PWN welcomes Kate Devine to our instructor family. Kate Devine is a writer and teacher whose work has been featured in New York Magazine’s The Cut, Entropy, and other literary magazines. Kate teaches Personal Essay: Lyric & Alternative Forms. We asked Kate a few questions to get to know her better and to learn more about this new essay form.
PWN: Hi Kate! It’s nice to meet you. We are excited to have you as part of our team. To get to know you better, can you tell us about your writing background?
KATE: Thank you so much for having me, PWN! For as long as I can remember, I’ve been attempting to make sense of and locate beauty in my experiences through writing. Writing is the vessel that holds an overflow of wonder and curiosity that I seem to experience. I identify with Sarah Manguso’s line on the first page of Ongoingness, “I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention … The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it.”
I studied English literature at Rutgers, with creative writing as a concentration. I considered myself a poet until I took my first creative nonfiction course, which I had never heard of before. I was quickly enthralled. A few years later I decided to go on for an MFA in creative nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College. After that I moved to Hudson, NY, found a great writing community, and published a few essays. These days I’m writing, submitting my work, teaching, and co-hosting a works in progress reading series with another writer and friend.
PWN: What exactly is an “alternative form” of a personal essay? How do these forms differ from regular essays?
KATE: I’m not too big on the term “genre.” I think it is a malleable thing. However, I know sometimes people see the word “essay,” and think— five paragraphs, beginning, middle, end, rules—how boring. When I say “alternative form,” my intention is to invite curiosity and make room for essays that stray from what we’re used to. To me, an alternative form follows a pattern other than chronology. Maybe it weaves personal experience with outside sources, or perhaps it weaves two (seemingly) unrelated personal stories. Maybe it ruminates circularly on an idea, or zooms in and out. It pays attention to unlikely connections and grounds itself in small, specific sensory details. Or, it takes on an outside form, like a list, a letter, or a resume—and now we’re talking about hermit crab essays—so fun.
PWN: What is it about the alternative form that draws you to teach it?
KATE: Experimenting with form is a great way to shake loose new, surprising work, and reach beyond the narratives that are floating on the surface of our consciousness. Our minds are wired to make connections, and alternative forms can encourage associations to flow more freely, resulting in very inspired writing. Most of all, I find lyric essays playful and gorgeous. I look forward to exploring how we can use them as lovely little containers for our stories.
PWN: Besides enrolling in your class, what advice would you give to a writer who is trying this form for the first time?
KATE: Read A Harp In The Stars An Anthology of Lyric Essays, edited by Randon Billings Noble.
It was a pleasure talking with you Kate. You’ve got us excited about this new personal essay format!
Learn more about Kate’s Personal Essay: Lyric & Alternative Forms class.