“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 H-S., Ithaca, New York

“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!” — Lise P., writer, psychotherapist and actor, Los Angeles, California

“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!” — Marissa L., Austria

Kathryn Aalto is a passionate practitioner of narrative nonfiction. She has a Bachelors in English from Berkeley, a Masters in Creative Nonfiction, a Masters in Garden History, and a diploma from the London College of Garden Design. She has been published in Smithsonian, Outside, Sierra, and more. She has written three books of narrative nonfiction and is represented by Peter McGuigan at Ultra in New York City.

For more than twenty-five years, she has taught writing and literature courses in high education settings including Western Washington University, Everett Community College, and Plymouth University. She is co-founder of The Rural Writing Institute with James Rebanks, leads in-person and virtual writing and design courses, and nurtures emerging writers through professional one-to-one mentoring.  An active member of the Association for Writers and Writing Programs, Kathryn is a sought-after mentor who works with narrative nonfiction writers at all levels and at all stages around the world, with and without literary agents, to strengthen book proposals, enhance manuscripts-in-progress, develop personal essay writing, work on scene creation, and recover personal writing voices.

Short courses are offered weekly or every other week in 5-10 week sessions this spring. See detailed descriptions below.  All times are GMT.

Every other week (6 sessions):

  • The Art of the Personal Essay I (Mondays, June 7, 14, 21, 28, July 5)
  • The Art of the Personal Essay II (Mondays, March 15, 29, April 12, 26 May 10, 24)
  • The Art of Narrative Nonfiction I (Wednesdays, March 17, 31, April 14, 28, May 12, 26)


  • An Introduction Nature Writing I (Tuesdays, March 16, 23, 30, April 13, 20, 27)
  • Your Path to Publication (Wednesdays, June  2-30 five sessions)
  • The Art of the Handwritten Letter (Tuesdays, May 4-June 29 – 8 sessions)

One-off special topics:

  • Better Writing Through Science: Optimizing Your Writing Practice (TBA)
  • Research for Writers (TBA)

Hybrid schedule – see description below.

  • Advanced Art of Narrative Nonfiction: Memoir and Life Writing (Thursdays, March 18-May 27). Sunday class may be added.


The personal essay is one of the most appealing and universally acclaimed genres in publishing. Intimate, conversational, and free of affectation, it is an accessible medium for emerging writers. Two classes are offered — one for writers new to the form and the other for more experienced writers. We will read classical to contemporary work–Seneca, Plutarch, Henry David Thoreau, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, David Foster Wallace, Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay, Zadie Smith, and David Sedaris–to understand how the essayist creates scenes and makes the personal universal.  The key storytelling device of show, not tell is taught: portraits of character and place, incident, dialogue, conflict, tension, and narrative presence. The classes flow from short lectures through discussions of readings to work-shopping essays in a friendly and supportive spirit. Each week, you will have the opportunity to read and discuss two essays as well as write and revise essays every other week based on themes.

Two-hour sessions for 12 contact hours, feedback on writing, and a supportive writing community. Breakout rooms. Enroll via Tuition: £375.

  • The Art of the Personal Essay I for Emerging Writers (Mondays, June 7, 14, 21, 28, July 5)
  • The Art of the Personal Essay II for Intermediate Writers (Mondays, March 15, 29, April 12, 26 May 10, 24)

“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.” — Kimberley K., Michigan

In The Art of Narrative Nonfiction, students are introduced to techniques that make narrative nonfiction come alive: sense of place, dialogue, characterisation, internal monologue, narrative presence, and world creation through research. There are two levels, see below. Writers are invited to explore their own interests within a diverse array of weekly subjects including memoir, travel writing, nature writing, food writing, profiles, and cultural critiques through essays. The classes flow from short lectures through discussions of readings to work-shopping essays in a friendly and supportive spirit. Weekly assignments range from developmental exercises (mind-mapping, journaling, and outlining) and short essays. There are rich opportunities to make new friends around the world and grow within a highly supportive writing community. We read a range of work including personal essays by E. B. White, David Sedaris, Roxane Gay, and Zadie Smith as well The Moth and the Mountain by Ed Caesar, M. F. K. Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me, Jan Morris’s Venice, and Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights The aim is to finish the course with several publication-ready essays.

