Reimagining the Personal Essay

How to Write Your Truest Truth

april 7 - May 12 2020, tuesday 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. But the rewards of writing your life and writing it well are extraordinary and transformative. There's a truth that only you can tell, and when you tell it in the most revelatory and singular way possible, not only does the page come more fully alive, but you do, too.

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.

who should take this course?

Any writer at any level, including complete beginner, can benefit from this workshop. The exercises will lead you toward new ways of seeing personal writing and, ultimately, life. Beginners will find a supportive environment in which to experiment, and experienced writers will be challenged to venture beyond their comfort zones. Everyone will leave with a larger and more generous, while at the same time, more precise understanding of the word "essay," as well as a brighter fire in the kiln for life writing.

how does this remote class work?

The core of this course will be weekly video conference call sessions on 6 consecutive Tuesdays (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?

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

  • 1 longer essay, potentially drawing together threads from the micro-essays

  • 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 is the teacher?

This course is led by Jeannine Ouellette. 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.

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 includes the course syllabus, reading list, and additional resources for registered participants only.