Writing Our Lives: Essentials of the Personal Essay — Fall 2015


Dates: September 12, 19, 26, October 3, 17 & 24


Time: 12-5pm

Location: Columbia University, Morningside Heights Campus

Price: $420 — payment plans & partial scholarships available, see below for detail

To register and/or ask for more information, email: vanessa_martir@yahoo.com with “Writing Our Lives: Essentials of the Personal Essay” in the Subject Line. There is a $100 nonrefundable deposit to hold your seat. The deposit goes towards your tuition.

What you need to know:

This class is designed for people who are new (or fairly new) to writing the personal essay/memoir and know they want to take on the challenge.

Or perhaps you are interested in writing a memoir and want to get your feet wet in essays. As a memoir writer myself I can tell you that the personal essay is the micro of the macro that is memoir.

Maybe you’re a seasoned writer who wants to brush up on the essentials. There’s room for you too! Legend says that Alvin Ailey used to take a basics dance class once a year even after he created his now renowned dance school, “to remind myself,” he said.

In the class we will dig into the fundamentals of writing personal essays: how to decide what to write, how to start, how to read essays like writers (because reading like a writer and reading like a reader are not the same thing), how to build well-developed characters, write dialogue, etc.

We will be reading essays and dissecting them, analyzing why the author made the decision(s) he or she made. We’ll also be doing tons of writing. The final project is a 1500 word essay.

Still not sure if this class is for you? Ask yourself this:

  • Have you read essays and wanted to write your own but the thoughts get lost in translation, somewhere between the brain and your fingertips?
  • Have you tried to write essays but find it hard to finish?
  • Have you wondered how writers write their amazing essays but think you just don’t have the chops but wish you did? (Side note: You do have the chops!)
  • Do you write religiously (or sporadically) in your journal and wish (maybe even know) you could make those streams of consciousness into essays?
  • Are you a writer (perhaps you’ve written poetry or fiction) who wants a refresher on the techniques you take for granted so you can take a stab at essay writing?
  • Have you heard some great things about Writing Our Lives and want to see Vanessa in action?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this class is for you.

Let’s talk $$$: Price is $420 — Payment plans are available. There is a $100 nonrefundable deposit to hold your seat. The deposit goes towards your tuition.

Scholarships: Need based, partial scholarships available on a first come, first serve basis. To apply, send a letter explaining your financial need–i.e. unemployed, underemployed, etc. Also explain why you think you need this workshop, what you expect to gain from it, and why you think you are deserving of the scholarship beyond your financial need. Send the letter to: vanessa_martir@yahoo.com with “Writing Our Lives Workshop Scholarship” in the subject line.

Project: maximum 1500 word essay which will be workshopped by both the students and the facilitator on the last day of class on 10/24. More details will be provided in class.

History of Writing Our Lives for you inquiring minds:

Why did I create this class?: https://vanessamartir.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/why-i-created-the-writing-our-lives-workshop/

Why do I continue to teach this class and reinvent it each time?: https://vanessamartir.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/writing-our-lives-workshop-winter-2014/

How is Vanessa Mártir qualified to teach this class?

Vanessa Mártir is a writer, speaker and educator. She is currently completing her memoir, Relentless. Vanessa chronicles her memoir-writing journey in her blog: vanessamartir.wordpress.com. Vanessa’s essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies, including The Butter, Poets and Writers, Huffington Post, Kweli Journal, Manifest-Station, and the VONA/Voices Anthology, Dismantle. Vanessa has penned two novels, Woman’s Cry (Augustus Publishing, 2007) and The Write Play (unpublished), and most recently co-wrote Do Something!: A Handbook for Young Activists (Workman Books, 2010). In 2010, Vanessa resigned from her full-time editing position to write and teach full-time. A five-time VONA/Voices fellow and now the VONA Workshop Director, Vanessa created the Writing Our Lives Workshop in 2011 through which she’s led more than 200 emerging writers through the journey of writing personal essays and memoirs. Vanessa is the recipient of the 2013 Jerome Foundation Fellowship, and works as a teaching artist for community organizations like East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) and Teachers & Writers Collaborative. Vanessa attended Columbia University and is an A Better Chance (ABC) alumna.


  1. I wish I lived on the east coast so I could take a class from you. You’re gonna be the best teacher. Sounds like a valuable workshop. Congratulations and best wishes. Thanks for sharing your blog, too. You’ve been important to my own thinking and work and your students will be lucky to have you.

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