The Instructor

Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, essayist, critic, poet, teacher, and performer. He is the author of the travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, named a Must-Read Book by the Massachusetts Book Awards. His essay "The Day My Mother Became a Stranger" was named “Notable” in the Best American Essays 2016 and his essay “‘Creative trespassing’ sets me free” was named “Notable” in the Best American Essays 2020. His essays, articles, reviews, commentaries, fiction, and poetry have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, O (the Oprah Magazine), National Geographic, Esquire, WBUR, Wired, Salon, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The North American Review, The Massachusetts Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, Brevity, and dozens of other newspapers, online outlets, literary magazines and in several anthologies. Gilsdorf got his start in journalism as a Paris-based travel writer and food and film critic for Time Out, Fodor's and the Washington Post, and a film and book critic for the Boston Globe, New York Times, and BoingBoing. A GrubStreet instructor since 2005, he also leads writing workshops for the Westerly (RI) Writers Workshop, and various non-profit social justice organizations. A regular presenter, performer, and event moderator, he’s also taught at Emerson College and for several writing conferences; lectured at schools, festivals, and conventions worldwide; and been featured on NPR, The Discovery Channel, PBS, CBC, BBC, and the TEDx stage (where he presented the TEDx talk "Why Dungeons & Dragons is Good for You (In Real Life)”). He has been awarded writer's residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts (NY), Vermont Studio Center, the Hall Farm Arts Center (VT), and Writing Downtown (Las Vegas), and grants from the Somerville Arts Council and Vermont Arts Council. He was also named a Somerville Artist of the Month. He received his BA from Hampshire College, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Louisiana State University. Follow Ethan’s adventures at

Ethan Gilsdorf's Philosophy

We asked Ethan to tell us a little bit about his teaching philosophy and what excites him about leading the Essay Incubator Program:

When it comes to style and voice, form and content, I’m an essay agnostic. I am equally interested in traditional narrative personal essays about transformative moments as I am about essays that include research, reporting and stunt journalism, or ones that adopt a collage, lyric or experimental structure unique to each essay. I love playing around with form, and I am eager to nudge students to see their essays in a new light.

I’m also dedicated to hearing from a variety of voices and perspectives in the classroom, and exposing students to a wide range of essays from writers of diverse backgrounds and traditions. These include drawing from contemporary essays from the 21st and 20th centuries in America, but also from the history and tradition of the essay in other countries and eras, as far back as Sei Shōnagon and Michel de Montaigne.. Other essayists who have inspired me include T Kira Madden, Jia Tolentino, Neema Avashiva, Jaquira Diaz, Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, Brian Doyle, Lee Martin, Brenda Miller, Leslie Jamison, Richard Rodriquez, James Baldwin, Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, Wendell Berry, George Orwell, and E.B. White. I hope to pass on my passion for these writers to my students.

Ultimately, some of my favorite essayists end up being students in my workshops. I’m here to help you focus on doing the work you want to do. My goal is to encourage and inspire you; keep your eyes open; foster a community of support and camaraderie; and to create a fertile petri dish in which your incubation and growth as an essayist can occur. I am looking forward to our ten months together.

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