Climate change is the most serious problem facing our society, but writing about it has often been treated as unserious. Many writers are not addressing it at all. In his book The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh says that in the future, when sea level rise has swallowed many of our cities, people will look to the art and literature of our time for portents of things to come. They won’t find very much. “When they fail to find them,” he asks, “what should they—what can they—do other than to conclude that ours was a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into the modes of concealment that prevented people from recognizing the realities of their plight?”
In this class, we will do away with the “modes of concealment” Ghosh talks about, and make nature our subject. This class aims to look seriously at how we write about the environment and the weather in an age of worsening climate change, and how we can all make it a priority in our work. What structures can we use to address extreme weather events? How can we use time to capture the simultaneous tedium and terror of the emergency? Can we write about the individual as well as the collective? Is it possible to write about climate change not as something that is coming, but as a phenomenon that’s already a part of our lives?
We will take our lessons from writers working in many mediums—novelists like Jenny Offill, Richard Powers, Jeff Vandermeer, Elvia Wilk, and Andrew Durbin, essays and memoir by Amitav Ghosh, Barry Lopez, Daisy Hildyard, Ben Ehrenreich, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Jessica J. Lee, short fiction by Claire Louise Bennett, Lauren Groff, and Alice Bishop, and poetry by Alice Oswald, and Natalie Diaz.
This course is open to all writers, from those just starting out and unsure where to begin, to seasoned writers of any genre who are interested in writing about nature. Prior workshop experience is not necessary, but all members of the class must come to class prepared to discuss the readings, be willing to share their own writing, and be generous in their responses to their peers’ work.
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.
The opportunity to workshop two short stories or essays and to meet with the instructor one-on-one to discuss your writing process and ways to continue to polish your work in revision.
- Expanded knowledge of the possibilities for how to generate and structure work about nature.
- A tool kit of writing-prompts and exercises.
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students will have the opportunity to workshop two pieces of work during the course. Workshop submissions should be a maximum of 10 double-spaced pages per piece. Every week there will be in-class exercises and prompts aimed at helping us use different strategies and take different approaches to writing about nature as we experience it right now. In one private one-on-one conference, we will meet to discuss your work in more detail, including ways to move forward in revision.
Week one: Foundations (we will do some writing exercises and readings, but no workshop)
Week Two: The Uncanny + workshop
Week Three: Disasters + workshop
Week Four: The Mundane + workshop
Week Five: Animals + workshop
Week Six: Plants + workshop
Week Seven: The all-too-human + workshop
Week Eight: Final workshop
Madeleine Watts is a writer of fiction, stories, and essays. Her writing has been published in The Believer, The White Review, Literary Hub, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, and Guernica, amongst others. Her debut novel, The Inland Sea, was published by Catapult in 2021. Madeleine grew up in Sydney, and sometimes Melbourne, but she has been based in New York since 2013.
"A tricky marvel: melancholy and bright, ingenious and gentle, an emergency inside of an idyll. Watts is an exceptional talent."
"Madeleine Watts' INLAND SEA is full of heat and disquiet, an acute barometer of all kinds of interior and exterior weather. I could tell you that I found it astute and precise, almost savage in its eloquence, illuminating about what it feels like to love, to be left, to want more; and all of these things would be true, but what I really want to say is that it reached into a mysterious subcutaneous zone where I felt displaced, unhinged, inexplicably consoled, inexplicably rearranged, somehow enlarged."
"Brilliant and breathtaking … gives a precise glimpse into a world and a woman coming undone. I want everyone to read this provocative, perfect book."
"Madeleine Watts is an excellent editor and a generous reader of my work in progress. She has given me valuable feedback on both short stories and non-fiction work. She has excellent ideas and a great ability to sense the thread of a piece of writing!"
"Madeleine Watts is a fiercely insightful and generous reader, attentive to the larger thematic concerns of a piece and how these are manifested on a structural and sentence level. We have been sharing work since we were both students in the Columbia MFA program, and over time, she has remained one of my most trusted and most valuable readers. As a writer, she inspires me always to go to a deeper and truer place with my work, and I have gotten countless invaluable reading recommendations that have greatly influenced my work thanks to her incredibly vast knowledge for literature. I have no doubt that her guidance will provide similar inspiration to her students."