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CNF 74 — Hot from the First Sentence: The Short Online Essay

Quarter: Summer
Day(s): Saturday and Sunday
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 4 days
Date(s): Jul 31—Aug 8
Time: 10:00 am—12:30 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Jul 31
Unit: 1
Grade Restriction: No letter grade
Tuition: $320
Instructor(s): Marisa Handler
Limit: 24
Class Recording Available: No
Status: Open
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
Saturday and Sunday
10:00 am—12:30 pm (PT)
Jul 31—Aug 8
4 days
Refund Date
Jul 31
1 Unit
Grade Restriction
No letter grade
Marisa Handler
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
"The brief essay needs to be hot from the first sentence,” writes Dinty W. Moore. “The heat might come from language, from an image, from voice or point of view, from revelation or suspense, but there must always be a burning urgency of some sort translated through each sentence, starting with the first.” If the full-length memoir reveals a slice of life, the short essay works to open up the moment. The constraint on length demands that we leap right into the heart of the experience—the searing details, the powerful emotions. And what we learn of economy, detail, imagery, and voice through these exercises carries over effectively into longer-form work.

In this course, we will explore the possibilities of the short online essay, with its distinct opportunities and limitations. Each student will choose a theme from their own life—from parenting to romantic love to food—and over the course of our four sessions together produce a series of micro-memoirs on this theme. At the close, each student will share one short piece with the larger group. We will read short essays by Ross Gay, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, and Toi Derricotte. Students will emerge from this course with pages of new work, fresh angles on some of their most powerful experiences, and a better understanding of how to effectively render these moments in writing.


Marisa Handler is the author of the memoir Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist, which received a Nautilus Gold Award. Her essays, fiction, journalism, and poetry have appeared in The Sun, Orion, Salon, Witness, Kosmos, and five80split. Handler received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and numerous fellowships in creative writing, including a Fulbright, and an Elizabeth George Foundation grant.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Ross Gay, The Book of Delights, 1st (ISBN 1616207922)