Writing and Publishing the Risky Narrative Personal Essay

12 Tuesdays from 10:30am-1:30pm, starting September 12th
Remote (Live Zoom Meetings)
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Level: For Everyone
Adult (18+)
12 seats max
Only 4 spots left!

Heartbreak, death, trauma, abuse, addiction, divorce, loss, messy relationships, childhood, life-changing experiences: these are tough subjects to write about well, but the effort often yields amazing results. How do you write about dark and deeply personal matters in a way that's not too sentimental, self-indulgent, insular, or raw? Each week, we’ll look at exemplary work by narrative personal essayists in a variety of magazines and journals—including Salon, Boston Globe Magazine, XOJane, the New York Times, The Rumpus, Tin House, and others—to see how these authors do it. You’ll model your own essays after these publications, with a mind toward submitting them for publication once the class is over.

Readings, short exercises, craft lectures, and discussion will teach students foundational craft lessons in many areas, including: brainstorming fruitful topics; mapping out essay structure; writing scenes and passages of reflection and backstory; identifying a narrative arc or "plot"; developing characters; writing vivid description; managing time travel, pacing, and narrative order; and using the retrospective narrator. We'll discuss issues of memory and psychic distance, as well as the challenges of writing about living people, especially family and friends. You’ll present work at least twice during the workshop, and we’ll also look at strategies for revision. Finally, we'll look at how to submit essays for publication once you've revised them, and which publications publish what kinds of personal essays.

Designed for beginning writers or those who wish to strengthen their essay-writing skills, this class is for those who hope to take risks in their writing.

Want to know more? Check out Ethan's interview with Cheryl Strayed on GrubWrites.

Did you know that we have scholarships available for all GrubStreet classes? To apply, click the "APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIP" button in the top right corner of this pageIn order to be considered for a scholarship, you must complete your scholarship application and await our Scholarship Committee's decision before registering for the class. Scholarships cannot be applied retroactively.

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Ethan Gilsdorf
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Previous Students Say

  • "Generative"
  • "Supportive Environment"
  • "Inspired Me to Write More"


  • Craft Lessons
  • In-Class Writing
  • Instructor Feedback
  • Workshop
  • Lecture
  • Class Discussion
  • Reading Homework
  • Writing Homework


  • Personal Essay
  • Literary Journalism
  • Nonfiction

Commitment Level



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