Stories are like relationships: we remember how they begin and how they end. But this obscures the complexity of writing about intimacy, which rarely conforms to such neat narrative structures and often dwells in the messy middle, during times of closeness as well as distance and disconnection. How then might one account for relationships where there is no possibility of closure, or conjure a sense of years of shared history in the relatively limited space of the page? What challenges and possibilities does this present when crafting such experiences in our stories?
In this generative eight-week workshop, we will examine the tensions and textures within various representations of intimacy, ranging from spontaneous connections between strangers to the dynamics of daily domestic life. The concerns of intimacy will be posed as questions of craft: How might a narrative hold space for periods of silence, absence, or rupture? How do feelings of desire, longing, ambivalence, or ambiguity shape a sentence? In what ways is intimacy complicated by encounters with the body, in sex or illness? How can we resist familiar scripts when writing about romantic love or familial bonds?
We will look at depictions of care and cruelty, love and estrangement, tenderness and violence by writers such as Garth Greenwell, Eimer McBride, Anvi Doshi, James Baldwin, Yuko Tsushima, Sigrid Nunez, Lynn Steger Strong, Sara Majka, Noy Holland, and others. These weekly readings will act as frameworks for our discussions and allow us to develop a shared language for workshopping each other’s prose. Targeted craft exercises will help us go deeper with our own portraits-in-progress of friends, lovers, and family members.
Students will have the opportunity to workshop two pieces of prose over the course of the workshop, both of which will receive detailed peer and instructor feedback. Although our reading will primarily be fiction, students are welcome to submit short stories, essays, memoir, or novel excerpts that grapple with intimacy. In one private one-on-one conference, we will meet to discuss your writing in more detail, including ways to move forward in revision.
This workshop is open to writers at all stages of their practice. Some prior workshop experience is recommended, though not necessary. All members of the class must come to our virtual meetings prepared to discuss the assigned readings, be willing to share their own writing in workshop as well as in response to in-class writing prompts, and above all, be generous in response to their peers’ work.
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.
- The opportunity to workshop two submissions of prose (short story, essay, memoir or novel excerpt) and receive feedback from the instructor and peers
- A one-on-one conference with the instructor to discuss your writing process and ways to continue to polish your work in revision
- A tool-kit of writing exercises and strategies to help you dig deeper with your depictions of intimacy
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Class time will be divided between three main components: workshopping each other’s stories, discussing assigned readings, and craft exercises designed to help us approach writing intimacy. Students will be expected to read one to two assigned short stories/novel excerpts per week, in addition to the scheduled workshop submissions. You will also be required to write a one-page, single-spaced response to each submission.
The workshop is the beating heart of the online writing community we will build together over eight weeks. It’s essential that you come to our virtual meetings having read and responded to your classmates’ work with care and ready to offer thoughtful, productive feedback in our Zoom discussions.
Each workshop submission should be a maximum of 10 double-spaced pages. A schedule will be devised in our first meeting. Prior to the first session, you will also be asked to respond to a brief survey to help me understand how best to support your current writing goals in this setting.
Week One: Strangers + Introductions
Week Two: Lovers + Workshop 1
Week Three: Friends + Workshop 2
Week Four: Siblings + Workshop 3
Week Five: Parents + Workshop 4
Week Six: Children + Workshop 5
Week Seven: Animals + Workshop 6
Week Eight: Marriage + Workshop 7
Madelaine Lucas is a senior editor at the literary annual NOON. Her short story "Ruins" was awarded the Elizabeth Jolley prize in 2018, and her non-fiction writing has appeared in Paris Review Daily, The Believer, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Lifted Brow. A graduate of the fiction MFA program at Columbia University, she has taught workshops in the Columbia University Undergraduate Writing Program and Summer High School Program.
"Sensual, tactile and full of quiet fire, “Ruins” is a story bold and assured enough to take the questions that lurk in literature’s heart—questions of love, desire and choice—and ask them outright... Richly anchored in place, and alive to Australian history, this story speaks strongly to how women learn to inhabit themselves and the world. Timely and gorgeously evocative."
"”Dog Story” by Madelaine Lucas is a deceptively simple and beautifully rendered treatment of a relationship breakdown. While the dog left over from a broken relationship may be a fairly common trope, here the animal in question is given a full life, his emotional status subtly raised. At a sentence by sentence level, “Dog Story” is filled with vivid imagery—particularly the haunting final scene—and the voice stands out for its intimacy, maturity, and clarity."
"I first met Madelaine Lucas at Columbia University’s MFA program when she was in my Anti-Heroines seminar as well as a fiction workshop. There, I witnessed her astute, generous, careful feedback as well as her rigorous attention to craft and expansive knowledge of contemporary and classic literature. Since that time, she has gone on to be an editor at NOON, where her discerning eye has and editorial grace has allowed her to discover important new voices and work alongside esteemed avant-garde authors Lydia Davis, Christine Schutt and Diane Williams. Madelaine’s award-winning stories are quietly devastating, lyrical and daring. I’ve found her to be one of my most trusted readers—she gives every sentence and every word her full attention, and is remarkably encouraging, honest, and insightful. But what makes her such an extraordinary author, reader and teacher is her ability to not only respond to the technical issues of the work, but more importantly, the emotional undertow—the beating heart, the whispered secrets—and to clearly see the promise and purpose of every author’s story. "
"Madeleine was a wonderful teacher, and I had such an incredible experience!"
"When I started this class I always said I would never go back to school again and hated the classroom environment. Madelaine made me fall in love with learning again in this setting! She did such a great job and every class was so engaging."
"This was such a powerfully positive writing experience. This was not only due to the eager energy of my class but of Madelaine being such a wonderful instructor. She gives such wonderful, detailed feedback and you could tell how much she cared about the class and our stories. It really motivated us all to give as much as we could to the class."