This course will consider various approaches for blending autobiographical writing with cultural criticism. Autobiography can provide a cultural critic a connection to both the larger world and the body, offering a sense of embodiment and context. For memoirists, the incorporation of cultural criticism can move a personal story beyond the self, situating it within a social and historical landscape. In this class, we will look at contemporary forms and models for mixing memoir with various forms of criticism. We will consider questions of genre, form, narrative, voice, balance, shape, and blend.
This class is open to writers exploring cultural phenomena, trends, objects, or issues through or in tandem with a personal story or framework, as well as those looking to hone their skills weaving autobiography with cultural history and/or critical theory. It is also open to those writing reviews or other essays about or inspired by books, film, television, visual or performance art, fashion, or other media who want to use personal experience to deepen their analysis. This class is open to all levels, but it is recommended that students have some workshop experience and a rough idea for at least one essay before beginning the course.
Students will leave this class with revision suggestions for one nonfiction essay (or two short pieces), advice for revision and publication, and a deeper awareness of their own style for combining the personal and the critical, including where their work may fit in the larger publishing landscape.
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.
- Familiarity with the craft of combining memoir and criticism, as well as popular variations within the genre of nonfiction
- Models and methods for blending autobiography, theory and/or criticism
- Verbal and written feedback on one essay or other nonfiction piece from the instructor and other classmates; verbal feedback on a pitch or submission letter for your essay
- Knowledge of the pitching and submission process for nonfiction essays, including suggestions for possible publications for your piece
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
It is recommended that students have a rough idea for a subject or story before the start of the course. Students should expect to draft a ~2,000-word essay (or two shorter pieces) by the middle of the course. Students will receive early generative verbal feedback from students and the instructor in Week 2 and Week 3.
In workshop sessions, students will be expected to read the work of four peers per week, offering written and verbal feedback and suggestions for revision and publication. Expect to complete the course with a polished piece ready for submission, strategies for mixing the personal and critical in any future writing, and guidance on how to submit your piece.
Week 1: Introductions. This session will follow a discussion model. Students will share backgrounds with the course topic and content, as well as preliminary questions and essay ideas. Then we will look at forms, models, and styles contained in writing by authors such as Carmen Maria Machado, Leslie Jamison, Alice Bolin, Brittney Cooper, Jia Tolentino, Hanif Abdurraqib. Readings will be tailored to interests shared by students in class. Students will reconvene after a reading session to discuss formal and literary methods for combining the personal and the critical.
Week 2: This session will follow a guided, generative, working group model. Students will settle on a concept and form for their essay. We will write together, culminating in brief sharing and live verbal feedback. Students will complete their piece for the next class and come to the third session with a complete draft. Look at more essay models as needed.
Week 3: With their completed essays in hand, students will sticking points, process, and receive more feedback from other students and the instructor. We will complete revision exercises and work on revision together in class, as well as look at more essay models as needed.
Week 4: Workshop #1.
Week 5: Workshop #2.
Week 6: Getting published. We will discuss how to find a publication that fits your voice, pitching, and submitting. Students will have the opportunity to share a pitch or submission letter for their piece for live feedback.
Amanda Montei is the author of Two Memoirs (Jaded Ibis Press) and The Failure Age (Bloof Books). She holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts and a PhD from the Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo. Her poetry, fiction, essays, and criticism have appeared in The Believer, Vox, HuffPost, Rumpus, Salon, Ms. Magazine, as well as numerous literary journals and scholarly publications. She has been teaching for over a decade at the college level and in community arts programs. For three years, she was editor of the literary journal P-QUEUE, and she previously co-edited the small press project Bon Aire Projects. Amanda lives in California with her partner and two children.
Author photo courtesy of the author.
"Amanda Montei deftly evokes the splendors and miseries of her childhood in LA, a fabulous country of the mind, a land unlike any other. The riches to rags narrative she offers breaks your heart at a hundred intersections; it is a story populated by the demonic energies of family and school life, polished and broken into shards of crystal… With relentless subconscious force Montei’s genealogy slams against her personal life story, creating a stunning reverb effect.”
“In this deft, funny, sad, and strong memoir, Amanda Montei shows a remarkable skill for zooming in on the hilarious, unbearable, sometimes heartbreaking detail (watch for the polyps!), then panning out to give a memorable portrait of a time and place (Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s, with all its deceptive, and sometimes real, glamour). It’s as much discovery narrative as recovery narrative, as its author explores the deep mysteries of both mothers and memory with a wry and steady hand.”
"Amanda's course was nurturing, generative, inspiring, and just such a powerful 4 weeks. No one wanted the session to end which speaks to her ability to not only create a compelling course but also encourage healthy discussion and vulnerability. "
"This course buoyed me and made me feel connected to other writers at a time when I was feeling very disconnected from the writing world. I was blown away by the diversity and depth of readings, the spirit of support and camaraderie, and the quality of both submissions and feedback from fellow participants. Amanda led the course with such insight, compassion, and intelligence—I also thoroughly enjoyed the prompts… as well as the discussions and ways in which we were all inspired to engage with the reading material, and each other's work, on a weekly basis. I will miss it!"
"It was a galvanizing and inspiring and safe place to be and listen and create."
"This class nurtured, inspired, and challenged me."
"[Amanda’s] course materials and writing prompts were impeccably curated and thoughtful, and she created an honest and supportive "classroom" space on Zoom. I am grateful for the community I found through this course!"
"Amanda held a space that was simultaneously gentle and intellectually compelling, her feedback was prompt and through and the writing portals were well thought out and generative. I'm so grateful to have had this opportunity."