Increasingly, the walls between the subjective and objective in nonfiction are crumbling. Journalists today often choose to include themselves in their own stories. Traditional media and digital outlets are frequently commissioning personal essays to inform readers in spaces once reserved for more traditional reported pieces. This is also an exciting moment for nonfiction generally: Some of the most innovative and powerful literary artworks being published right now are (arguably) essays, whether brief or book-length—like Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts and Carmen Maria Machado's In the Dream House.
In this course, students will be introduced to a variety of exemplary contemporary essays. We’ll focus on ones that are formally innovative, especially ‘hybrid’ essays that mix the observed/remembered with the reported/researched. We'll explore what writers working in either or both of these modes should take into consideration. Students will each have at least one opportunity to workshop their own writing and one individual meeting with the instructor. They’ll come away from this course with a developed sense of their own potentials as essayists, an increased appreciation of the genre as a whole, and an understanding of practical concerns to have when attempting to publish such work (i.e. being fact checked, or navigating the interpersonal troubles that can arise from writing about real people).
To apply to this course, please submit up to five double-spaced pages of a creative nonfiction project. This sample can be the beginning of something you’d like to explore in class or something different, as long as it represents your writing well.
This class will meet over our video chat platform. You will need to use Google Chrome and a computer to join your class meetings.
- Introduction to formally innovative essays that mix the observed/remembered with the reported/researched, and practical tools for using these models to tell your own stories
- Greater sense of what to take into consideration—ethically and interpersonally—when writing true stories about real people, whether strangers or loved ones
- Practical advice about conducting reporting and research, preparing for fact check, etc.
- Thoughtful, intensive peer and instructor feedback on one workshop submission
- One productive, personal conference with the instructor to discuss your writing style, goals, and areas for improvement as well as individualized advice about pitching / placing pieces
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
There will be weekly reading (usually just one essay) and optional, supplemental podcast listening. Workshop submissions should be 15 pages double spaced (maximum)
Week 1 - Introductions (of us, and of course concepts) and Workshopping 101
Week 2 - Blending memoir with research/reporting (Sarah Smarsh)
Week 3 - A journalist goes personal (Nikole Hannah-Jones)
Week 4 - The reporter/essayist as a character (Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah)
Week 5 - The potential benefits (and perils!) of formal innovation (Leslie Jamison)
Week 6 - Is objectivity dead? Did it ever exist? (Lewis Raven Wallace)
Sandy Allen writes and talks about gender, normalcy and radical mental health. They are the author of A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise (Scribner), a formally innovative, critically acclaimed work of hybrid literary reportage and memoir, named one of the best nonfiction books of the 2018 by Esquire. Sandy's essays and features have been published by Guernica, Lit Hub, them., Gay Magazine, 99% Invisible, Bon Appétit's Healthyish, Pop-Up Magazine, and BuzzFeed News, where they used to be Deputy Features Editor. A graduate of Brown, Sandy received an MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa.
"Sandy Allen is an excellent teacher, a thoughtful reader, and a really sharp editor. I feel lucky to learn from them, and utterly loved my time in their class!"
“To pay great attention and devote steady care to the perspective of another is, in itself, almost miraculous—especially when the Other has been cast as mad and dangerous. This is a truly original piece of work. I urge you to read it.”
"Sandy is one of the best editors I've worked with in my career. They not only made complicated stories sharper and clearer, but were always willing to patiently listen to my neuroses."
"Sandy's is one of the most rewarding classes I've ever taken. Their enthusiasm is contagious and their standards are high — making for lively discussions and razor-sharp edits. They bring an impressive depth of knowledge and genuine passion to the table, and make you excited to do the work at hand. Sandy challenged me where other teachers hadn't, and I'm a far better writer for it."
"Compelling . . . A bracing work of art and a loving tribute to a man whose voice, no matter how unpolished, deserves to be heard."
“This book is an act of radical empathy through which the author—and, vicariously, the reader—enters intimately into a life that would otherwise be unintelligible.”