April 5, 2018
10 Weeks | $360
Literary essays are nothing like the essays we were forced to write in school. Lyrical, exploratory, wide-ranging, often funny, often devastating, the literary essay uses everything in the writer’s toolbox to create something as beautiful and memorable as the best fiction and poetry. In this course, we’ll closely examine the craft of literary essays—what makes the most moving essays work, and how we can incorporate their techniques into our own pieces.
We’ll explore published examples covering a wide range of subjects and styles, from conventional literary essays to literary journalism to hybrid/experimental forms like lyric essays, flash nonfiction, and essays in verse. Meanwhile, we’ll write and workshop new essays incorporating their techniques and making them our own.
By the end of this ten-week course, students will:
- Have read a wide selection of literary essays from a variety of very different writers.
- Have a strong sense of what you like in a literary essay—what do you want your essays to do?
- Have written, workshopped, and revised several original literary essays.
Above all, we’ll have fun along the way—if writing literary essays weren’t a pleasure, nobody would do it!
Week 1. The Essay as Exploration.
In our first week together, we’ll look at the essay as a means of exploration. In what unique ways does the form allow us to explore a subject? How does that exploratory quality transfer to the page? How do the writer and reader of the essay explore together?
Week 2. Craft Intensive I: Building Strong Sentences.
In the first Craft Intensive unit, we’ll look at the key building block of any essay: the sentence. Drawing on a wide range of successful examples, we’ll take a deep dive into sentence structure, rhythm, sound, pacing, and more.
Week 3. Literary Journalism.
In this unit, we’ll look at one popular subspecies of the literary essay: literary journalism. Literary journalism goes beyond “who, what, where and when” of ordinary journalism to give a more detailed, richer, and more vivid picture of real events. We’ll look at some classic examples and explore how and why they work.
Week 4. Craft Intensive II: Imagery, Symbols, and Other Tools.
In this second Craft Intensive, we’ll closely examine how imagery, symbolism, metaphor, and other literary/poetic devices work in relation to the essay. How and why do we incorporate these techniques into our essays?
Week 5. Hybrid Forms: The Lyric Essay and the Essayistic Lyric.
In this week, we’ll look at hybrid/experimental examples of the literary essay. We’ll look first at the lyric essay (a genre that combines the form, structure, and associative qualities of the essay with the intense lyricism of poetry). Next, we’ll look at the flipside: poems that incorporate the style and structure of the essay.
Week 6. Contents under Pressure: The Very Short Essay.
Very short fiction, also known as flash fiction, has exploded in popularity in recent years. These tiny stories (sometimes as small as 100 words, and never more than 1000) compress fiction to its smallest, most essential core. By the same token, flash nonfiction or the very short essay strives to do the full work of an essay in the smallest possible space. This week, we’ll explore this increasingly influential form of essay.
Week 7. The Essay and Essayist.
This week we’ll explore the ways in which the essayist enters into the essay, that is, the way that the essay allows writers unique ways to learn about and grapple with themselves. The examples we’ll look at blend literary journalism, memoir, and more to create moving portraits of the authors as well as their subjects.
Week 8. Craft Intensive III: Story and Structure.
Having explored a wide range of essays so far in the course, we’ll step back and consider them through the lens of structure in this final Craft Intensive. How do the essays shape their stories to create dramatic tension and maintain the reader’s interest? For those essays without a narrative in the traditional sense, what techniques allow the reader to follow the structural logic? We’ll then experiment with non-traditional structures in our own essays.
Week 9. The Essay in the World I: Society and Media.
In this penultimate week, we’ll look at the essay as it exists in the world: how does the essay explore, confront, explain, and/or communicate with society? With other literature and media?
Week 10. The Essay in the World II: Empathy and Argument.
In our final week together, we’ll look at the essay’s unique possibilities and demands. As we look at the ways that essays explicitly and implicitly make arguments, we’ll simultaneously consider how great essays resist oversimplification and partisanship, instead demanding radical empathy from both the reader and the writer. In other words, we’ll look at the ways in which literary essays refuse easy answers and instead insist that we see each other and the world in all its messy and beautiful complexity.
This was the best class I've taken! Jonathan gave us detailed lessons, packed with useful information. He gave us assignments designed to increase our understanding and they did...Jonathan was generous with his feedback, pointing out both the strengths of our work and opportunities to strengthen it. He always explained why something wasn't working or could be improved and gave examples of how. His suggestions really helped me to see how I could improve, not just that particular poem, but others as well. He was encouraging as well as constructive. He was excellent in every regard. Just want to thank you for this great learning experience. Barbara Ireland
I find you guys run great classes and this was no exception! I felt [Jonathan] was very thoughtful in setting up the material. He was engaged, thorough, and responded in a timely fashion. Andrea Sauder