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July 10–31, 2021. Building Block Essay Lab with Carol Spindel is a Course

July 10–31, 2021. Building Block Essay Lab with Carol Spindel

Time limit: 60 days

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Full course description


Building Block Essay Lab with Carol Spindel (Four-Week Workshop)


Saturdays on Zoom, July 10–31; 10:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Iowa/Central Time (11:00 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Eastern; 8:00–10:30 a.m. Pacific; 9:00–11:30 a.m. Mountain)

Fee: $475

Course Description

Essays are often personal histories, a way to investigate the particulars of our lives in prose: How was I introduced to this idea that has shaped my life? How did I connect with this particular place I return to again and again? How did I meet up with this person and why do they remain in my thoughts even after they are gone from the earth?

In this step-by-step essay workshop, we will start together from that infamous and exhilarating Blank Page. First of all, we'll fill it the easy way, with lists of possible subjects—mundane and intriguing, consequential or not evidently so, light and humorous or serious and weighty. Then we will take one of those subjects and work through three guided assignments to create the building blocks of a personal essay. Once we have the blocks, we will also take a step-by-step approach to revision, examining how our blocks can be taken apart and put back together in various arrangements to improve focus and unity, and to enhance connections and magnify insights. Even seemingly simple subjects can have complex inner stories. As we rearrange and revise, we will ask ourselves how we can enrich our narratives. Where could they branch out? And what tangents could they support?

And then, if we have time, we'll do it again! At the end of our time together, every writer will have written a draft of at least one essay and likely several, and will understand how to use an essay template that they can turn to multiple times as a way to start an essay. Since each writer comes to the Essay Lab with their own time constraints and goals, how much you write will depend on you and your circumstances. But whether you have lots of time or just a little, and whether you are an experienced writer or just starting, the Virtual Essay Lab is a safe, fun, and stimulating place to write from a personal viewpoint.   

Nonfiction writers can use the workshop to brainstorm a new project or renew their writing by coming at it from a fresh direction. And poets and fiction writers who want to try their hand at writing personal history or idiosyncratic takes on absolutely any subject are very welcome. Never written an essay? Join us and try it—the Essay Lab is a place for creative experimentation at every level!

During classes, I will share illustrated mini-lectures and give directed assignments. There will be time for writing, for reading some of our work aloud, and for discussion of the pieces we write in the Lab. Between classes, students will have one writing assignment and one short reading. For those who want to write more, I will offer encouragement and strategies. In addition to the time we spend together in class, each writer will have a 30-minute Zoom or phone conference to discuss their work in more detail. These will be scheduled individually near the end of the class.


Carol Spindel is the author of three nonfiction books, as well as radio commentaries, essays, and articles. She has written about all sorts of topics, including African ceramics, the scientific history of Paris, an invasive plant called phragmites, sports mascots based on stereotypes of Native Americans, and daily life in Ivory Coast, West Africa. She also edited and self-published her mother's memoir: The Beginnings of Black Radio: My Years at WDIA Memphis.

Her awards include a New York Times Notable Book Award for her memoir In the Shadow of the Sacred Grove, a PRNDI for Best Writing from the Public Radio News Directors, an award for excellence in honors teaching from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she taught creative nonfiction for over twenty years, and two awards from the ACLU for her work as an activist. Her book Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy Over American Indian Mascots, published in 2000, jumpstarted a national conversation about cultural appropriation.

Her latest book, I Give You Half the Road, about five people who left one rural community in Ivory Coast, West Africa, during a period of political turmoil, was published in 2021 by University of Wisconsin Press. During the pandemic, she gardened, birded, brewed kombucha, and served on a task force to rewrite the use-of-force policy for her city’s police department. She always thinks better while walking. You can find her at

Registration & Fees

The fee for this course is $475. Payment in full is required to register.

Registrations are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Class size is limited to 10.

Note: Your credit card payment will be processed by an external provider and will appear on your credit card statement as “UI Writing—Magid Center.”

Refund & Cancellation Policy

If you need to cancel your enrollment in a Festival class, please let us know as soon as possible. We can only offer full refunds if you cancel two weeks prior to the start of class. After that, before the start date of class, we can offer a 50% refund. We cannot refund day-of cancellations, and we cannot refund or partially refund tuition once the class has begun.

Terms & Community Policy

The Iowa Summer Writing Festival is a community built on an assumption of shared enterprise, in the spirit of mutual respect. We reserve the right to a) revoke the registration of or b) dismiss from the program any person who disrupts the learning/working environment of others. Participants in the Festival are subject to all University of Iowa policies governing conduct in our community, whether online or in person.



Contact the Iowa Summer Writing Festival: Phone: (319) 335-4160.

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