This course encourages new and experienced writers to approach book reviewing as a conversation between the book and the larger world. Our work will focus on decentering the reviewer and instead centering the social and political context in which the book exists. We will begin by close reading several recent book reviews from various publications to unpack how each critic elevates the discussion beyond simply reducing a book to 'bad' or 'good' and alternatively expands the scope of the narrative to engage with the contemporary moment.
We will then draft our own reviews of recently published books, which will receive written and oral feedback from both classmates and the instructor. The course will also provide insight into the pitching process, guiding writers through a draft of their pitches which will be peer-reviewed and later revised.
By the end of the course, after close reading and outlining contemporary book reviews, preparing and revising a pitch, and drafting and completing one revision of a book review, you will be well-equipped to pitch and publish compelling book reviews in competitive outlets that contribute to larger societal discussions.
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.
- Learn to craft a compelling book review pitch that will effectively reach editors
- Receive intensive peer and instructor feedback on one book review pitch and one book review draft
- Advance your writing through personalized feedback with a well-published book reviewer that will expand your understanding of how literary criticism can contribute to meaningful social and political discussions
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Writers will have brief weekly readings, including several recent book reviews and successful book review pitches. There will be two writing assignments during the course: a book review pitch and a book review; students will receive written feedback on both from peers and the instructor and will be asked to complete one revision of both for feedback from the instructor. The class will also feature classroom discussions, brainstorming, and writing exercises to help define and refine our understanding of how to review books through a social and political lens.
It's suggested, but not mandatory for students to come to class with an idea of what upcoming book(s) they may wish to review. Students are welcome to reach out to the instructor prior to the start of the course for assistance.
Week 1: Introductions; Book Review Basics; Close Reading Recent Book Reviews; Writing Exercise.
Week 2: Close Reading Successful Pitches; Identifying Frameworks for Book Reviews; Writing Exercise; Writing Assignment: Pitch Drafts.
Week 3: Workshopping Pitch Drafts; Close Reading Recent Book Reviews; Writing Exercise.
Week 4: Outlining Recent Book Reviews; Writing Exercise; Writing Assignment: Round 1 Book Review Drafts.
Week 5: Workshopping Round 1 Book Review Drafts; Continuing Conversation about Pitching, Selecting Review Outlets; Writing Assignment: Round 2 Book Review Drafts.
Week 6: Workshopping Round 2 Book Review Drafts; Continuing Conversation about Etiquette, Timelines, and Best Practices.
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.”