writing assignments which will be shared and discussed in class, and on which I will provide light feedback, which include: a list of harmful dominant narratives students carry in their bodies and wrestle with in their work, questions that grow out of these narratives that students might further explore, ideas for potential pathways to reimagining and revising those stories, and a short draft that begins the work of reimagining and revision.
Week 1: What are harmful dominant narratives? How do we carry them in our bodies and how do they show up in our writing? What are some dominant narratives that you would like to complicate, interrogate, reimagine and revise? We'll discuss examples of how other writers have approached this task and also strategies and practices to consider and try.
Week 2: In reimagining and revising harmful dominant narratives, we must identify counter-arguments, and new angles. These can be drawn from research, from our families and communities, and from our own experience and body. We’ll read more examples and discuss how writers have approached the work of reimagining and revision. What are some ideas for how you would like to approach revising the dominant narrative? What are some truths that you’d like to include in your revision?
Week 3: How might you expand your interrogation/revision of the harmful narrative you have chosen? We will brainstorm and discuss potential sources, conversations, and somatic practices.
Week 4: How will you continue to interrogate, complicate, and revise harmful dominant narratives and thus write toward healing, self-love, and a radically reimagined world? We’ll discuss how to sustain and expand on some of the practices from the course. And we’ll discuss what forms your writing might take to incorporate these practices.
Nadia Owusu’s first book, Aftershocks, was published by Simon and Schuster in 2021. She is the recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award. Her lyric essay chapbook, So Devilish a Fire, won the Atlas Review chapbook series. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, Washington Post’s The Lily, the Literary Review, Electric Literature, Catapult, and others. Owusu grew up in Rome, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Kumasi, and London. She is an Associate Director at Living Cities, an economic racial justice organization, and lives in Brooklyn.
“There is something fairy tale–like about Owusu’s story, an orphan-like existence of struggle and survival, but there is no fairy godmother who rescues this heroine—just a growing sense of self-awareness to orient her in a troubling world.”
“AFTERSHOCKS is a stunning, visceral book about the ways that our stories—of loss, of love, of borders—leave permanent marks on our bodies and minds”
"Nadia helped me to own and to polish some craft elements in writing that were abstract or elusive to me, before. She encouraged me to embrace the work I had, and to imagine its possibility as art. She made me see new possible structures for my manuscript and offered many creative suggestions for possible future drafts. Nadia is patient, even-tempered, thoughtful, and brilliant. I’m so glad that I was able to work with her this past term."
"Nadia has expressed an interest in my personal health and wellbeing which has only strengthened my trust in her when it comes to my work—obviously the most important thing in the lot of our lives."
"Nadia’s feedback has been essential in my honing my craft and finding the perfect narrative for this piece. She has taken into account all the things that I am trying to work into this piece and has given me enough encouragement for me keep working diligently on this project. Her knowledge of language and how to get into the voice of a piece has been essential to my process."