Special Note:

Advanced Classes Deadline 5/20—Our advanced workshops are by application only and limited to 9 students to foster a closer and more rigorous learning experience, so your writing can get the attention, feedback, and support it needs.

Apply Before 5/20 mdi-close
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Essay Incubator

In a Nutshell

Spanning 10 months from September to June, the Essay Incubator is an intensive, MFA-level, in-person program for dedicated and curious essay writers interested in writing and revising new and existing essays and publishing them; providing and receiving peer feedback; and being part of creating a supportive writing community. The program is designed for all different types of essayists, including those working on essays that are personal/narrative in nature; lyric/experimental; reported/journalistic; or in other styles and forms, whether intended for literary or commercial mainstream publications. Students will generate fresh work, deepen their understanding of essay craft, forms and modes, and learn skills to revise their own essays. Via frequent visits by practicing writers and magazine editors, the program also gives students practical advice and guidance on publishing, the marketplace, and career-building as an essayist.

The 2023-2024 program will meet in-person on Tuesdays nights, from 6:00pm-9:00pm (ET) at GrubStreet's Center for Creative Writing in Boston. Some weeks of the program will meet remotely.

The application for the 2023-2024 Essay Incubator is closed. The next round of applications will be open in late Spring 2024.

The most work-altering and instructive writing program I’ve ever participated in.

Open House and Info Session

Thinking of applying? Each summer, GrubStreet offers an informal Q&A with instructor Ethan Gilsdorf to answer any questions you have about the Incubator, including the workload, the application process, what the program does and doesn’t entail, the schedule, the philosophy behind our approach, and anything else on your mind! The next open house session will be held in Summer 2024.

Program Overview and Goals

There are eight major program goals for the Essay Incubator program:

  1. To draft and/or revise substantially, through a transformative process of reading and writing, a portfolio of 5 to 10 essays;
  2. To explore and try out new forms, styles and voices;
  3. To understand craft, how discuss craft, and how to offer feedback at a high level;
  4. To learn effective strategies for revising your own essays;
  5. To study the essay in service to one’s writing goals, and to understand the rich tradition and history of the essay form, and your place within it;
  6. To understand the publishing marketplace for your essays, create a plan, and engage in steps towards publication including submitting them to publications;
  7. To become a professional writer, meet and interact with established editors and writers, and develop a sustainable and productive writing practice;
  8. To develop a community of equally committed essayists, receive each other’s support and feedback, and share in a common sense of purpose.

Student Achievements

Essay Incubator students have found literary success and launched their writing careers during and after their time in the program, in a variety of ways. Below are some examples of what previous students have achieved.

Writers in the program’s last five years have published their essays in many magazines, newspapers, online venues and journals, including:

  • This American Life
  • Longreads
  • Creative Nonfiction
  • The New York Times
  • Huffington Post
  • Brevity
  • The Sun
  • Slate
  • Elle
  • Memoir Monday
  • Boston Globe
  • Boston Globe Magazine
  • jmww
  • Hippocampus
  • Pangyrus
  • Publishers Weekly
  • WBUR Cognoscenti
  • Fatherly.com
  • Today’s Parent
  • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
  • Newsweek
  • Herstry
  • Literary Mama
  • The Independent
  • 805Lit+Mag
  • Chautauqua
  • Solstice Literary Magazine
  • Split Lip
  • Hobart
  • Notre Dame Magazine
  • The Independent
  • Longleaf Review
  • Retrofied
  • Current Affairs
  • Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine
  • Motherwell
  • Pollen
  • Atlantic Northeast

Teaching, Presentations and Media Appearances: Students have taught and presented at GrubStreet; Boston Book Festival; Boston Public Library, Arlington Community Education; More to the Story; Gotham Writers Conference; HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers; and appeared on WCVB's Chronicle.

Contests, Awards and Programs: Students have been accepted to the Bennington College MFA in Writing program and Lilith magazine's “The New 40” program, and have won the Boston in 100 Words Contest. Two Pushcart Prize nominations; Editors' Pick, Michael Steinberg Nonfiction Prize, Solstice Magazine.

