Kathryn Aalto is an American teacher, designer, speaker, and New York Times best-selling writer of creative nonfiction.
For the past twenty-five years, her creative practice has fused nature and culture: teaching the literature of nature and place; designing beautiful and sustainable gardens; and writing about the natural world. Based in England, she teaches popular online and live writing courses, mentors emerging writers, and leads writing retreats in England and the United States.
“As a writer and designer,” Kathryn says, “I create narratives out of words and out of plants. As a tutor, I am committed to teaching with integrity and helping each student experience transformative growth through the literary arts. I am guided by a passion to grow and reimagine — the self, art and society, and greater-than-human life — through inspirational teaching, critical thinking, and radical empathy.”
Kathryn is the author of three books including Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World (2020), The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood (2015), and Nature and Human Intervention (2011). A personal essayist and book reviewer, her work appears in Smithsonian Magazine, Outside, Sierra, Buzzfeed, Resurgence and the Ecologist, and more. Her work has been widely reviewed in print, radio, TV, and digital platforms including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, BBC Countryfile Magazine, and more.
She is currently working on her fourth book.
As a teacher, Kathryn’s experience ranges from traditional in-person higher education classes to outdoor experiential writing retreats to international online courses. She enjoys reimagining traditional learning settings and appreciates the benefits of each model.
A writer with a background teaching at colleges and universities including Western Washington University, the University of Plymouth and Everett Community College, she attracts a broad student body to her on-line creative nonfiction writing courses.
“Kathryn is the best provider of author-led courses and mentoring in England,” writes Tanya Shadrick, author of The Cure for Sleep. Limited in size and international in scope, her live Zoom courses attract students from around the world including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Ecuador, and India.
“These new classrooms invite far greater collaborations and more enriching intersections than I ever could have imagined, which are incredibly valuable to the emerging to advanced writer seeking to grow and learn.” Her deeply engaged teaching style, clear and quality course material, dynamic guest speakers, personalised feedback, and uplifting writing community provides an empowering learning experience for students around the world. Teaching endorsements are below.
“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,” writes Veronica, a Portland-based poet.
“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,” writes Beth Anne. “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 is a judge with the Nature Chronicles Prize in Britain and co-founder of The Rural Writing Institute with James Rebanks in Cumbria. She is a member of Association for Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE). She has a Masters degrees in Garden History (University of Bristol) and Creative Nonfiction (Western Washington University) and a Bachelors in English from the University of California at Berkeley. She is a graduate of the London College of Garden Design and is a Trustee for The Ashdown Forest Foundation.
An ardent supporter of fellow writers, “I was delighted when Kathryn helped me launch my Yale University Press book, The Doctor’s Garden, in February 2022 via a Zoom ‘In Conversation’ event,” said Dr. Clare Hickman, senior lecturer at Newcastle University.
“Kathryn had carefully read and considered the various angles I had taken to the material. She insightfully drew out the larger themes and scope and understood the originality of my work and how it sits within the wider context of landscape and botanic history. In particular, the discussion interweaving the academic research and my approach to writing was a joy and am sure helped me communicate verbally the processes as well as the outcomes of years of investigation. She was outstanding as an interviewer.”
Author Janisse Ray (Wild Spectacle, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and six other books) says: “Kathryn Aalto has proven herself to be a person of extreme integrity, of careful preparation, and of utmost professionalism. She graciously agreed to host an online book launch for me. I wanted her to do it because of her seminal and ground-breaking survey of women’s nature writing, Writing Wild. She proved to be beyond my wildest expectations. She was incredibly calm, obviously adept at managing the myriad threads involved in hosting an in-depth interview being broadcast live—the conversation itself, questions from the audience, the time, and much more. Not only calm, she was remarkably polite, kind, inclusive, and very knowledgeable about the subject at hand. Seemingly without effort she was able to drop into a deep, plundering, soul-stirring conversation, where the audience members felt as if they were eavesdropping, as if at any moment juicy information helpful to their lives might be revealed.”
