Fall 2017 Writing Our Lives: Essentials of the Personal Essay Class



* Workshop Dates: September 23, 30, October 7, 14, 21, November 4, 11, 18, December 2

* Workshop Times: 12pm-5pm unless otherwise indicated

* Tuition/Cost: $620 — Payment plans available. There is a nonrefundable $100 deposit required to reserve your seat. The deposit goes towards your tuition. If you are interested in a payment plan, you must arrange this BEFORE class begins.

* Financial Aid: A limited number of need based, partial scholarships are 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 class, what you expect to gain from it, and why you think you are deserving of the scholarship beyond your financial need. Send the letter with “Writing Our Lives Scholarship” in the subject line to: writingourlivesworkshop@gmail.com. (Note: Students who have not received a scholarship in the past will be given first dibs on the scholarships.)

* Project: A maximum 1500 word essay. All essays will be workshopped by the students and facilitator on the last day of class, December 2nd. More details will be provided.

Why nine weeks? Because I want to give my writers extended time to sit with the lessons and practice them at length; to dig into the stories that haunt them to find the one they want to delve into for their project: the essay we workshop in the last week of class. I want to give my writers time to practice what it means to write in their own voices—you’d be surprised how many of us write in these voices that are not ours because we’ve been told for our entire lives that we are not enough and our stories are not enough and our language is inferior (more on this here). I want to give my writers more time to be with themselves and their conviction to write these stories that gnaw at them.

What you need to know:

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

* Perhaps you are interested in writing a memoir and want to get your feet wet in essay. 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 has it that Alvin Ailey used to take a basics dance class periodically, 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 on a topic, 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, how to write dialogue, etc.

* We will be reading essays (lots of them) and dissecting them; analyzing why the author made the decision(s) he/she made. We’ll also be doing tons of writing, including a maximum 1500 word essay as a final project. What I’m saying is you must be willing and able to do the work. The writing life you envision requires it.

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 your brain and your fingertips?

* Have you tried to write essays but find them hard to finish?

* Have you wondered how writers write their amazing essays but think you just don’t have the chops and 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 and/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 the Writing Our Lives Workshop and want to see Vanessa in action?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this class is for you. Email writingourlivesworkshop@gmail.com for information on registration, payment plans, etc.

Still not sure, I am offering a FREE One Day Class on September 16th, 12-5pm. Email for more details on that, including location, etc.


The Story of Writing Our Lives

In 2009, I attended my first VONA/Voices workshop. I walked out knowing I wanted to help bring our stories out into the world. Stories by marginalized writers like me who didn’t see themselves in the American canon, in the books they read in school or the ones that made bestseller and must-read lists.

Writing Our Lives is my way of helping you write your stories that are so necessary and important, even if you don’t yet believe they are.

Since creating Writing Our Lives in 2010, I’ve led hundreds of writers through the journey of writing personal and memoir essays. Many have gone on to publish and attend reputable writing programs and residencies like VONA/Voices, Cave Canem, Tin House and Hedgebrook.

There was so much going on in the country and in my life when I created the class. I’d just quit my full-time editing job and threw myself heart first into writing and teaching. The climate of the country was contentious, to say the least—Proposition 8 had just been ratified, anti-immigration legislation was sweeping the nation, and the Texas Textbook wars were gathering steam.

The present climate continues to fuel my belief that it’s time we write our stories, that we write them in our voices, and that we do so unapologetically. The massacre in Orlando, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the murder of so many young black and brown women and men by police, the reality that Trump is in the White House, have all served to convince me even more that we need, the world needs our stories.

I’ve been enamored with all things autobiographical since I was a kid. I ate up the Laura Ingall’s Wilder Little House on the Prairie books (which I know now are very problematic but was too young to know then), reading the series at least three or four times, but it was reading St. Augustine’s Confessions in my first year at Columbia University that really grabbed me up and didn’t let go. Known as the first memoir in history (which is questionable but that’s a conversation for a later time), that book started this personal writing obsession that made me search out and read thousands of memoirs and essays. I’ve used all this curiosity and knowledge to create this class: the Writing Our Lives Workshop, and to reinvent it numerous times, and build upon on it.

With that in mind, I am bringing Writing Our Lives online! More information will be provided in the coming weeks, but here are the classes slated to launch in October:

– Essentials of the Personal Essay (generative online class) — six sessions. *Note: this is not a workshop. Workshopping may be offered for an additional fee.

– Writing Fiction from Real Life (generative online class) — 3 sessions.

– Finding and Crafting Your Voice on the Page (generative online class) — 3 sessions.


Coming Spring 2018 — Information Forthcoming 

– Writing the Self as a Character— Online & In-Person Generative class

– Writing the Mother Wound — Online & In-Person generative class

– Writing Fiction from Real Life — In-Person class

– Finding and Crafting Your Voice on the Page — In-Person Class

*Note: The nine week essentials of the personal essay class will not be offered in the spring


How is Vanessa Mártir qualified to do this work?

Vanessa Mártir is a writer, educator and mama. She is currently completing her memoir, A Dim Capacity for Wings, and chronicles the journey in her blog: vanessamartir.blog. Vanessa’s essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies, including The Butter, Poets and Writers, Huffington Post, Kweli Journal, Thought Catalog, and the VONA/Voices Anthology, Dismantle, among others. Vanessa has penned two novels, Woman’s Cry (Augustus Publishing, 2007) and The Right Play (shopping), 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. Vanessa is a five-time VONA/Voices and two-time Tin House fellow. She created the Writing Our Lives Workshop in 2010 and has since led more than 200 emerging writers through the journey of writing personal and memoir essays. Vanessa is the recipient of the 2013 Jerome Foundation Fellowship. In 2016, Vanessa challenged herself to write an essay a week, dubbing the effort in The Relentless Files. She was so inspired by what she learned, that she decided to share the challenge with her community, creating the #52essays2017 challenge, in which more than 800 writers are participating. Vanessa attended Columbia University and is an A Better Chance (ABC) alumna. When she’s not writing or teaching, you can find her on a dance floor, punching a bag at the gym, or hugging a tree in a forest near you.

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