The current fraught socio-political climate is motivating nonfiction writers to engage with social issues on the page. The personal has become political, and the political has become personal. In truth, the writer has long played a role as a witness, conscience, and predictor of social change.
In this 6-week class for writers of any level, we will consider the following questions. How do we write compellingly yet responsibly about social issues? How do we write about the world as we’d like it to be without coming across as Pollyanna or propaganda? We will investigate these questions through readings and discussions about work by writers which engage social issues; we’ll also workshop student writing with this critical lens. Each participant will have the opportunity to workshop once, either existing or new work, and will have a 15-minute private consultation via Skype or phone with the instructor about their writing.
Some of the topics we’ll cover:
- Motivations for and implications of writing about social issues
- Avoiding sensationalism, stereotypes, and bias
- Relationship between writer, reader, and subject
- Writing from experience and writing from opinion
- Different levels of research
- The context versus the narrative
Writers will leave with more grounding in how to write compellingly about complex social issues with nuance and sensitivity.
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.
- Readings that demonstrate a range of approaches to writing about social issues
- How to assess and traverse the relationships between the writer, reader, and subject
- How to avoid sensationalism and stereotypes but also unconscious bias
- How to balance providing context with telling a compelling story
- Understanding different levels of research and resources that inform a story (ex. sensitivity readers)
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
- Readings: Read and discuss 2-3 readings per class
- Writing Exercises: Complete writing exercises related to craft lesson
- Writing & Workshop: Write a 500 to 1000 word piece about a social issue of choice to be workshopped during class time
- Workshop: Read and provide substantive feedback on peer workshop pieces
Week 1: Why We Write about Social Issues
Week 2: Balancing Context versus Narrative
Week 3: Writing from Opinion versus Writing from Experience
Week 4: Taking a Blended Approach
Week 5: The Importance of Cultural Sensitivity
Week 6: Implications of Writing About Social Issues
Kavita Das writes about culture, race, gender, and their intersections. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Kavita’s work has been published in WIRED, CNN, Teen Vogue, Catapult, Fast Company, Tin House, Longreads, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, Kenyon Review, NBC News Asian America, Guernica, Electric Literature, Colorlines, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Kavita’s second book Craft and Conscience: How to Write About Social Issues (Beacon Press, October 2022) is inspired by the Writing About Social Issues class she created and teaches. Her first book, Poignant Song: The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar, was published by Harper Collins India in 2019. She lives in New York with her husband, toddler, and hound. Find her on Twitter: @kavitamix and Instagram: @kavitadas.
“In her work, Kavita explores themes of identity, gender, politics, race, and culture with probing insight and refreshing candor. Her breadth of experience in both the literary arena and the social change sector makes her a multitalented writing teacher and an exceptionally insightful editor.”
"I’ve been a fan of Kavita Das’s work for years. Both her political and literary practices—if the two can even be separated,—demonstrate a compassionate, sensitive, critical, and rigorous approach to the ways we shape meanings, identities, lives, and communities. I read Kavita to discover new, better ways to think, write, and examine the ways we live. "
"Kavita Das' professional resume speaks volumes to her skill and knowledge base on social justice, but her comprehension is further exemplified, and amplified, in her writing. Anyone who has read Kavita Das' contributions to the larger discussion in national periodicals can see her attention to not only speaking out but also listening, a crucial point in any kind of social justice work. In reading her work and personally witnessing how carefully she analyzes and empathizes with others in various situations both in conversation and in action there's no doubt she's one of the strongest voices on social justice issues as well as a steadfast advocate in all aspects of her life."