Reimagining the Personal Essay

How to Write About Things That Scare You

May 10th - June 14th 2018, thursday evenings

If you’re doing it right, writing personal essays should terrify you. You should feel so naked on the page, you almost can’t stand it. And despite what you may have heard, using craft to hone personal material isn’t easier than writing fiction. It can even be harder. If you’re doing it right, and to be clear, there are infinite ways to do it right, the end result of the process of writing a personal essay will be that you’ve told the story only you can tell, in the most revelatory possible way.

Reimagining the Personal Essay is a 6-week remote class devoted solely to a searching exploration of a single form. We’re after the stories you think you don’t know how to write (or think you can't or shouldn't). We’ll help you bring those essays to life on the page in a fully realized way.

To achieve these aims, we’ll read some of the best, most innovative, most unforgettable personal essays out there. Then we’ll analyze what it is that makes those essays so good, and adapt those strategies to improve our own work. Guided by craft-oriented readings and generative writing prompts, we’ll explore different incarnations of the personal essay throughout history, always with an eye on the vital task of looking inward and outward at the same time.

Elephant Rock does not discriminate against anyone, regardless of age, color of skin, national origin, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender expression and identity, sexual orientation, or anything else. We expect the same from our all of our participants.

how does this remote class work?

The core of this course will be weekly video conference call sessions on 6 consecutive Thursdays (6:00 - 8 PM CT). During each session, we’ll discuss the readings for the week with a focus  on craft techniques and strategies. We’ll also talk about your own work, again, with an emphasis on craft. Generative writing prompts engaged with communally during the sessions will lay the foundation for your weekly assignments. Additional resources include a dedicated Elephant Rock portal for accessing readings and other valuable tools during the duration of the class and beyond, one-on-one interaction with and feedback from course instructors, and a private Facebook community page for ongoing interaction outside of class.

what will writers take away?

  • 3 micro essays, to be expanded on your own after the course ends, if desired

  • Connection to engaged mentors and a supportive community of fellow writers

  • Expanded understanding of the techniques and structural choices that make for the most effective personal essays

  • Craft-focused feedback on your writing

  • Deepened belief in the importance of telling your own story, and awareness of how your personal experience relates to the wider world

What is the Cost?

Tuition is $490, and a non-refundable deposit of $200 is required (via check or PayPal) to hold your spot. Full payment is due 15 days before the workshop begins.

Who are the teachers?

This course is led by Jeannine Ouellette and Sophie Ouellette-Howitz. Jeannine holds an MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches writing through the Association of Writers & Writing Program's Writer-to-Writer Program, the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, and as a guest lecturer at the University of Minnesota. Jeannine is the author of several nonfiction books as well as the children's book Mama Moon and her essays and fiction have appeared widely in magazines and literary journals. She is a recent recipient of a Proximity Essay Award, Masters Review Short Story Award, and Curt Johnson Prose Award. Jeannine is the founder of Elephant Rock; read her full bio here. Sophie is a writer and editor whose work spans a variety of genres, including essays and short stories. She also works one-on-one with fiction and nonfiction writers to tighten up plot, finesse character development, and improve a manuscript's marketability. She has ghostwritten/shepherded into existence five books, including Three Loves: An Unconventional Love Triangle, an Indie Excellence Award and International Book Awards finalist. Her writing has also appeared in SELF, Pigeon Pages, Past Ten, the Portland Mercury, and other publications, and has been nominated for Best American Essays.

What have others had to say about elephant rock workshops?

A participant from a recent Elephant Rock remote class told us: “Thank you so much for your guidance and feedback with this. I know it will keep me going. Three go-rounds with Elephant Rock has made more of a difference in my life than I can express." Read more love letters here.

How Do I Register?

Make your deposit via check ( for instructions) or PayPal. If you have questions, please let us know! Class size is limited and workshops tend to fill quickly. We hope to write with you!

course materials

This password-protected page (link coming soon!) includes the course syllabus, reading list, and additional resources for registered participants only.