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8-Week Online Class: Fresh Approaches to Research to Deepen Your Prose at Catapult

January 6 @ 8:00 pm - February 24 @ 10:00 pm


Sometimes writers avoid research, while others might lose themselves in it, using it as a sneaky way to avoid the actual writing. In this class, we’ll aim to navigate between these extremes and find ways to use research to make your writing come more alive.

We’ll explore how to take an expansive view of your subject, such as Richard Powers does with trees in The Overstory, how to interweave first-hand sensory experience with history to hold the reader rapt as Maria Gainza does in Optic Nerve or Andrés Neuman in Fracture, and how deep, layered knowledge of a place might inform your writing as Claire Vaye Watkins demonstrates in Battleborn and Pitchaya Sudbanthad does in Bangkok Wakes to Rain. We’ll grapple with the challenges of evoking centuries past as Lauren Groff does in Matrix, and that of rendering plausible futures, as Matt Bell does in Appleseed. We’ll consider how research can be generative, enabling you to understand a character through their obsessions, background, and their approach to a subject, as exhibited in Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive and Matthew Salesses’s Disappear, Doppelgänger, Disappear. Finally, we’ll see how the collision and interplay of different subjects can create and sustain energy in a work, such as in Kathleen Rooney’s Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and John Edgar Wideman’s “Williamsburg Bridge.”

Through a series of readings, exercises, and discussions, you’ll explore a subject or two that you’re drawn to for whatever reason and map out an array of research possibilities that will yield new and unexpected details about those subjects. We’ll talk about fieldwork, and how to get extra-creative in the age of Covid-19 as far as getting “close” to your subject while remote, conjuring a convincing first-hand reality from afar. We’ll talk about memory and personal experiences as wellsprings of research that you’ve already “conducted” without realizing it. Lastly, we’ll talk about how to get a subject not only into one’s head but into the body, such that it takes on the quality of “lived experience” for you to draw upon, three-dimensional and dynamic. In this way, your use of what you find is apt to feel organic and inevitable rather than contrived and clunky.

To begin with, you’ll choose a subject that you might know something about (or not) but are craving a fuller, richer knowledge of. You’ll then create a “research matrix” in which you’ll brainstorm, first individually and then collectively, a set of activities that will give you firsthand experience. Each week you’ll try out a particular exercise or set of activities that will give you a new vantage point on your subject. In week six we won’t meet as a class, in order to give students extra time to write and prepare their pieces for workshop. In the last three weeks students will submit work of roughly 10-15 pages that we’ll all workshop, and for which everyone will provide feedback. A half hour one-on-one conference with the instructor will give you further direction and also pointers for other ways you might explore your subject.

Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the Zoom desktop client so you have access to all platform features.


January 6 @ 8:00 pm
February 24 @ 10:00 pm