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CNF 23 W — Mastering the Personal Essay with the Masters

Quarter: Winter
Course Format: Flex Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Jan 9—Mar 17
Refund Deadline: Jan 12
Units: 3
Tuition: $955
Instructor(s): Rachel Howard
Limit: 17
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Flex Online(About Formats)
Jan 9—Mar 17
10 weeks
Refund Date
Jan 12
3 Units
Rachel Howard
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
The personal essay allows us to take a small moment of life and use it as a portal into deep questions of human experience. No wonder the genre is in a moment of high renaissance! In this course, we will approach the personal essay the way painters approach their discipline: by first analyzing, then “copying” our forebears. To accomplish this, as a class we will devote one full week to closely reading short essays by such diverse writers as Grace Paley, Ann Daum, Dinty Moore, Terese Marie Mailhot, and James Baldwin. The following week, you will draft one “imitation”—an original work that borrows a published writer’s structure or style—for feedback from your classmates and the instructor. By week six, you will have written three personal essays. Then, for the final month, you will tap your own personal mix of influences to produce an essay that will be workshopped by the entire class. Along the way, you will learn to mine your richest material, make the most of thought-provoking images, and craft endings that resonate. By “imitating” the masters, you will, paradoxically, find your unique voice.


Rachel Howard is the author of a memoir about her father’s unsolved murder, The Lost Night, and a novel, The Risk of Us. Her personal essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times "Draft" series, The Los Angeles Review of Books, StoryQuarterly, and O, The Oprah Magazine. She received an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Ed. Juditch Kitchen, Short Takes: Brief Encounters with Contemporary Nonfiction (ISBN 978-0393326000)