The Art of Narrative Nonfiction I for Emerging Writers — Six-week taster course limited to 16 people. There are six 2-hour sessions for 12 hours.  Writing feedback, a community of support, breakout rooms. Offered in June 2021.

The Art of Narrative Nonfiction: Memoir and Life Writing for Advanced Writers — By application only. Limited to 10 people with ten 2.5 hour sessions for 25 hours. Included is 1:1 meeting, writing feedback, guest author, community of support, smaller class.  Nine sessions, 7-9 PM GMT Thursdays March 18, 25, April 1; April 15, 22, 29; May 13, 20, 27, June 3. Tuition: £775.

To enquire, contact

“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.” — Johannes J. A., Cologne, Germany

A handwritten letter is a cherished thing, now more than ever. Love letters. Sympathy letters. Thank you letters. Apology letters. Dear John letters. Rekindling friendship letters. Farewell letters. The time and care invested in a handwritten letter — the special pen and stationary, the cup of tea, the sifting through memories and feelings, the walk to the post box — makes them treasures to receive.

French philosopher Michel de Montaigne was the fountainhead of the celebrated personal essay, a genre born from the letters he wrote to a friend who had died and whom he missed. These missives helped Montaigne feel as if he and his friend were still conversing.  And so the characteristics of the the handwritten letter — conversational, intimate, revealing — were precursors to the personal essay as we know it today. Indeed, Kathryn’s writing career really began with letter writing as a girl and the more than dozen “pen pals” she had in Europe, America, and the Caribbean.  This early letter writing evolved to a love of long-form journalism, formal and personal essays, and books.

What better way to learn about some of the most poignant letters in history, to practice writing scenes, and to connect with people in an intimate and caring way than here in this unique course. You will have the opportunity to write letters to each other before you meet in our virtual space. Guest speakers included.Your fingerprints are invisible calling cards. Your handwriting a thread of unspooled thoughts. Your tongue seals the envelope. You gently press the stamp onto the envelope. Perhaps you spray stationery with perfume before walking to the post box and dropping in the fragrant envelope. It may sit there for sometime until hand-by-hand, a part of you travels by car, by lorry, by train, by boat or by plane perhaps thousands of miles away. When it arrives at its destination, the sight of postmarks quicken hearts. It is cherished before read, the humble envelope through the door the closest thing to knocking at someone’s door.

This is my experience of the art of the handwritten letter. Impersonal email surely has expedient purposes, while handwritten letters have heartbeat and soul. Slow. Personal. On your desk one day, in the hands of someone else on another.

The love letter. Sympathy letter. Dear John letter. Apology letter. Thank you letter. Christmas letters.

Letterwriting as a teenager — if you remember “The Big Blue Marble” television show that linked up kids across the globe, I had 13 pen pals at age 13 — turned me into an essayist. And that led to becoming an author. I think of all my books as connected essays. French philosopher Michel de Montaigne was fountainhead of the personal essay, a genre born from letters he wrote to a friend who recently passed on and whose friendship he missed. It was his way of staying connected. Think of essays as letters to a friend. Over centuries, they morphed into a conversational genre that influenced early English and American essayists. Today the essay is a formal genre.

An essayist who illustrates my garden designs, I appreciate slow arts that preserve old ways. It is meaningful way to connect, and feel like we are travelling while standing still.

In this writing class, I follow the lecture-discussion-workshop pace of all my live virtual learning spaces. Histories of famous letters. Techniques for recollecting moments. Ways to write vivid scenes that borrow from narrative nonfiction, memoir and personal essays. Guest speakers planned.

The Art of the Handwritten Letter (Tuesdays, 7-9 PM, May 4-June 29 – 8 sessions). Tuition: £425.

In this technical skills class, you will have the opportunity to learn how to polish and launch a piece of narrative nonfiction writing—personal essays, travel writing, nature writing, food writing, cultural critique, and profiles—from the page into publication. Over six sessions, learn step-by-step techniques for refining your best writing, researching potential publication sources, and crafting an irresistible proposal for submission to magazines, newspapers, podcasts, blogs, or journals. You will also gain an understanding of the professional writer’s habits of mind, clever ways to pitch your writing, enhance your author platform, and tap into the zeitgeist.  Come with an essay you would like to see the light of day. We will work together as a team to cross that bridge to publication.

