The Art of Narrative Nonfiction & the Personal Essay Level 1 (Starts Sept 5)

“Kathryn’s workshops are absolute troves of clear, thoughtfully presented material. She seamlessly blends engaging and foundational readings, compelling lecture, and meaningful workshopping. What I was most blown away by, though, was her fierce dedication to each participant’s journey – meeting each one of us where we were and guiding us further along in our writing path. From handwritten feedback to answering questions after hours, Kathryn really went above and beyond to ensure our growth and success.” – Kimberley, Atlanta, Georgia


  • 7-9:30 PM BST every Tuesday
  • Sept 5/12/19/26 and Oct 3/17/24/31*
  • No class Oct 10
  • Eight 2.5 hour classes
  • Detailed feedback on all writing
  • Limited to 20 people
  • Tea break
  • £550

Narrative nonfiction has many names: literary nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, and creative nonfiction. It also comes in many forms.  Think of the heart-pumping ascents of Mount Everest in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air or the vivid travel writing in Venice by Jan Morris. Maya Angelou’s profound recollection of her childhood, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, uses brilliant narrative nonfiction techniques that have inspired millions of readers. There are also moving, confessional, and honest personal essays by writers such as David Sedaris, Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit, and others who write for The New Yorker, Harper’s, Smithsonian, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, and more.

This is an exciting introduction to narrative nonfiction for beginners. In The Art of Narrative Nonfiction and the Personal Essay, Kathryn Aalto teaches foundational techniques used by writers of narrative nonfiction that enable their writing to read like adventure novels, exciting travelogues, or hushed conversations with a confidante. The course provides the time and space to learn basic techniques of narrative nonfiction including setting, character, dialogue/monologue, narrative arc, narrative presence, language, and voice. 

This is a live and online course with in-depth lectures, engaging discussions, supportive writing workshops, in-class writing exercises, and essay writing.  We begin with a study of the personal essay and embark on a journey into memoir, travel writing, food writing, and nature writing. Kathryn teaches the importance of showing vs. telling with step-by-step scene creation that leads to short essay writing. 

If you have any questions about the syllabus, prior experience, or tuition payments, e-mail

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.



  • Learn the foundations of narrative nonfiction
  • Understand the difference between show vs. tell in writing
  • Craft vivid scenes that put readers into the action and storytelling moments
  • Give and receive constructive criticism in writing workshops
  • Begin to see how the Iceberg Principle fleshes out people as characters
  • Appreciate the importance of dialogue in transporting readers to scenes
  • Create a ritual of writing as a reflective habit of mind





Kathryn Aalto’s teaching philosophy is focused on encouraging a uniquely personal exploration in her creative nonfiction writing courses. At its core, she believes teaching is about responding to each student, whether they are an emerging writer or writing beyond the level of content mastery. She cultivates a mindful and supportive learning environment that fosters personal expression, critical thinking, and individual artistic growth in the literary arts.


Kathryn Aalto is a passionate practitioner and teacher of narrative nonfiction.  For more than twenty-five years, she has taught writing and literature courses at colleges and universities including Western Washington University, Everett Community College, and Plymouth University and has given guest lectures at Cambridge University, Vanderbilt University, Cornell University, and more. She has a global mentoring practice, guides students in a vibrant online writing school, and leads in-person retreats, courses, and workshops in the United States and United Kingdom.

She is a judge for The Nature Chronicles Prize, an international bi-annual award for nature writing in the English language. She is represented by Peter McGuigan at Ultra Literary in New York City. As a public speaker, she has given hundreds of talks at distinguished speakers’ series and is represented by Chartwell Speakers in New York City.  Kathryn endeavours to impart these varied experiences to her students.


No matter your subject or style, you will find a great writing community in this bi-weekly creative nonfiction writing course. All of Kathryn’s writing courses are characterised by a lovely fellowship and positive accountability, which will keep you comfortably supported and focused on your writing goals. Each session you gather with your classmates, you will learn from and teach each other while gaining a new set of friends who share your writing aspirations and growth mind-set.


Read more testimonials here about this creative nonfiction writing course.

“Kathryn possesses a rare talent to hold a learning space in such a way each participant is supported while doing the hard work of being vulnerable. She extends an invitation to share space together in a small circle across time and distance as writers gather from around the world in a digital classroom with warmth and grace.  As a new writer, I felt unsure and intimidated. Was I ready? Did I have anything interesting to say?  Kathryn dispelled my fears, welcomed me and never stopped encouraging me to stretch just a little further.  She weaves and layers lectures, writing prompts with workshopping along with insightful feedback (often with sketches!) for every session. Kathryn is attentive to the temperament of each class, pausing a little longer here, waving a brief hello to something over there. I rave about these classes! Not only for how each has helped me to learn the craft of writing but for how she has helped me discover my voice. Quite honestly, growing as a writer has profoundly affected my relationships. Deepening my relationship to self, to loved ones and the world I habit. What a joy!” Beth Anne, New Jersey

“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