Level 1-2: Memoir and Life Writing (Starts February 25)

“Recently I completed Kathryn Aalto’s Memoir and Life Writing Level 1 course.  Kathryn is a gifted communicator. Numerous beta readers, intimately familiar for decades with my writing, have mentioned finding deeper, more exciting levels of my storytelling ability since I studied with the extraordinary Ms. Aalto. I have already enrolled in Level 2 Memoir and Life Writing.  Her writing course is, bar none, the best value for money of any writing course I have ever taken, either online or in person.”

Bonnie Bartel Latino, Alabama


  • Online memoir writing course
  • For beginning and intermediate writers
  • Free monthly masterclasses to all students



  • 6:30-9:00 PM GMT
  • Every other Sunday
  • Feb 25, Mar 10, Apr 14/28, May 12/26 June 9/23



Memoirs are more than just recounting events. The best are windows into the human experience and offer fresh insights into the human condition and the zeitgeist. In this live, online memoir writing course, you have the opportunity to delve into explore meaningful chapters of your life and learn how to craft them into richly layered narratives that resonates with meaning.

This course is for new to intermediate writers who want to shape personal narratives with precision and resonance. The readings range from books to essays. Two authors join us: Alice Robb, author of Don’t Think, Dear and Anabel Abbs-Streets, author of Sleepless, Unleashing the Power of the Night Self.  The reading list will provide you with examples of how to reach beyond the self and consider the ways you can comment upon history and society as you tell your story. They provide diverse and carefully selected reading list provides you with superb examples with an eye toward publication, either as standalone essays or sample writing for a book proposal.


At the same time, Kathryn will help you create an intentional writing practice that works best for you and your life. This includes an understanding of the different phases of writing, learning when you write best, becoming an active rather than passive reader, integrating personal journaling into your practice, and writing for well-being.

This course includes in-depth lectures, engaging discussions based on readings, supportive writing workshops, in-class writing exercises, and at-home essay writing.  We begin with a study of the personal essay and embark on a journey into memoir, travel writing, nature writing, and more.

If you have any questions about the syllabus, prior experience, or tuition payments, e-mail kathryn@kathrynaalto.com.

Listen to Kathryn in the following interviews:

  •  National Public Radio’s “The Write Question” from Montana Public Radio here.
  • “Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden” here.
  • “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio with Ari Shapiro here.
  • “A Savoured Life” podcast on nature writing with Sumayya Usmani here.



  • Apply the foundations of narrative nonfiction to memoir
  • Develop the most compelling narrative arc for your story
  • Cultivate your unique writing voice and persona
  • Balance exposition with vivid storytelling scenes
  • Create a ritual of writing as a reflective habit of mind


Barbarian Days is William Finnegan’s memoir of an obsession, a complex enchantment. Surfing only looks like a sport. To initiates, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a demanding course of study, a morally dangerous pastime, a way of life. Raised in California and Hawaii, Finnegan started surfing as a child. He has chased waves all over the world, wandering for years through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa. A bookish boy, and then an excessively adventurous young man, he went on to become a distinguished writer and war reporter. Barbarian Days takes us deep into unfamiliar worlds, some of them right under our noses—off the coasts of New York and San Francisco. It immerses the reader in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships annealed in challenging waves.

Barbarian Days is an old-school adventure story, and intellectual autobiography, a social history, a literary road move, and an extraordinary exploration of the gradual mastering of an exacting little-understood art.


“Expertly choreographed and long overdue, this is the nuanced reckoning ballet needs, ballerinas deserve, and all feminists should note.” – Oprah Daily

An incisive exploration of ballet’s role in the modern world, told through the experience of the author and her classmates at the most elite ballet school in the country: the School of American Ballet.

Sleepless by Annabel Abbs-Streets


Kathryn’s students have won numerous awards including the £10,000 Nature Chronicles Prize and the Bradt New Travel Writer of the Year. They have been short-listed for literary awards including the Fish Memoir Prize. They have been published by university presses, book trusts, popular magazines, and literary journals including the University of Minnesota Press, the Scottish Book Trust, Bitter Southerner, Spelt, Resurgence and Ecologist, and many more.

Recognising that publication need not be the aim, the course equally centers the act of writing as an expression of well-being: writing invites us to lead more reflective lives and be ‘in conversation’ with our minds, bodies, and spirits. Cultivating the artist alongside the art, students keep reflective journals to chronicle their creative intentions. Topics include goal setting, safe-guarding optimal creative times, cultivating optimal mindsets, and understanding different phases of writing (research, pre-writing, drafting, writing, revising, editing).


Read more testimonials here.

“I have been making my living with journalistic texts for four years now. Tied to my desk due to the pandemic I decided it was time to take my writing to another level and enrolled in The Art of Narrative Nonfiction. Being skeptical of virtual courses at first, I was immediately drawn into the group by her professional and yet entertaining moderation of the weekly online gatherings. With an attractive mix of lecture, discussion, workshop and personal tutoring she enabled us to not only profit from her vast experience as a writer but also to open up our pieces to our peers from various cultural backgrounds. I’ll definitely be back for more.”

Johannes, Cologne, Germany

“Margaret Atwood said ‘If you really want to write, and you’re struggling to get started, you’re afraid of something.’ Kathryn fixes those nagging fears by showing writers what we have that is already good, and what we can do better tomorrow. It’s win-win, and she remakes a traditional “class” into such an enjoyable, productive journey. I’ve also been lucky enough to experience the awe-inspiring surroundings and warm community that form the bedrock of the Rural Writing Institute. It’s not often that you can genuinely say that one long weekend shifted the way you look at the world, but the effects are still with me in my reading and writing years later.”

Caroline, Aberdeen, Scotland

“After six months of working with Kathryn–which is a bit like entering the space of a handwritten letter, what with her sharp aesthetic sense, far-ranging intelligence, wit, and curiosity–I’ve made tangible progress on an unwieldy, long-form project I was struggling to articulate. I came to her Memoir and Life Writing class for accountability, and came away having experienced the kind of support, writing insight, and real feeling of friendship that can be difficult to find in a workshop environment. Kathryn fostered a warm, charming atmosphere in class (a real feat online), allowing for life-long connections to develop among our group of writers. She cares about the arc of her student’s writing lives–a form of attention that encourages artistic growth and positive risk-taking. She not only brought her years of writing and publishing experience to class and to our bi-monthly writing assignments (her personal feedback, often handwritten, is invaluable), she also brought her unique perspective. Writer-gardener-historians are, I think, particularly adept at imagining the possibilities for a piece, no matter your subject. Kathryn pushed me to dig deeper, moving my writing in new directions. No matter where one is in their writing life, working with Kathryn will be an experience of profound joy, insight, and artistic deepening.”

Veronica, Portland, Oregon