We all hold objects close to our hearts: from a pebble collected on a childhood walk to the diary of a loved one. Often, it’s not enough to simply call them objects: they may act in the world, compelling stories of their own, and may well be guiding forces in our writing.
This nonfiction course will explore techniques for writing about objects, animals, and other vibrant cues that shape our narratives. We’ll examine stories about plastic particles, deep sea creatures, childhood relics, fungal webs, long-lost letters, and more, asking how best to write with nonhuman focal points. Over six weeks, students will consider the role of writing in a living (and dying) world, how the ways in which the objects we write with are afforded agency, and ultimately craft an essay-length piece of their own.
Each session, we’ll consider a piece of writing with a more-than-human focus, as in Rebecca Altman’s intimate history of plastics and family, or Sabrina Imbler’s essays on sea creatures. Through close readings of essays and memoirs, plus a series of exercises, we’ll hone our skills for creating complex, living worlds, working with assigned objects as prompts for in-class work and personal objects for our full-length works in progress.
This class is suitable for all levels, but especially suited for writers who may have a focus in mind: perhaps you’d like to try writing about a recently unearthed family photo, your passion for plants or animals, or something else entirely.
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.
- Generate complex, vivid non-fiction worlds, where objects and settings are more than passive backdrops
- Explore a range of styles—from more traditional environmental writing to heartfelt personal essays and more
- Hone skills for descriptive, sensory writing
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
In-class exercises, weekly preparatory readings (10-25 pages), course-long writing project (an essay between 1500-3000 words). During weekly writing exercises and final workshops, students will share their work with the class, and we’ll generate feedback together. At the end of the course, each student will meet virtually with the instructor for feedback on their essay.
Week 1: Introductory Objects: Exploring the range of ways in which objects might guide a story
Week 2: Earthly Objects: Exploring the natural world, and ways of writing with plants, animals, minerals, and more
Week 3: Edible Objects: Getting in touch with our senses, exploring how to write viscerally
Week 4: Emotional Objects: Exploring how we may write with artefacts from our personal pasts
Week 5: Our Objects Pt I: Workshopping our essays
Week 6 Our Objects Pt II: Workshopping our essays
Jessica J. Lee is a British-Canadian-Taiwanese author, environmental historian, and winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature, and the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer Award. She is the author of two books of nature writing: Turning (2017) and Two Trees Make a Forest (2019), shortlisted for Canada Reads 2021. Jessica has a PhD in Environmental History and Aesthetics and is the founding editor of The Willowherb Review. She is a researcher at the University of Cambridge.
"Jessica was beyond amazing in answering questions and being available to provide guidance. She created an amazing teaching atmosphere to participate in."
"Jessica is a passionate teacher who always receives positive feedback from her students. She is well prepared, knowledgeable, and encouraging. I’m always happy to include Jessica in my workshop program because I know her course will sell out and be a hit!"
“Lee's TWO TREES MAKE A FOREST is a finely faceted meditation on memory, love, landscape — and finding a home in language. Its short, shining sections tilt yearningly towards one another; in form as well as content, this is a beautiful book about the distance between people and between places, and the means of their bridging.”
"Lee writes like a siren, her silken prose blending with softly worn scholarship to enchanting effect. I challenge anyone to write more compellingly about Slavic suffixes or the formation of ice.”
“Lee combines a botanist’s precision with a poet’s eye and ear…one of the most exciting voices exploring landscape and identity today.”