Some stories can’t be contained by the tidy linear narrative—they need to spill out into multiple streams, running alongside each other, telling more than one story at a time, bringing in research, art, and other outside references in order to make themselves clear. Braided essays are complicated and layered, like real life; built on association and resonance rather than a singular A-to-B storyline. They can also let us approach stories from our lives that are overwhelming—either emotionally or conceptually. Refracting and weaving can present new entry points into writing about experiences that may have felt intimidating or murky when appraised head-on.
This course will guide you through the process of writing a braided personal essay that incorporates research, criticism, and/or other external elements—from generating an idea and identifying the various strands, to developing those strands, and, of course, braiding them together.
This class consists of exercises and assignments for you to complete on your own time; two two-hour meetings during which we’ll work through a few additional exercises together, discuss and dissect example essays, and talk about the elements that make a braided essay work; and two shorter “check-in” meetings to discuss your progress on the larger assignments, and address any questions that come up for you during the process.
Here’s the class schedule, for clarity:
-10/22: Receive Assignment 1, to complete before 10/29
-10/29: First class meeting 1-3pm
Receive Assignment 2, to complete before 11/12
-11/5: Optional check-in to discuss your progress on Assignment 2 (short meeting, 30 mins to an hour, starting at 1pm)
-11/12: Second full class meeting 1-3pm
Receive Assignment 3
-11/19: Optional check-in to discuss your now-complete braided essay drafts, and any lingering questions (short meeting, 30 mins to an hour, starting at 1pm)
(All meeting times EST)
Note: This class will meet over Zoom. The meetings will NOT be recorded, and can only be accessed live. Please plan to attend at least both full class meetings, on 10/29 and 11/12. The two shorter check-ins on 11/5 and 11/19 are optional.
This is a generative seminar, with no workshopping component. You will not get direct feedback on your completed draft, but you will have plenty of opportunities to discuss your progress and ask questions along the way.
Lilly Dancyger is the author of Negative Space (2021), a reported and illustrated memoir selected by Carmen Maria Machado as a winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards; and the editor of Burn It Down (2019), a critically acclaimed anthology of essays on women's anger from Seal Press. She's currently at work on a collection of personal and critical essays about the power and complexity of female friendship.
Lilly's writing has been published by Guernica, Literary Hub, The Rumpus, Longreads, The Washington Post, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and more. She is an assistant adjunct professor at Columbia University School of the Arts, and has also taught creative nonfiction for Catapult, Barrelhouse, Gotham Writers Workshop, and more. You can find her on Twitter at @lillydancyger.
"Lilly is a thoughtful instructor who provides hands-on, helpful advice for creating braided essays. From helping students deconstruct examples, to generating & tracking threads, to the art of cutting, pasting & arranging braided threads into a final product, Lilly’s techniques & expertise help writers develop sharp, strong essays of their own. I highly recommend working with her for her braided essay class & other offerings."
"Lilly’s course on braided essays opened me up to new ways of thinking about writing, particularly about how to shape complex material in effective and unexpected ways. She illustrates how fragments can be developed into strands that, when artfully woven and juxtaposed in deliberate and sometimes surprising ways, add resonance and deepen meaning. She explores, too, how creating patterns of text by manipulating these strands can charge the white space between, adding meaning, tension, cohesion, or momentum. Lilly inspires, engages, and encourages. Writers of any type of creative nonfiction would do well to take this or any of her classes."
"I had the good fortune of taking Lilly Dancyger's Braided Essay course and found it very helpful for me as I try to navigate how to weave together personal and professional experiences, family history, scientific data, and cultural touchstones. Lilly provided useful guidance on ways to generate and organize multiple ideas and threads, and she used engaging examples from existing literature. I appreciated her kind and generous teaching style and I highly recommend her courses. I hope to have the chance to work with her again in the near future."
"Lilly’s braided essay class was one of the best classes on craft that I’ve taken. I had been struggling with an essay that was deeply personal and important to me but it fell flat no matter how much I tried to rework it. Her class helped me envision it in a whole new way and I love the direction I was able to take the piece in. As an instructor and editor, Lilly is extremely supportive and motivating. So happy to have been able to work with her."
I understand that course fees are refundable up to seven days before the course is scheduled to start. There are no refunds with fewer than seven days’ notice.
I understand that courses will not be recorded, and if I miss a session, I will not be able to access it after the fact.
I agree not to share any course materials with anyone outside of the class without express permission from the instructor.