So much of our life experience, or rather how we reflect back on it, is the “what if.” What if we’d left earlier, spoken louder, moved here or there, known our parents before they had us, known our lovers before we loved them, known our adult selves as children? These are the scenarios our minds often flip through—however impossible they are in reality. How do we ethically bring these speculations into our work?
In this six-week workshop, open to writers with all levels of experience, focused on speculative nonfiction, we’ll engage with memoirs, poems, and essays that play with the “what if” of things. Readings will include selections from Jo Ann Beard’s Festival Days, Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, and Laura Kasischke’s “Bike Ride with Older Boys,” among others. How do these writers speculate on what could’ve been—in relation to events, time, and past selves? How does this strengthen their narrative conceits? How can we implement these tools in our own essays?
We’ll also engage on this level with each other’s work. Each student will workshop one essay they either feel needs to engage with speculation or is currently asking these impossible questions.
Writers will leave this class with a deeper understanding of how to employ speculative nonfiction tools in their work as well as written and verbal feedback from peers and the instructor on an essay draft of their choosing.
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.
- A deep understanding of how the “perhaps” of real events enriches personal narratives
- A toolbox of Speculative Containers (structural ways to ethically engage with this “what if”)
- Thoughtful feedback from fellow students and the instructor on how these tools are currently functioning in their work.
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students are expected to complete two reading assignments before the first class, followed by 5-10 short reading assignments thereafter.
Additionally, each student will workshop one essay of their choosing (up to 12 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12-point font) and submit guiding questions to their classmates the Monday before their workshop discussion.
Written feedback from students is required after the workshop in the form of an editorial letter (one page, single-spaced). The instructor will provide the same along with line edits.
Each class meeting will include an hour discussion of the reading, 45 minutes of workshop, and a 15 minute writing exercise.
Week one: Introductions; Fear Exercise; Workshop 1
Week Two: Speculative Containers; Workshop 2
Week Three: Workshop 3
Week Four: Workshop 4
Week 5: Workshop 5
Week 6: Workshop 6
Haley Swanson is an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College and co-editor of Sex and the Single Woman: 24 Writers Reimagine Helen Gurley Brown's Cult Classic (Harper Perennial, 2022). Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Glamour, Electric Literature, Bustle, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, and elsewhere. She's received support from Disquiet International, an NES Artist Residency, and teaches writing at Catapult. She lives in New York.
"Haley's high-level feedback is always spot on, balancing artistic concerns with that of commercial viability, informed by her background as a professional Big Five editor. But what I appreciated the most were her line edits. They always formed the basis for my revisions!"
"Ever since I first met Haley, over seven years ago, she's been my go-to first reader. Her editorial eye is as sharp as her tongue, and she has a keen sense of what the core of the story should truly be. (Whether or not it's what you realize it is at the time.)"
"Her editing not only elevates your writing but also injects possibility and confidence into your process so you can push your work further."