In the words of Michel de Montaigne, “We are all patchwork . . and there is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.” More than any other genre, personal essays are committed to exploration. The most powerful essays pivot upon a subject that mystifies and confounds the writer, about which they cannot quite make up their mind.
In this workshop, we’ll mine our lives for material and work through a series of prompts designed to turn rich, messy fragments into surprising and powerful essays. We’ll steal liberally from the sensory world of poetry, the narrative world of fiction, and the fact-driven world of journalism, even as we plumb the depths of interior life. Along the way, we’ll read and discuss essayistic pieces by writers who can teach us how to build a strong narrative arc, write vivid scenes, and prioritize the rich details that make prose come alive.
All levels of experience are welcome. Please bring your favorite writing tools, such as a laptop or a notebook and pen.
Jessica Willbanks is the author of When I Spoke in Tongues, a memoir forthcoming from Beacon Press in 2018. An accomplished nonfiction writer and essayist, Jessica has received a Pushcart Prize as well as awards from national literary journals such as Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Redivider, and Ruminate. Her essay “On the Far Side of the Fire,” which drew from a reporting trip to the Niger Delta, received a Notable Mention in The Best American Essays 2014 and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014, was selected as a Longreads Member Pick, and was a finalist for the PEN Center USA’s prestigious Literary Award in Journalism.