When we cannot travel via our bodies, remember: we can travel via our minds. In Julia Ward Howe’s recovered 1847 novel The Hermaphrodite, a minor character named Nina becomes separated from the love of her life, Gaetano. When Gaetano is banished from their hometown of Rome and sent to the Americas, Nina withdraws into herself. However, in piercing lucid moments, Nina wakes and describes exactly where Gaetano has traveled, crossing rivers up to Sault Saint Marie, insisting she has been with him every step of the way.
Howe was an Anglo woman writing in 19th century New England and her creation, Nina, was forced through circumstance to stay put while her mind explored the universe. However, people have been moving through space and time, without their bodies weighing them down, for millennia. What is the personal essay but a portal back through the years, across the country or the globe, as we search the crevices of our thoughts, dreams, memories and mythos to better understand ourselves, our relationship to others, and what we might do with the revelations we find?
The phrase “thin places,” places that link worlds, most often denotes physical spaces. There are geographic locations we move through that seem, in their air and soil, their climate and light, to shimmer with the possibility of other universes, places of magic and multiplicity. In this course, we will explore the idea of “thin places,” first in the physical sense of locales that hum with the past, with alternate presents, with myths and spiritual gateways, and then in the sense of our non-physical “thin places,” moments when our mind toggles us through our own personal timelines, leaping from the actual into the imaginary and back again.
To ensure we embark upon the most engaging journeys possible (all from the comfort of our Zoom-ing living rooms), this class will give us a wide variety of portkeys, from travel writing, to food writing, to historical research, to spiritual exploration. Generative prompts, peer workshops, and craft discussions will form the core of this class, but we will also complement our writing by reading work by Eula Biss, Anthony Bourdain, Carmen Maria Machado, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Bryan Washington, and many others. This course is geared towards writers prepared to share a 3-10 page Creative Nonfiction Essay within four weeks of the course’s start date. (I will help you get there if you’re still staring down the blank page.) Both returning writers and first time workshoppers are invited to join, as we will also go over Creative Non Fiction workshop best practices, genre conceptions and feedback guidelines in this class.
Come travel the world through writing this winter. You won’t even have to wear a mask.
Cait Weiss Orcutt is the author of VALLEYSPEAK, winner of the 2017 Zone 3 First Book Prize. She holds an MFA from The Ohio State University and is a PhD candidate at the University of Houston in English Literature and Creative Writing. Her essays and poems have appeared in Boston Review, Bust Magazine, Chautauqua, FIELD, The Pinch, The Academy of American Poets and more. Currently based in the Midwest, Cait leads poetry and creative nonfiction writing
workshops centered on identity, history, intersectionality and healing. She is the recipient of a UH College of Arts and Letters Dissertation Completion Fellowship and an Inprint C. Glenn Cambor/MD Anderson Foundation Fellowship.