Guided by Jesse Ellison, explore the art of crafting vivid portraits with words, delving into the techniques of making compelling word portraits and enhancing your skills in the powerful intersection of language and imagery.

Sep 9, 2024 - Sep 13, 2024

Levels: All
Workshop Fee: $1195
Workshop Duration: 1-week (Monday-Friday)
Workshop Location: On-campus
Class Size: 10

In every person, there’s a story. Written portraits, or profiles, are ubiquitous: personal memoirs, newspaper and magazine articles, obituaries, op-docs, and essays that accompany collections of images. Profiles can be the most straightforward way to tell a story, and yet they can also be the trickiest to master. Often practiced, rarely perfected, the profile form is a foundational way to tell stories of all kinds, across many mediums. 

Guided by Jesse Ellison, in this workshop, we will examine successful (and less successful) stories about people, drawing from photo books, magazines, newspapers, and literary nonfiction; we will discuss and explore elements of storytelling and journalistic craft, including who to talk to, what to ask, the art of the interview, learning to listen, and letting silences hang; we will look closely at structure and form, from engaging ledes to satisfying kickers; we will practice killing our darlings, making hard choices, and writing tight, sharp prose.

A profile of the artist Jeffery Becton, with Jesse Ellison - photo By Cig Harvey
This image, created by Cig Harvey, serves as an accompaniment to a recent collaboration with instructor Jesse Ellison, a profile highlighting the artist Jeffery Becton.

This class is small and interactive enough that it’s appropriate for both beginning and experienced writers. Students can come with a profile subject in mind, a piece of writing in process, or nothing at all. During the week, students will be asked to either embark upon or delve more deeply into a profile project of their own, on any subject — a self-portrait, a relative, a stranger, a celebrity they will never meet. The week will include time for writing and research/reporting, one-on-one meetings and critiques, and reading and workshopping projects together in class.

Header image copyright Cig Harvey.

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Instructor: Jesse Ellison

Jesse Ellison is an award-winning journalist, a freelance writer, and a Contributing Editor at Down East Magazine, where she has profiled Zam Zam Mohamed, a Somali activist and community leader in Lewiston, Maine; Dr. Nirav Shah, the head of Maine’s CDC during the coronavirus pandemic; and the Deer-Isle based photographer Jeffery Becton; among many others. Also a contributor to publications such as Esquire, Elle, and Boston Magazine, prior to moving to Maine she was a staff writer for Newsweek Magazine and The Daily Beast. She has a master’s degree in Magazine Writing from the Columbia University School of Journalism and a bachelor’s of arts in English, with a creative writing concentration, from Barnard College.