Editorial: Students have become an editor at Hippocampus Magazine; and readers for the Harvard Review, Pangyrus, Solstice Literary Magazine.

Important Dates

  • The next round of applications will be open in late Spring 2024.
  • The next open house session will be held in Summer 2024.
  • Program runs from September 2024 through June 2025.


The program gave me the confidence, community, encouragement, and accountability to keep going.

- Thuy Phan

“The Essay Incubator was a true life-changer for me. Without a traditional writing background, I’d always wondered—how do I actually do this? This program answered that for me…and then some. I learned crucial craft and publishing industry tools. Workshopping got me comfortable sharing and revising my work. And this supportive community is second to none. I now see a path that I never thought possible!”

Sara Schreur, Essay Incubator Alum 2022-23

“Enrolling in the Essay Incubator was the best thing I did for my development as a writer. The program gave me the confidence, community, encouragement, and accountability to keep going — especially with essays that required a lot of revisions. Ethan does an excellent job at teaching the craft of writing essays, facilitating inclusive workshops that are centered on the writer’s needs, providing actionable and helpful feedback that helped me get essays published, and bringing in outside perspectives from industry professionals (i.e. magazine editors and other published writers). If I could do a second year of Essay Incubator, I would!”

Thuy Phan, Essay Incubator Alum 2022-23

“Wow, the Essay Incubator! What a ride. My facility with craft went from 0 to 60, my understanding of the genre has been magnified by a thousand, my comprehension of literary magazines and publishing is stronger, and my willingness to submit my work exceeds the goals I had going into this experience.”

Judy McClure, Essay Incubator Alum 2020-21

“It's been amazing to see behind the curtain with regards to submitting and publishing. The whole process used to feel so mysterious and insurmountable to me, but after doing this program I understand how the industry works, and it feels totally manageable—even exciting!”

Sarah Grimes, Essay Incubator Alum 2020-21

“I learned an enormous amount about the genre, my writing, and new strategies in a very short period of time. It was an intense experience at times (e.g., meeting deadlines!)—and I loved every minute of it.”

Tom Kiely, Essay Incubator Alum 2019-20

"I cannot thank instructor Ethan Gilsdorf enough for shepherding us through such a superb learning experience. These months with him and my classmates in the Essay Incubator have been — unquestionably — the most work-altering and instructive writing program I’ve ever participated in.”

“I loved this class.”

"I got so so much out of the experience. Ethan never wavered in his passion for holding all of the students to the highest level of inquiry and production.”

"I came out [of the program] confident about my next steps and with the motivation to pull them off.”

"It was an amazing class and an amazing instructor and an amazing group of writers.”

"This year has changed me for the better as a writer!”

“[The] program is amazing. Ethan is really wonderful. … The dedication and brilliance of the students make this class work.”

"What a wonderful community of writers and connection in a time when there was so little of that. I appreciate the space that Ethan encouraged and created. I felt I was able to be more vulnerable in my writing as the year went on and I realized how much more open I could be.”

"I loved the incubator. Honestly, one of the most satisfying learning experiences I have had. I understand myself as a writer, have a good grasp on submitting to literary journals, and have figured out a system for tracking my work. Pretty amazing.”

"It was amazing watching the other students learn how to talk about craft as we progressed through the program. By the end of the 8-months, I felt like I was getting feedback from 10 different professors.”

"Ethan is a phenomenal instructor.”

"Ethan is simply terrific. His goal for our success is palpable in the classes.”

“The incubator is really immersive. You're reading and thinking about writing even when you're not in class. ... I'm leaving the incubator with new pieces to continue to refine, ideas for revisions of older pieces, and pieces that are ready to think about sending out soon.”

"I would've gladly spent years in the program.”


If you have specific questions about the Essay Incubator program, please email [email protected], or call the office anytime at 617.695.0075.