“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.“
“I have been making my living with journalistic texts for four years now. Tied to my desk due to the pandemic I decided it was time to take my writing to another level and enrolled in The Art of Narrative Nonfiction. Being skeptical of virtual courses at first, I was immediately drawn into the group by her professional and yet entertaining moderation of the weekly online gatherings. With an attractive mix of lecture, discussion, workshop and personal tutoring she enabled us to not only profit from her vast experience as a writer but also to open up our pieces to our peers from various cultural backgrounds. I’ll definitely be back for more.”
“I tend to underachieve in courses where I feel the instructor is simply reading what’s on a slide or handout, obviously not engaged with the material or the students. But you’re different. You challenge students to perform at their very best. You care. You want us to break free of our box, not adhere to some minimum standard, and I greatly appreciate that. You are a professor. It’s remarkable. I have told every student I know to enroll in any class you teach, and I stand behind those words. As long as there are teachers out there in the world such as yourself, the quality of education received is of great value, importance, and overall high quality and standards. You raise the bar, Professor Aalto.”
“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, Katy really went above and beyond to ensure our growth and success.”
“I think it can be really hard for people with a neurodiversity to consider a class as a hobby or pleasure. There’s just SO much anxiety about once again being judged, by a teacher or peer group, and being found lacking or “other” rather than valuable and connected. It’s something most of us have experienced far too often in educational and social settings, so we avoid making ourselves vulnerable to those experiences in future. But this can cut us off from taking joy in our interests within a community, which is isolating and also stops our stories being heard. The foremost reason that I chose Kathryn’s class was trust. She will always find both the most relatable and the most admirably unique aspects of everyone’s writing, and help them to bring those aspects into communion. Her classes are consciously inclusive – more than inclusive; celebratory! – of every individual and their different talents and challenges. I’ve really appreciated all my classmates too. There’s been such an atmosphere of warmth and enjoyment along with all the learning and practicing and growing. Writing genuinely can be rewarding for everyone.”
“Kathryn Aalto is an exceptional teacher. As a best-selling author, she knows the publishing industry first-hand. And she is highly adept at refining one’s technical skills without stifling a writer’s voice. I love the combination of rigor and nurturing she provides. Without her mentoring, I would still be stumbling in the dark along my path to publication. Her guidance, support and knowledge are game changers. I cannot recommend her enough!”
“Kathryn was a fabulous mentor at a time when I needed it the most. I was working on the manuscript of my first nonfiction book, and Kathryn had recently finished Writing Wild, which has a similar structure to mine. She provided wonderful advice about how to balance different chapters, how to better tell a story, and always reminded me to be specific rather than vague. Kathryn gave me courage to pursue interviews with higher profile people than I would have otherwise approached, and boosted my confidence as a writer. Our weekly call gave me goals, a schedule, and kept me accountable in my writing process. Because of Kathryn, I had a clearer sense of what makes a full-length nonfiction book work and how to get there. Working with her while I was in the final stages of my manuscript dramatically improved my final product and gave me skills that I will carry with me for my writing career.”
“The Art of Narrative Nonfiction is a wonderful class, and Katy is an amazing teacher. As an emerging writer, I was a bit nervous to take the course. Katy’s welcoming presence from the first minute put me at ease, and I have enjoyed and benefitted from all that she offers: interesting writing assignments, wonderful books and readings, workshopping opportunities with supportive classmates, an author visit, etc. The effort that Katy spends in reading each of our drafts and providing valuable feedback has helped me immensely in the past several weeks. I am excited to take more classes with her in the future.”
“It has been an absolute pleasure spending the past year in the Memoir and Life Writing Class with Kathryn and a small group of aspiring writers. Kathryn encouraged us to go deep into our “writing well,” supporting us with a wide breadth of reading and discussion. The opportunity to talk with published authors was invaluable in the writing and planning process. Kathryn taught us to look at our writing with fresh eyes, opening the group to thoughtful conversation and supportive advice. Her teaching style is relaxed, measured, and thought-provoking. This class is a journey; it has vast implications in the life writing process. I grew as a writer, reader, and person. I am grateful for Kathryn’s guidance.”
“I was privileged to be part of 2018’s Rural Writing Institute cohort and to meet an amazing and diverse group of writers through that. However, taking a course with Katy has been the catalyst which has not only got me into the habit of writing, but has taken that writing to a whole new level. Katy helped me to see that I could do better, through a mixture of well-managed discussion and timely, constructive feedback. She has turned me from an aspiring writer into an emerging one. It sounds cheesy, but her course really has been life-changing.”
