Nonfiction | Workshop

6-Week Nonfiction Workshop: The Personal Essay & Beyond

Some of the best essays published today—and those that leave the most lasting impression—use personal narrative as a lens to grapple with a greater question, problem, or truth. In this course we’ll explore the possibilities of the personal essay, focusing on work that’s rooted in first-hand experience but extends beyond it to engage with other larger subjects and ideas. This might include gender, identity, or race; it could be art, politics, or the environment; it might be parenthood, adoption, an historical event or cultural phenomenon you’re curious to explore. Together we’ll experiment with form, voice, and narrative technique, broadening our toolkit as writers to incorporate research, interview, or cultural reportage to tell more complex stories and ask better questions. Ultimately, the goal of this class will be to broaden our scope and sharpen our skills as essayists, to write powerful works of nonfiction that help us better understand and navigate the world.

Each student will draft and workshop at least one essay (up to 6,000 words). We’ll read and discuss essays by a broad range of writers, and through in-class writing exercises we’ll generate ideas and experiment with different forms and narrative approaches. We will also discuss what one needs to do in order to publish essays in print and digital magazines, or as part of a larger book project. We’ll cover the basics of pitching, querying, and submitting work, as well as the evolving landscape of magazine and book publishing, and discuss a number of resources and opportunities to help get your work into the world. We’ll identify possible outlets for each writer’s work, and begin to develop a plan for pitching those pieces to editors or agents, depending on the writer’s goals.

Each student will also meet with the instructor for a one-on-one conference, in which we will further discuss the development of the student’s work. Depending on each writer's goals, we may also use this time to further develop a strategy for publishing, querying agents, developing a book proposal, or discussing other questions about writing and publishing that the student might have.

This class is open to dedicated writers who hope to develop their craft, who would like to think more deeply about publishing their essays, and who would like to form a stronger connection with NYC’s vibrant literary community.

*No class March 5th


- A close study of essays that incorporate personal, cultural, and critical subjects through a range of formal and narrative techniques

- Extensive peer and instructor feedback on at least one essay via workshop sessions and editorial letters/notes

- Insider understanding of best practices for pitching, querying, and submitting work, as well as the current landscape of magazine and book publishing

- A one-on-one conference with the instructor to further discuss development of the work, set goals, and/or make a publishing plan

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Each student is expected to submit at least one essay for workshop (up to 6,000 words). Students should be prepared to give dedicated written feedback and be prepared to discuss their classmates’ work. Reading assignments will average between 1 and 2 hours per week.

Melissa Faliveno

Melissa Faliveno is a writer, editor, and teacher whose debut essay collection, Tomboyland, is forthcoming in August 2020. The former senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine, she was previously an editor at an independent nonfiction press and a features writer for Isthmus, an alternative weekly in Madison, Wisconsin. Her essays and interviews have appeared in Bitch, the Millions, Prairie Schooner, DIAGRAM, and Midwestern Gothic, among others, and received a notable selection in Best American Essays 2016. She teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. 


"I feel lucky to have encountered Melissa Faliveno and her writing years ago because it is now, at this political and historical moment, that I find it most essential. As the nation pivots between rage and indifference, Melissa’s focus, in work and in life, on the spaces in between has added nuance and depth to the world in a way that is too often missed right now. Through prose that is at once transportive and true, lyrical and solid as stone, her examinations of those middle spaces have touched on a universal part of our national conversation with humor, with honesty, with love in a way that has confronted me as a reader and challenged me as a woman."

Melissa Febos author of ABANDON ME and WHIP SMART

“Melissa Faliveno is a thoughtful and precise editor, a generous literary citizen, and an all-around wonderful human being to discuss the craft of writing with.”

Leigh Stein author of LAND OF ENCHANTMENT

“When I handed in the draft for my essay, “Flood is Water,” for Poets & Writers Magazine, I wasn't sure what kind of feedback, if any, I'd get considering that the essay is written in colloquial language. Melissa was not only a thoughtful and generous editor who asked exploratory questions, pushed me hard, and encouraged me through the editing, but she is one of the finest editors I've ever worked with. I trust her emphatically.”

Kima Jones writer and founder of Jack Jones Literary Arts

"Melissa is an intuitive teacher, who reads student work with sensitivity, and with invaluable insight as to its possibilities. She mentors her students instinctively and with generosity, offering thorough responses to works in progress. In burgeoning student work, she pinpoints emerging central themes and their underlying contemporary urgency, identifying how meaningful and thematic personal writing can resonate profoundly within the landscape of contemporary literature—she conveys the latter in a way that inspires students to write, and to become excited about developing their writing. She is a generous teacher, who celebrates her students' creative work and success, and I value the opportunity to develop my work with her."

Amy Beth Wright freelance journalist and memoirist, Brooklyn, New York