In this class we’ll consider the relationship between content and form in the personal essay, exploring and practicing various ways to use narrative and antinarrative techniques in writing about oneself and one’s own life.
Taking the shifting nature of memory—sometimes fluid, often spotty, occasionally self-contradictory—as our starting point, we’ll consider how contemporary personal essayists make use of a wide variety of formal approaches to probe their own experiences, relying on techniques ranging from digression to juxtaposition, from circularity to collage. In work by writers such as Heidi Julavits, Claudia Rankine, and Alexander Chee, we’ll examine how they frame and portray their thoughts and life events in ways that carry lasting emotional and symbolic import. Aided and inspired by weekly readings, discussions, and exercises, each student will write and workshop two original personal essays over the course of the six-week class. This course is open to writers of all levels of experience.
- An understanding of the relationship between form and meaning in personal essays
- An expanded sense of what a personal essay can be
- Exposure to and practice working with a range of narrative and antinarrative techniques
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Weekly readings up to 25 pages; short weekly writing exercises; two 5-10 page personal essays over the six-week course of the class.
Week 1: narrative; voice and syntax
Week 2: non/chronology; writing the self as a character
Week 3: braided narrative and juxtaposition; working with themes and motifs
Week 4: the role of research; establishing critical distance
Week 5: fragmentation and collage; writing trauma and injustice
Week 6: antinarrative; disrupting traditional forms
Marin Sardy is the author of The Edge of Every Day: Sketches of Schizophrenia, a fragmentary, essayistic memoir about the mental illness that runs in her family. Sardy’s essays have appeared in Tin House, Guernica, the Rumpus, the Missouri Review, and many other journals, as well as in two award-winning photography books—Landscape Dreams and Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby. Her criticism and cultural journalism have appeared in regional and national magazines, including ArtNews and Art Ltd. A Pushcart Prize nominee, Sardy has twice had her work listed as “notable” in Best American Essays.
“Sardy delivers an extraordinarily ambitious and accomplished narrative … The author refuses to follow conventional notions of chronology or connection, illuminating mental illness from the inside out. … Both powerful and disturbing, this impressive debut memoir suggests just how challenging it can be to regain some semblance of balance after that balance is lost.”
“A painful and beautiful account of what it means to live with and love someone suffering from mental illness, and how those relationships shape you and your understanding of the world. Required reading for ... anyone looking to deepen their sense of empathy and understanding of others... so, everyone? Incredible book.”
“Marin’s expertise in the craft of writing is stunning, elegant, and unselfconscious. She is an inspiring teacher. I learned more about creative writing during one session with Marin than I did from a semester of college-level courses.”
“Marin was instrumental to my growth as a writer. She took what I was interested in and used it as a springboard to craft lessons that pushed me and allowed me to practice different techniques and styles. Every time we wrapped up, I began counting down until the next meeting. I can’t recommend her highly enough!”