Online: Zoom

Writing the Risky Personal Essay

8 Mondays, from 6:00pm-9:00pm (EST), starting on March 28th.
Online: Zoom
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Level: Intermediate
Adult (18+)
This class is full

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, emotional 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 popular publications and literary magazines and journals—including Catapult, The Rumpus, Kenyon Review, Boston Globe Magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Gettysburg Review, The Sun, and others, by authors such as Ariel Levy, Jaquira Diaz, Lilly Dancyger, Cheryl Strayed, Brent Staples, Ryan Van Meter, and Roxane Gay—to see how these authors do it.

Outside reading from craft books as Tell It Slant (Miller/Paola); Crafting The Personal Essay (Moore) and Writing the Memoir (Barrington),  in-class exercises, craft lectures, and discussion will teach students foundational craft lessons in many areas, including: form and structure; scenes, summary and reflection; narrative and character arc; characterization; vivid description; narrative order, time travel, and pacing. We'll discuss issues of memory and psychic distance, as well as the challenges of writing about living people, especially family and friends. Depending on enrollment, you’ll present drafts of at least 1 essay for class feedback during the workshop, as well as share shorter exercises. Workshopped drafts will be shared ahead of time and will receive oral and written feedback from your fellow students and the instructor. Designed for beginning or intermediate writers who wish to strengthen their essay-writing skills, and those who hope to take risks in their writing.

Please Note: This class will not meet on April 18th. 

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"
  • "Very Well-Organized"


  • Generate New Work
  • Craft Lessons
  • In-Class Writing
  • Class Discussion


  • Personal Essay
  • Literary Journalism
  • Nonfiction

Commitment Level



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