I’ve been fortunate to teach English and writing in a variety of settings—at universities, high schools, public libraries, tutoring programs for at-risk youth, even the San Francisco women’s jail. Check out my LinkedIn profile for the specifics. Lately I’ve been focusing on travel writing and memoir; below are descriptions of a few recently taught courses. Scroll down for recommendations from students and administrators.
Travel Writing, Inside Out: Your Own Backyard
You don’t have to go far to see the world through a travel writer’s lens. And here in the Bay Area, there’s no shortage of places and experiences well worth a closer look.
We’ll study examples of excellent travel writing, which often straddles the boundaries of other genres, like memoir and reporting. In fact, the “Inside Out” of the course title applies not only to the inversion of creating travel writing without actually leaving home. It also alludes to how travel writing can push far past hotel reviews or chamber of commerce boosterism, giving us the chance to see and convey the beauty and complexity of this world and how we move through it.
On a more practical level, we’ll learn about brainstorming ideas, doing research, generating drafts, how to give and take feedback, polishing your work, and going public—whether via traditional publishing, blog posts, or readings, like the one we’ll do on the last day of class.
The Transformative Trip: Travel Writing Meets Memoir
At its best, travel transports and transforms us, and the most compelling travel narratives are personal, edging them into memoir territory. In this class we’ll try to meld the best elements of travel writing with the narrative arc and emotional impact of memoir.
Leaving home—and our comfort zones—carves out space for new insight. We grapple with questions both personal and political. What longing or ambition or heartbreak set us in motion? How did the trip differ from what we expected? What sort of cultural clashes did we experience or cause? What did we learn that we couldn’t have known without being physically present in this new place? While traveling we often get at truths we don’t have time for in our everyday life. And the travel stories we want to tell aren’t always about ourselves; travel makes us pay attention, and we find someone else’s story, or the unlikely history of a place.
Each week, students read one or two short assigned articles and complete a short writing exercise focused on some aspect of craft. During the session, students chose one story to work on at greater length, getting feedback from the teacher and fellow students, rewriting and polishing it to read aloud in public and then submit for publication.
NOTE: I’ll be teaching the above course at the Mill Valley Public Library September 6 – October 11, 2018
Other classes I’ve created and taught:
- Reading and Writing the Short Story
- Poetic Form for the Fun of It: Sonnets, Haiku, Limericks and Chants
- Hauntings: Ghosts Stories from Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw to Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
- Latin American Literature, from the Popul Vu to One Hundred Years of Solitude and Beyond
It’s a rare treat to come across a teacher who makes you feel as if her guidance was individually tailored to just you. Erin is loved and appreciated by her students for her honesty, and her calm and gentle approach.
Erin was very easy to work with and well organized The feedback I received from the attendees was glowing. They raved about her ability to make them feel comfortable and supported. She is able to develop a meaningful rapport with anyone she engages with. Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to her first workshop, I have scheduled her for another writing workshop. I highly recommend Erin as an instructor for a writing workshop.
–Kristen Clark, Library Operations Manager, Mill Valley Public Library
Erin’s class has been well organized with good resources and creative assignments. She has offered both inspiration and fun in a structured but casual setting. As a secondary school principal (now retired), I feel qualified to rate Erin as an outstanding teacher. Her gift as a writer goes without saying (but I did want to say it!)
Erin Van Rheenen is by far one of my top favorite teachers. I found her to be incredibly organized, and as a result it felt like we got a lot out of each evening together in a relatively short period of time. She had online resources available to us for our time outside of classes as well as short, engaging presentations prepared for our in-class time. The prompts were compelling, and the tricks-of-the-trade that she shared with us were incredibly valuable.
Not only that, this was the first time that I was in a writing class where I felt extraordinarily supported to take risks and make mistakes. Erin is able to create an atmosphere of curiosity and play that mitigates the critical voice that can sometimes discourage some of us more sensitive creative-types. I would jump at another opportunity to work with Erin.
I wanted to add my praise for Erin Van Rheenen and her terrific writing course. I loved her technique, her skill, her positive support for all students and more.