I’m currently a writing instructor at The Porch, a non-profit writers’ collective based in Nashville, Tennessee. (From March 2020 onwards, classes have been offered online.)
Here are some classes I’ve taught in the past, geared towards adults of all ages and backgrounds:
Foundations of Fiction
Whether you’re new to fiction writing or want to recharge your writing practice, this class will help you generate new work and take a close look at the building blocks of good prose fiction such as character, setting, detail, point of view, voice, dialogue, and narrative structure. We’ll read and discuss published stories with an eye toward these elements of craft, and weekly writing exercises will allow you to develop your own work and get feedback in a supportive environment.
Writing About Home
Whether you’re a local Nashvillian or a recent transplant, you’re probably thinking about your relationship to the place you call home. Maybe it’s the place you were born. Maybe it’s where you are now, or where you envision being in the future. Many writers have wrestled with the idea of home, and all the questions that come with it. Is home synonymous with family? What happens when you’ve been away from home for a long time, and come back to find it unrecognizable? How, and when, does a person decide whether or not to call a new place their home? Should a place automatically make a person feel “at home,” or should people strive to change a place to make them feel that way? We’ll look at examples from both fiction and nonfiction, and try various in-class writing exercises to wrestle with these questions ourselves. This workshop welcomes writers who already have completed drafts, as well as writers just getting started.
Balancing Reality and Fiction
This workshop is designed for writers who are working on stories based on historical fact or personal/family history. We often get excited about turning a nugget from reality into a fictional project, but it can be daunting to balance research with the creative act of composing scenes and dialogue. What should that balance look like? How can a writer sound credible but creative? Which facts should stay, and which should go? We’ll look at examples from other writers, establish our own goals (as everyone’s will look different depending on the project), and workshop drafts with these personal goals in mind.
Foundations of Creative Nonfiction
The difference between a mildly interesting story and one that goes deep into a reader’s heart and mind is largely a matter of craft. Even the most compelling real-life material won’t grab an audience if it isn’t shaped and presented with skill. In this class, we’ll survey the major forms of creative nonfiction, including memoir, narrative reportage, and the essay, and we’ll take a close look at story structure and voice. The primary emphasis of the class, however, will be on helping you generate and refine your own work through weekly prompts and group discussion. Whether you are just beginning to explore your material or already have a book manuscript in progress, this course will provide you with guidance, encouragement, and detailed feedback. This class is for you if you love writing from your own life, are working on or towards a memoir, want to explore the many joys and diverse structures available to you in the personal essay, or just know you have some great true material to put down in writing.
The Personal Essay
There are infinite variations of the “personal essay,” which makes the format both exciting and daunting. The essay might be a mix of personal anecdotes with bigger sociopolitical commentary, and the essay’s structure might mimic, or enhance, the overall point the author is trying to make. The essay could be linear, non-linear, fragmented, or infused with dialogue and scene-setting that almost make them sound like short stories. We’ll look at examples by James Baldwin, Richard Rodriguez, Jonathan Lethem, Joan Didion, and others to help us craft our own personal essays. This workshop is designed for writers who already have completed drafts, as well as writers just getting started.
Micro-Memoirs on Parenthood
If you’re a parent in 2020, kudos for surviving yet another day. When you’re on your feet and looking after the kids all day, it can seem impossible to make time to sit down and write — let alone sit down! And yet parents have a treasure trove of thoughts, stories, and memories that we might forget if we don’t store them in writing. In this four-week workshop, we’ll discuss the wonderful genre of “micro-memoirs” and why it’s a perfect format for busy parent-writers. We’ll look at examples by Beth Ann Fennelly, Rivka Galchen, and Anne Lamott, write our own micro-memoirs during and outside of class, and talk about habits for continuing these micro-memoirs beyond the class. This workshop welcomes new parents, veteran parents, parents-to-be, and anyone interested in the topic and genre.
One-Day: Honoring James Baldwin on His Birthday
“Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law.” So writes James Baldwin in his groundbreaking essay, “Notes of a Native Son,” which was published in 1955 yet remains as relevant as ever today. August 2nd marks what would have been James Baldwin’s 95th birthday, and what better way to honor his legacy than reading his essay together as a group? We will take a close look at a few sections, in a way suited for those who have already read the text, and those who haven’t. (Copies will be provided.)
One-Day: Conversations in Fiction
Real life conversations are rarely comprehensive, clean, or static, with beautiful sentences blurted out perfectly from start to finish. Yet fiction allows all sorts of possibilities with regards to the way people do, could, or even should talk. Whether you’re writing realistically or more fantastically, we’ll look at various examples and discuss how a conversation scene can serve your story.
Free Workshops for Children and Teens through The Porch Youth Division:
Alien Encounters (Grades 3-5)
Imagine you’re one of the first humans to encounter an alien from outer space. How would you feel? What would you say to the alien? What would be your hopes and fears? In this workshop, we’ll look at some fun examples and write our own alien encounter stories.
You’re the Expert of Yourself: Writing The Personal Essay (Grades 9-12)
Everyone has a story to tell, and the good news is, there are lots of possibilities for how you can tell your story through a personal essay. In this workshop we’ll talk about creative ways to structure an essay, the pros and cons of linear and fragmented styles, and useful habits for writing beyond the workshop.
Writing Big Ideas (Grades 9-12)
Have you ever wanted to write about a big, important topic, but didn’t know where to start? In this workshop, we’ll look at examples of “Exhibit Essays,” where an author uses a specific and approachable “exhibit” in order to talk about something bigger and deeper. Then we’ll try using “exhibits” to tackle big ideas in our own writing.
Writing Big Events (Grades 9-12)
Have you ever wanted to write about a big event that happened either locally or globally, but didn’t know where to start, or how to structure it? In this workshop, we’ll look at an excerpt from James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” and try our own writing exercise that will help get you started.