Limited to 20. Five 2-hour sessions. £300.  Contact to enroll.

  • Wednesdays, 7-9 PM GMT, June 2-30.


“Attention is the beginning of devotion.” ― Mary Oliver, Upstream


You are invited to awaken awe and wonder for the natural world in An Introduction to Nature Writing.  Whether you want to capture a mountainous ascent, a wander along a lonely footpath, or better see nature in your urban setting, this short course teaches simple ways to engage more deeply with the natural world through observation, reflection, and writing for publication and personal enrichment.  Sessions are balanced between discussions, workshops, and short lectures about the history of British and American nature writing. These include Thoreau, Emerson, Wordsworth, and Muir alongside contemporary diverse writers such as Annie Dillard, Gretel Ehrlich, Lauret Savoy, Kathleen Jamie, Leslie Marmon Silko, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Elena Passarello.  Drawing on thirty years of expertise in nature writing ― including her 2020 book Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World ― this course explores both classic and new nature writing that addresses the impact of humans on the Earth. There will be weekly writing exercises to develop a layered piece of writing, short readings, and rich opportunities for sharing writing in workshop settings. Guest speaker.

Whether you seek to re-wild a garden or re-wild yourself, this course will lift both your spirits and your pen.  Limited to 15. Six 2-hour sessions. £375. Feedback on writing. Contact to enroll.

  • WINTER: 7-9 PM GMT, Sundays, An Introduction to Nature Writing, Feb 7-March 14.
  • SPRING: 7-9 PM GMT, Sundays, Intermediate Nature Writing, April 11-May May 23.


Retreat into the Devon Countryside. This weekend writing retreat in October 2021 takes place at the delicious Pig Hotel in Combe, a golden-stoned Elizabethan manor house nestled in the green Devon hills. More dates in 2021 will be forthcoming. The focus of the retreat is on the art and craft of narrative nonfiction. The include discussions on a range of topics: finding your personal writing voice, learning the art and craft of the personal essay, the importance of scene creation, and creating a professional and personal writing practice. Evening speakers included.

Our focus over four days is on the art of narrative nonfiction dance between conveying information and crafting scenes through lecture, discussion, and writing. The personal essay also gives emerging writers achievable goals leading to by-lines and a track record in print publication.  An elegant, immersive, and nurturing weekend with evening cocktails, walks in the surrounding countryside, meditative spa services to relax and unwind and warming fireside outdoor discussions. Rooms in thatched cottages and meals locally-sourced meals from the kitchen garden. New friendships with fellow narrative nonfiction writers to nurture your writing life. Additional one-to-one consultations on works-in-progress. Contact for more information and to request the itinerary.

Limited to 10 people. Hotel and meals are separate. Tuition £2500.

The Georgian Kitchen at The Pig

Discussion in The Library


From Proposal to Publication to Public Speaking.  Kathryn Aalto loves to help people fulfill their creative potential. A warm sounding board and professional mentor with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Kathryn provides warm and nurturing foundational instruction as well as technical feedback on a range of issues bespoke for each writer. Her weekly sessions are scheduled in six- and ten-week increments to achieve specific goals.  She gives detailed readings of works-in-progress and meets one-to-one via Zoom to discuss progress and areas for improvement.  Whether personal essays, magazine features, book proposals, or book-length manuscripts, Kathryn works with writers on scene creation, techniques for self-editing, developing a reading list, establishing a writing practice, and guides with weekly assignments.  Contact for tuition.


  • Writing an author bio: where you want to be in 12 months and 5 years
  • Building your portfolio as your work toward your goals
  • Establishing a writing practice
  • Developing an author platform
  • Networking (on social media, in person, and in professional organisations)


  • Deepening your understanding of the craft of narrative nonfiction
  • Carving out a subject niche and making a name for yourself
  • Crafting essays that can get you paid and published for bylines
  • Pitching pieces for publication
  • Finding your authentic personal voice
  • Working on specific scenes, essays, and manuscripts


“Kathryn is an exceptional mentor. 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. Kathryn’s guidance, support and knowledge are game changers. I cannot recommend her enough!”–Lise P., Glendale, California

“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.”– McKenzie L., California, Writer to Writer

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.”– Andrew W., Maine, Writer to Writer

“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 teacher 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.” Craig H., Everett Community College