“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.
“Kathryn is an exceptional teacher. We’d start each class with a short lecture about the craft of writing, and then we’d apply what we learnt through work-shopping and readings. I think that’s the best thing about Kathryn’s classes: that we are taught the skills we need to continue learning for ourselves. At the end of the six weeks, I wasn’t left high and dry, scratching my head wondering what to do next. Through the online classes, I interacted with people from all over the world. And Kathryn has a gift for holding the space, so I felt safe sharing my work and opening myself up for critique. Learning from Kathryn is a fantastic experience, which is why I keep signing up for more!”
“The Writer-to-Writer Mentorship Program with Kathryn Aalto, sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, was a tremendous boost to my career as a creative writer. Judging the success of our relationship is easy: less than a year after we started, I have had five of the six essays she critiqued accepted for publication. Kathryn did more than just review and suggest, she recommended books and articles I should read, authors I should follow, conferences and short courses I should attend. She emphasized the importance of developing an online presence. She provided a detailed description of her career as a writer; the path she followed to becoming an internationally known, bestselling author. I still have much to learn, but Kathryn provided, encouragement, tools, and skills that will enable me to grow and chart my own course.”
“The Art of the Personal Essay was a great class. Kathryn was encouraging, letting us know what we did well, but she also took time to give us suggestions for how we could improve our work. Her feedback made me more confident and enthusiastic about trying my hand at writing. The esprit de corps in our class was beyond what I would have thought possible in a Zoom class. The energy was lovely and it was a real pleasure to share work with writers from Australia to Europe to America.”
“I’ve had the privilege of learning from Katy as part of the Rural Writing Institute, and in her Life Writing class. The class every fortnight gave me momentum and accountability, things which can be hard to muster on my own. As well as learning loads about theory, and reading some brilliantly insightful books together, I benefitted hugely from submitting writing each session and having others read it and feedback — this was something I was nervous of at the start, but it became one of the things I most valued. Katy’s experience and passion shine through, and each of us could feel that she cared about our words, and cared deeply about us becoming the best writers we can be. My writing and ideas felt safe here, which encouraged me to dig deeper. An unexpected gift of the course was the incredibly supportive community — something I hadn’t realised was so important in the writing life, but which now feels as vital as pen and paper. Thank you Katy for sharing your knowledge, experience, encouragement and passion with us, and for building such a great community.”
“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.”
“Kathryn Aalto is a gift. Her mentoring is insightful, collaborative, and inspiring. Kathryn has helped shape my essay for submission and, most importantly, coached me to a deeper appreciation for my own intuition and skill as a writer.”Kris, Ithaca, New York
Kathryn is a passionate practitioner and educator of narrative nonfiction with a speciality in people profiles, personal essays, and travel and nature writing. For more than twenty-five years, she has taught writing and literature courses at colleges and universities including The Huxley College of the Environment and the English Department at Western Washington University, Everett Community College, and the University of Plymouth. She oversees a professional mentoring practice for emerging to published writers as well as thriving online writing courses and monthly workshops. Kathryn has taught at summer writing schools in England and leads immersive writing retreats: Retreat to the English Countryside in Devon, England; the Rural Writing Institute in the Lake District; and the Autumn Retreat to New England Woods in Peterboro, New Hampshire. For information on upcoming retreats, please visit the COURSES page on this website.
Kathryn’s teaching philosophy is focused on individual growth and encourages a uniquely personal exploration of narrative nonfiction. She believes teaching is about responding to each student, whether they are emerging writers or writing beyond the level of content mastery. She creates a supportive learning environment that fosters creative expression, critical thinking, and individual artistic growth. She is deeply influenced by the Harkness Method invented in the 1930s at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire where her three children have been educated. In this teaching method, no more than twelve students sit together with one teacher. Each voice carries equal weight. It is about collaboration and active listening. “It can spark a revolution,” according to PEA. “It’s where you explore ideas as a group, develop the courage to speak, the compassion to listen, and the empathy to understand.”