In this personal essay workshop, we will obsessively discuss tone, pacing, and narrative arc, as well as the rudiments of sterling prose; dissect exemplary selections from the genre to shamelessly steal their tricks; and support each other through the not-always-pleasant psychological labor of recreating our real lives on the page. We’ll talk at length about why a personal essay must be three things to be extraordinary: singular (the story and voice must be wholly yours), generous (the writer being vulnerable enough to tell the real story), and true (in the literal sense, but also in terms of emotional authenticity). We will read well-known authors like Joan Didion, Margo Jefferson, Ian Frazier, James Baldwin, and David Foster Wallace, as well as writers whose names may be less familiar (April Wilder, Alex Tizon, Matthew Teague) but whose work has just as much to teach us.
Even after fifteen years of commissioning and editing personal essays, I have no get-published-quick scheme—so if your objective is to ramp up freelance revenue, this course will likely disappoint. But if you’re interested in getting published the old-fashioned way (that is, by being very, very good), you’ll fit in just fine.
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 Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility.
Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.
- Ideas for how to make an essay singularly yours, something only you could write (in terms of both voice and story)
- An understanding of how to be generous on the page, giving the reader the deepest possible version of the story, holding nothing back
- Techniques for remaining true in personal essays, in both the literal sense (don't fudge it!) and the figurative, providing real emotional honesty and aiming always to speak to universal human experience
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Each week the students will need to read the required essays before class, as well as the essay by the next person to be workshopped, providing written notes on the latter and being prepared to discuss both.
Week 1 –Overview of the class structure/philosophy, discussing readings (essays that possess both humor and heart)
Week 2 – Essays about understanding in hindsight / Workshop
Week 3 – Essays that get wistfulness right / Workshop
Week 4 – On the powerhouse essay / Workshop
Week 5 – Essays that bear the weight of history / Workshop
Week 6 – Authors writing through grief / Workshop
Week 7 – Essays that position lives in a social context / Workshop
Week 8 – Stranger-in-a-strange-land essays / Workshop
Katie Arnold-Ratliff was a magazine editor for fourteen years. She has written for such publications as O, The Oprah Magazine, The Believer, Parents, Slate, Salon, Time, Tin House, New York, the New York Times Book Review, Wired, Poets & Writers, and Runner's World, and has been anthologized in Best American Food Writing. She is also the author of the novel Bright Before Us.
Photo credit: © Adrian Kinloch
“Katie writes with a gunslinger’s nerve and fearlessness. It has been a long time since I was so impressed by such a young author.”
“Her undeniably gorgeous prose and ability to launch troubled characters into impossible, tumultuous situations mark her as a writer to watch.”
“Katie Arnold-Ratliff writes sentences that have the luminous candor of X-rays, laser-traceries of the human heart.”
“Katie Arnold-Ratliff is that rare creature, an editor with the heart of an artist and the mind of a computer, who changes a writer’s prose in deft ways only to make it the best and most authentic version of itself. Working with Katie on stories over the past several years has been a joy: She makes writers feel respected and valued and, in my case, helps me look much smarter than I am.”
“I have worked with Katie Arnold-Ratiff on many essays and she’s the kind of editor a writer dreams of. With patience and warmth, Katie finds the best kernel in a first draft and helps you build it into something so much deeper and truer than you had imagined. She’s fun to work with, and I am so proud of the pieces we published together.“
“Katie is a perfect balance as an editor: she understands what every piece needs and helps the writer get it there with clarity, insight, and generosity. Everything we’ve worked on together, she has greatly improved.”