This course is designed for writers at all stages of their careers to engage in the intimate, sometimes messy, very often meaningful, act of writing about family through fiction and creative nonfiction. We will close read several short works and excerpts from larger works that explore the nuances of the familial system in all its beauty and strangeness. These works include texts by Ocean Vuong, Tommy Orange, Rachel Khong, and Miriam Toews.
We will have weekly in-class writing exercises inspired by the selected readings to push us to approach the task of translating the multitudes of the family system into the written word with nuanced consideration and care.
Writing The Family 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 the family as an act of love, rage, understanding, and ultimately, self-exploration.
One full-ride scholarship will be awarded for this class to a writer who could not otherwise afford to attend. If you find that you are interested in this class, but would need a scholarship to enroll, please send an email to [email protected] by October 17th, with the subject line "Jenessa Abrams Writing the Family Scholarship," and one writers will be selected through a lottery.
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.
- Through close-reading and a series of writing exercises, students will gain the necessary tools to write about the family either in fiction or creative nonfiction
- Students will receive generous and thorough peer and instructor feedback on one piece of writing about the family
- Students will complete the course with at least one polished piece of prose about the family 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 Writing The Family; 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 The Family
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.”