Increasingly, the walls between the subjective and objective in nonfiction are crumbling. Journalists today often choose to include themselves in their own stories. Traditional media and digital outlets are frequently commissioning personal essays to inform readers in spaces once reserved for more traditional reported pieces. This is also an exciting moment for nonfiction generally. Some of the most innovative and powerful literary artworks being published right now are essays, whether brief or book-length.
In this course, students will be introduced to a variety of exemplary contemporary essays. We’ll focus on ones that are formally innovative, especially ‘hybrid’ essays that mix the observed/remembered with the reported/researched. We'll explore what writers working in either or both of these modes should take into consideration. Students will each have two workshops and one individual meeting with the instructor. They’ll come away from this course with a developed sense of their own potentials as essayists, an increased appreciation of the genre as a whole, and an understanding of where and how to pitch pieces like these.
- introduction to formally innovative essays that mix the observed/remembered with the reported/researched, and practical tools for using these models to tell your own stories
- greater sense of what to take into consideration—ethically and interpersonally—when writing true stories about real people, both strangers and loved ones
- increased understanding of potential venues of publication for pieces as these, as well as practical things to keep in mind (reporting best practices, how to be prepared for fact check)
- thoughtful, intensive peer and instructor feedback on two essay submissions
- access to a nurturing community of writers and readers, and an engaged mentor who is an expert in the field
- one productive, personal conference with the instructor to discuss your writing style, goals, and areas for improvement as well as individualized advice about pitching / placing pieces
Sandra Allen's debut work of literary nonfiction, A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story about Schizophrenia, is being published by Scribner next January. She grew up in Northern California, attended Brown, and received an MFA from the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program. Her essays and features have been named notable selections by Best American Essays and Best American Science and Nature Writing. Also an editor, she co-founded the online-only literary quarterly Wag's Revue, and for a few years edited features for BuzzFeed. She lives in the Catskills and tweets @sealln.
"Sandra Allen's essays and reporting often do the impossible—get at the very human issue inside a bigger, unexamined idea. I am always learning from her writing; she keeps me in awe."
"Sandra is one of the best editors I've worked with in my career. She not only made complicated stories sharper and clearer, but was always willing to patiently listen to my neuroses."
"Sandra Allen is an expert level editor whose precision and empathy brought my essay to its highest potential. Thanks to her work my BuzzFeed essay, 'I Had a Stroke at 33' went viral and led to a 2 book deal with Ecco / Harper Collins."
"Sandra Allen will whip your writing into the best shape of its life."
"Sandra's is one of the most rewarding classes I've ever taken. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her standards are high — making for lively discussions and razor-sharp edits. She brings an impressive depth of knowledge and genuine passion to the table, and makes you excited to do the work at hand. Sandra challenged me where other teachers hadn't, and I'm a far better writer for it."