Nonfiction | Workshop

6-Week Nonfiction Workshop: Character & Place

How do we tell stories about ourselves, the people we have known, and the places that influence us? How do these stories differ, and what tools remain the same? You might be surprised to learn that writing about a formative childhood romance and profiling a Christian street preacher require similar skills: understanding a world and then investigating it.

This course uses the writer's own experiences as a starting point to develop character, setting, and the narrative voice, with a strong focus on how place shapes characters and perspective. Focusing on the "mental work" that often precedes writing--such as honing our ears for dialogue and our eyes for specific character- and world-building--this course will help students strengthen the art of "noticing." Analyzing and interpreting the world are central qualities to crafting evocative settings and creating fully fleshed-out characters. Different class meetings will focus on different elements of creation, including sessions on writing home, writing New York, creating character profiles, and practicing dialogue, culminating in a session on finding your personal voice.

Authors covered in the six-workshop class will include Joan Didion, Renata Adler, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin, and more. Students will have the opportunity to respond to weekly prompts and share up to two crafted responses with the class for workshop.

By honing observational and interpretational skills – learning to mine the world around them for material, especially the world of New York City– students will view themselves as both writer and character and learn to see the relationship between themselves and their world in literary terms.


- Noticing specific, concrete details about people and places that make them come alive

- Crafting specific and character-building dialogue

- Understanding how character and setting work in dialogue with one another to create a textual world

- Peer and instructor feedback on two workshopped pieces per student

Tara Isabella Burton

Tara Isabella Burton's debut novel, Social Creature, was published by Doubleday in 2018. Her nonfiction and travel writing has appeared in National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist's 1843, and more, and her fiction has appeared in Granta, The New Yorker's Daily Shouts, PANK, and other places. She is currently the staff religion writer at


"[Burton] knows her way around good, evil and the eternally reader-friendly realm in between. SOCIAL CREATURE is a wicked original with echoes of the greats (Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn).”


"[Burton's SOCIAL CREATURE is]...spectacularly impressive ...[with] drily audacious prose ... A ridiculously assured first novel, told in an utterly original voice that doesn’t waver—even when it tackles body disposal."


“I read SOCIAL CREATURE in one breathless rush. It's a wild nightmarish ride through a New York City of decadence & broken dreams, faking it & fucking up, love & lies & lies & more lies​. This is the missing link between Bret Easton Ellis & THE SECRET HISTORY.”

Emma Flint author of Baileys Prize longlisted LITTLE DEATHS