Online: Zoom

Getting to the Big Idea of Your Personal Essay

Friday, October 21st, from 10:30am-1:30pm (EST).
Online: Zoom
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Level: For Everyone
Adult (18+)
21 seats max

As Philip Lopate puts it, “The essayist attempts to surround a something—a subject, a mood, a problematic irritation—by coming at it from all angles, wheeling and diving like a hawk, each seemingly digressive spiral actually taking us closer to the heart of the matter.”

But how do you focus an essay around its central idea, theme, question, or dilemma—that “problematic irritation”—in an effective way? What must you put in its opening pages to both orient your reader and entice them to go along for the flight?

In this session, we’ll look at the openings of a few well-crafted personal essays, and see how authors ranging from Sandra Tsing Loh and Jerald Walker to Richard Rodriguez, David Wong Louise, and Lee Martin communicate their big ideas from the start. Then, you'll try applying their opening tactics to an in-progress essay of your own.

Class Format

This class will take place using Zoom videoconferencing. About 15 minutes before your class is scheduled to begin, you'll receive an email from your instructor with a link to join the class meeting!

Scholarship Information

Thanks to the excellent literary citizenship of our donors, scholarships are available for all GrubStreet classes. To apply, click the gray "APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIP" button. In order to be considered for a scholarship, you must complete your application at least one week before the start date of a class. Please await our scholarship committee's decision before registering for the class. We cannot hold spots in classes, so the sooner you apply, the better. Scholarships cannot be applied retroactively.

For more more detailed information about GrubStreet scholarships, including how to contribute to scholarship funds for other students, click here.

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Ethan Gilsdorf
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Previous Students Say

  • "Generative"
  • "Supportive Environment"
  • "High-Energy Class"
  • "Inspired Me to Write More"


  • In-Class Writing
  • Class Discussion


  • Personal Essay
  • Nonfiction

Commitment Level



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