All personal essays require emotional and technical rigor, but essays on family can be especially fraught. How do we write one essay out of an entire relationship, especially if it's ongoing? How do we tell the truth if there is no common consensus on what the truth is?
In this class, open to writers with all levels of experience, we’ll go beyond Anne Lamott's famous missive "If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better" to navigate the ethical and aesthetic questions in writing family essays.
We’ll examine the different forms the personal essay on family can take beyond memoir, how to find the narrative arc within a life, how to develop real people as characters, and other craft questions through the lens of family but that apply to all creative nonfiction. We’ll read essays from writers including Mary H.K. Choi, Michele Filgate, Alexander Chee, Deborah Levy, T Kira Madden, and Vauhini Vara to examine some of the structures and forms the family essay can take. We’ll also dig into the practical elements of where and how to pitch family essays. Students will have the opportunity to receive peer and instructor feedback on one essay, as well as participate in generative writing exercises.
By the end of this class, students will have a greater understanding of how to write personal essays, especially those about people they know, as well as ideas for where to pitch their writing in the future.
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 framework to incorporate the ethics of writing about family (and people you know) into your practice
- A deeper understanding of the elements of personal essays
- An opportunity to workshop a family essay with peer and instructor feedback
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Each class will consist of a craft discussion and a workshop of two student essays. Students will be assigned 2-3 essays to read per week, as well as optional supplementary materials, for class discussion. For workshop, students will share a student essay of 2-5k words. Students are expected to provide line-level feedback for each essay as well as an editorial letter.
Week 1: What is fair game?: The ethics of writing about family
Week 2: Developing the elements of a personal essay
Week 3: Developing family members as characters
Week 4: Writing family trauma, secrets, and history
Week 5: Broadening the scope: What can we write about when we write about family?
Week 6: If, how, and where to publish
Anna Held is a writer and editor based in San Francisco. Her essays have appeared in BuzzFeed, The Cut, The Rumpus, Romper, Runner's World, Catapult, Vox, and Electric Literature, among other publications. She is an associate features editor at The Rumpus and a prolific ghostwriter.
Photo credit: Andria Lo
"Anna's lovely writing is given its true weight because of her straightforwardness — she's able to look right to the heart of a complicated feeling or issue and lay it all out for her readers. She's responsive, thoughtful, and a joy to work with."
"Anna Held is a confident, skillful guide through the messy process of essay-making, from brainstorming to fleshing out ideas to finding the perfect places to pitch. Her enthusiasm, deep love for the form, and her fearless experimentation are inspiring. I always learn something about myself as a writer and human when I read Anna’s work, and I always return to the page full of ideas and infected with her insight when I return to edit writing that’s had her light turned on it. "
"Anna Held is one of the most astute editors and inspiring writers I know. She actively brings intention and care to the work of others, as she would her own work, being a practiced reader with years of experience in creative, professional, and freelance writing. Her enthusiasm and savvy, her example as a writer and teacher, has influenced my practice and approach: to collaboration and community building, and ultimately commiting to making beautiful and impactful art as writers together."
"Anna is an incredibly generous and thoughtful editor. She has such a wonderful ability to understand the potential in a piece of writing and offer encouraging and precise feedback. Her insight has been invaluable to my own work, and she remains a fellow writer whom I trust wholeheartedly."
"I've been lucky to know Anna for the last two and a half years. We first met in a Tin House novel writing workshop, where I came to know her as a diligent writer, incisive thinker, and buoyant personality whose curiosity stoked vibrant conversation among her peers. As a friend, I've continued to follow her writing and enjoy our conversations on literature. She always reveals herself to be a penetrating mind, and I have no doubt that her habit of interested inquiry will make her an excellent workshop leader."
"Anna reads with a sharp critical eye that cuts straight to the heart of what an essay is about. She cultivates a thoughtful, generous editorial style that brings out the best in writers."