Chances are your education in essay writing was more like a miseducation. The academy instructs us in expository writing—essay as intellectual exercise—but most of us have little training or even exposure to the art of constructing and appreciating works of creative nonfiction, such as memoir, travelogue, and narrative journalism. Even that term itself might sound oxymoronic. If it's nonfiction, how can it also be creative?
In this six-week course, we'll discuss both classic and contemporary pieces of creative nonfiction in order to demystify some of the basic approaches and techniques utilized by writers of this genre, and in a low-pressure, highly-supportive environment, you'll workshop two short essays of your own. Along the way, you will learn how to closely read and analyze a literary work, from taking in the big picture to zooming in on the sentence level, and we'll deconstruct that oft-used but seldom defined term, “voice.” Throughout, we'll pay close to attention to structure and how writers not only tell a story, but develop a theme. The reading list will vary, from works about food and pop culture, to more pointed critiques of patriarchy and race in America. By the time this workshop is over, you will not only have a general understanding of what creative nonfiction is, you'll have read some examples of the art, and be on your way to developing fluency in the form yourself.
This course is designed for writers curious about creative nonfiction, but no prior experience writing in this genre is required.
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 Zoom desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- Gain a general overview of creative nonfiction as a genre, with deep dives into some of the great essays from the mid-twentieth century to today
- Develop close reading skills you can apply to enrich your reading in any genre
- Cultivate fluency in writing creative nonfiction via weekly prompts
- Write and workshop two short essays, either inspired by prompts or on subjects of your own choosing
- Learn ideas for next steps and reading recommendations via a short, individualized editorial letter at the end of class
- Feel empowered to tell your own life's story on the page, and leave the class prepared for a workshop environment or intermediate level class
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Each week students will have 1-2 essays to read, which will be discussed during class. Twice during the course they will submit short essays, which we'll workshop in class. I will assign some short writing prompts as well, which students can share with one another and we can briefly discuss.
Week 1: The Importance of Both Showing and Telling
Reading to discuss: “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion; “On Becoming An American Writer,” Alexander Chee
Week 2: Untangling Plot and Theme
Reading to discuss: “A Report from Occupied Territory,” by James Baldwin; “How to Slowly Kill Yourself in America,” by Kiese Laymon
Week 3: Workshop Week 1
Reading to discuss: “Against Catharsis,” T Kira Madden
Week 4: What We Talk About When We Talk About Voice
Reading to discuss: “Consider the Lobster,” by David Foster Wallace; “The Last Essay,” by Porochista Khakpour
Week 5: The Writer Stays On The Page
Reading: “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” by Gay Talese; “Intrusions,” by Melissa Febos (or perhaps a true crime piece by Rachel Monroe)
Week 6: How Creative Can Nonfiction Be?
Reading: “The Fourth State of Matter" by Jo Ann Beard
Brian Gresko is a widely published writer and editor of the anthology When I First Held You: 22 Critically Acclaimed Writers Talk About the Triumphs, Challenges, and Transformative Experience of Fatherhood. He cohosts Pete’s Reading Series, the longest running literary series in Brooklyn, New York. You can find him online at briangresko.com.
"In Brian's class, I felt like I “leveled up,” learning creative strategies to organize and make my work more readable and interesting. I gained an excitement and enthusiasm for writing that I didn't have before - an energy that I plan to keep flowing now that the class is done!"
"I took Brian's workshop in non-fiction and worked on two pieces with the class, while also reading and giving feedback on students' work. That experience reignited my writing process in a serious way. I continued to work on the second piece from the class with Brian one-on-one, and he encouraged me to submit it for publication. He helped me understand the submission process, and tracked down contacts at the publications on my short list. That piece kinda blew up on the Internet and the next thing I know I have a literary agent and am working on a full-length book project. Will you get an agent by taking Brian's class? Unclear. But you will gain an honest understanding of both your strengths and tics as a writer, and hopefully a kick in the motivation pants while you're at it."
"Brian's supportive listening and willingness to see the potential value of his student's ideas created the perfect atmosphere, encouraging our creativity and imagination. His class was well organized, extremely well-informed and offered plenty of practical details and advice about publishing."