The braided essay is an ambitious form that seeks resonance between different ideas. A well-executed braid offers the pleasure of a solved riddle along with the lyricism of literature, but it is a complex beast. To braid an essay, a writer might deploy any of a long list of subgenres of nonfiction, including but not limited to memoir and personal narrative, immersion journalism, cultural criticism, science writing, academic and literary research. This course will explore the form and craft of three common components of the braided essay: memoir, immersion research, and cultural criticism.
In this course, writers will gain and deepen their familiarity with the braided essay, using personal narrative to inform and resonate with outward-looking work. We will explore content and craft and will spend time researching and generating braids of memoir, experiential research, and secondary research/cultural criticism. Writers will study the braided essay and each subgenre through creative and craft work by Ted Conover, Melissa Febos, Eula Biss, Kristin Dombek, Nicole Walker, and Hanif Abdurraqib while generating drafts of new material toward their own braided essay. The class will delve into the practices of memoir, immersion research, and cultural criticism, as well as how to “do the braid”—that is, how to compose, edit, and organize material that can become unwieldy in draft form.
We will share practical techniques (like how to use index cards and your wall or floor to visually represent ideas and structures, and how to use the sonic rhythms of poetry to link disparate chunks of text), we will workshop rough pages, and we will serve as sounding boards for each other’s new work. The generative component of this class will be roughly split between mutual writing during class time and prompts to be responded to between classes. The course is open to nonfiction writers (or aspiring nonfiction writers) of all experience levels. Some familiarity with the braided essay form is recommended.
Writers will leave the class with a rough/sketched draft of a braided essay and revision suggestions to guide them toward its completion.
*No class Feb. 14
Scholarship opportunity: New parents, I see you. In an effort to keep this class accessible and in acknowledgement of how incredibly hard it is to write with a baby, the instructor is offering a full scholarship for a student who is a new parent. If you want to take this class but the fee is a barrier, please apply by sending a short (you can type it on your iPhone!) statement on why access to the class is important to you to [email protected] by January 17th, with the subject line “Margo Steines class scholarship."
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. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility.
Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.
- Learn how to deploy personal narrative and different styles of outward-looking writing to link seemingly unrelated ideas
- Realize and capitalize on the textual currency embedded in your own memories, experiences, and curiosities
- Learn to read as writer and write as an editor, homing your eye toward connections of ideas and language
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
It is recommended that each writer bring a rough idea for their braided essay to the first class. Writers will be expected to write daily for the first week, read 2-4 texts per week, generate pages each week, and to respond to up to four workshop member’s full-length work in preparation for the final session.
Writers will receive reader-response feedback from the group on three separate sets of pages, a full Critical Response Method workshop on their full-length draft during the last session, and revision notes from the instructor following the final session.
Week One: Introductions and Overview
Week Two: Looking Inward: Memoir and Personal Narrative
Week Three: The Body is the Tool: Experiential and Immersion Research
Week Four: Looking Outward: Cultural Criticism and Secondary Research
Week Five: Structuring and Editing
Week Six: Workshop and Revisions
Margo Steines is a native New Yorker, a journeyman ironworker, and serves as mom to a wildly spirited small person.
Margo holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Arizona and lives and writes in Tucson, AZ. Her work was named Notable in Best American Essays 2021 and has appeared in The Sun, Brevity, The New York Times (Modern Love), the forthcoming anthology Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us, and elsewhere. She is the author of the memoir The Zoology of Pain, forthcoming from W.W. Norton.
Margo’s author photo is by Aidan Avery @aidanaveryphoto
"There is nothing ordinary about this book. It is a brainy, elegant, erotic, brutal, funny, hypnotic achievement by an author obsessed with the far reaches of what it means to live in a body, and how some kinds of love look like violence while others can be medicine. It has made a devotee of me; I'll read anything Margo Steines ever writes."
"Margo Steines is a radical writer and also a slyly hilarious one. She goes places most of us dare not go and comes back with surprising truths that tell us as much about us as they do about her. This is the trick of great self-writing, to understand just how capacious the self can be and how porous with the wildnesses of the world. Steines's writing is alive, weird, dark, and electric."
"Margo is an incredible writer, but she also understands the vulnerability of making new art. She listens, encourages, and is wonderful at sussing out our strengths. I feel safe, and never shameful, when showing new work to Margo, and her guidance and feedback is always brilliant and precise. Her mind is a gift."
"I could not more highly recommend working with Margo. She approached my piece with sensitivity and regard, offering both her broader perspective of its work in the world and her understanding of its significance for me. I learned from her observations and questions without feeling judged or told what to do. And her professional boundaries are clear and kind and reasonable!'
“Margo built a welcoming and friendly environment in her classroom where she encouraged constructive conversation and idea-sharing. Taking her classes allowed me to learn more about myself as a person and as a writer.”