Nancy Kotkin is a past HippoCamp attendee, and this year she’s returning as a workshop leader. We’re excited about her pre-conference event, “Personal Essay Structures: Marriage of Content and Form” which will introduce writers to different essay formats. We asked Nancy a few questions about HippoCamp, her influences, and literary citizenship.

nancy kotkin

HM: Without sharing any spoilers, what can attendees expect from your workshop?

NK: During my MFA program, I learned the technique of braiding stories, a story structure that really resonates with me. Since then I’ve been braiding my stories with all sorts of material. It has really stimulated me to experiment, and to test the boundaries. I’m so enamored with this type of story that I’ve been writing a book-length work comprised of braided stories, each story representing a different type/number of strands.

I hope my HippoCamp workshop will ignite participants in the way that my MFA course did for me. I want participants to leave the workshop so excited that they experiment with story structures all year long. And perhaps each participant will discover a structure that feeds their passion, like the braided story does for me.


Who would benefit the most from your workshop?

If you’re tired of writing straight chronological narratives…If you’re interested in learning something new…If you like to apply practical knowledge…If you’re curious how to expand your stories…If your writing needs a bit of spice… then PERSONAL ESSAY STRUCTURES: THE MARRIAGE OF CONTENT & FORM is the workshop for you! Intermediate-level writers would benefit the most from my HippoCamp pre-conference workshop, though this workshop would also be useful to advanced writers.


Literary citizenship is so important today, and by being part of our conference, you’re contributing to the CNF community — why is sharing with others important to you?

For me, literary citizenship means writers supporting and helping other writers. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, and we all do it in addition to our day jobs, families, and myriad of other responsibilities. Connecting with other writers is vital for our own survival as a writer, and to boost the confidence and success of other writers as well. The networking aspect of events such as HippoCamp allows writers an opportunity to move beyond the confines of our own heads, our own workspaces, our own survival, and to venture into new ideas, new connections, and new potential. Alone we survive, but together we thrive.


Taking off your presenter hat, what are you hoping to learn as an attendee at HippoCamp?

HippoCamp 2016 was so packed full of interesting material and practical suggestions that I continued to process the information and utilize the advice throughout the year. I know that this year’s HippoCamp conference will offer the same high level of benefit. So I don’t have any specific goals for the conference, but I’m open to absorbing all that I can. I especially love that HippoCamp is becoming a “water cooler” for people who focus on writing true stories.


What was a recent and memorable work of creative nonfiction you read – whether a book or shorter piece? (And what did you love about it?)

I recently read Sherman Alexie’s collage essay called Captivity. It’s a fascinating example of the collage type essay, which is one of the structures we’ll discuss in my workshop. You can read an annotated version of Sherman Alexie’s essay online here.


Are there any themes that are recurring in your own writing?

I seem to write a lot about family bonds, from both sides – the dysfunction of those most intimate relationships, and the strength gained from them.

But I try to remain alert to all the life going on around me, in the hope of opening a new vein, exploring new possibilities… I challenge all readers of this blog post to jot down 3-5 essay ideas that you may develop later. Do this as a monthly exercise. Participants of my HippoCamp 2017 pre-conference workshop should bring this list of ideas to the workshop. You’ll use your list in an exercise.


Nancy, thank you for taking the time to “talk” to us! We look forward to seeing you in September—and what your workshoppers come up with!

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