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Writing/Reading Resources

Writing/Reading Resources

Is the Essay Incubator For You? An Alum Shares Why You Should Apply Today!


Wondering whether to apply for the Essay Incubator? Alum Kendra Stanton Lee explains why she had "never been more productive as a writer than during the Incubator" and why you should apply today. Applications for the 2024-2025 Essay Incubator are due Monday, July 22nd at 11:59pm ET.

We gathered around the communal table in a room at the former GrubStreet Headquarters. Nine months later, we ended in a Zoom session, like almost every other class in the world, raising a glass to a portfolio of work completed, a collection of favorite new reads, and classmates-turned-friends.

I participated in the GrubStreet Essay Incubator led by instructor Ethan Gilsdorf during the 2019-2020 session. I want to encourage others who may be considering this experience and to speak to some of the concerns you may have about the significant investment of time and money. After all, some of the concerns I had before starting the program might be yours, as well, including:

I’ve been out of school for a while — is this too much work?
The last time I was in school, I was in a whole different decade of life. Although I assign readings and grade many papers for a living, it had been a while since I had to keep up with a syllabus assigned to me. The Essay Incubator does indeed entail a lot of reading (2-4 hours a week is a fair estimate) and responding to classmates’ work. Striking the rhythm of when I should be reading and when I should be writing took me a couple of months to get right. The Incubators are described as master’s level training and I think this is accurate. I would expect to do as much reading and writing for a course in an MFA program.

However, the work was never ever punishing. The readings assigned were relevant and written by a diversity of authors from different eras. Our class discussions were robust. I am so grateful to have been introduced to authors whose work I always meant to read, or writers with whom I was unfamiliar. If essay writing is a form you’ve not delved deeply into before, you will be guided into the vast pool rather than thrown into the deep end. I imagine you will love to swim in the depths, though. It’s such a marvelous form to explore with a close-knit class.

Will I actually produce anything publishable?
One literary magazine. One Canadian website. One parenting magazine. And The Huffington Post. During the time that I was enrolled in the Essay Incubator, my essays landed in four publications. All four were pieces I had either workshopped in class or was inspired to begin writing as a result of what the Incubator was teaching me. Perhaps I was hungry to pitch or find a way to pay my tuition, but my work landed with editors willing to shepherd them into print. I had the advantage of knowing how to pitch prior to the Incubator, but there is something to recommend about being in a constant workflow. Momentum is something that chronically eludes writers, but sometimes just being in the company of other people who are producing has a remarkable effect on one’s productivity. I can attest that I have never been more productive as a writer than during the Incubator. I believe this is a testament to the program’s aims as “an intensive program for essay writers interested in drafting, revising, and publishing their work.”

Is it worth the price?
The tuition, at $4,295, is one of the more expensive programs one can take through GrubStreet. I could offer you a variety of justifications (102 hours of live instruction! Plus, 6 hours of one-on-one meetings!), but how one invests in one’s professional endeavors and the value one derives from the investment is a very personal calculus.

Both my husband and I work for schools and have two young children. We operate on a small margin. I would be lying if I said the Essay Incubator was not a stretch for our family, but I was fortunate to receive a GrubStreet fellowship that helped considerably. GrubStreet was also able to put me on a payment plan. With each payment made, I was reminded that I was spending dollars and time on something from which I derived a lot of joy, for which the returns were (I hoped) going to be seen for years to come. The sticker shock is real, but so are the rewards.

I hope my experience can help to encourage those on the fence about applying to the Essay Incubator. Ethan Gilsdorf is a tremendous instructor who will meet each writer wherever they are and help them to harness their potential while filling their cup with interesting works and insights about the writing process and publishing industry. The guest lecturers and marketplace showcases rounded out the curriculum very nicely and offered an excellent launchpad for submitting and pitching work.

If nothing else, I believe most Essay Incubees will come away with a special collection of “incubuddies” whose friendship and support are invaluable as one sends their essays out into the world.

Applications for the 2023-2024 Essay Incubator are due Thursday, July 27th at 11:59pm ET.

Kendra Stanton Lee is a humanities professor in Boston. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post and others.

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