Writing the Hermit Crab Essay, with Sarah Earle

The Hermit Crab is an essay whose tender, vulnerable truth seeks an outside structure with which to contain it.  Just like the hermit crab itself, which spends its life living in a succession of ever-changing mollusk shells, writers go about combing life’s ocean floor for carapaces for their own material.  These forms might not, at first glance, seem literary: a recipe, a how-to guide, a real estate ad.  Once the writer’s story starts to inhabit the form, there is no telling how that story will grow. In a panel discussion, writer Brenda Miller, who along with Suzanne Paola coined the essay form, explains: ‘[the process of moving into a form] often shows how content wants to expand the story beyond the form, just as a hermit crab outgrows its shell, nudging the boundaries.”

In this half-day class, students will be introduced to the concept of the hermit crab essay and spend time reading and discussing published examples together.  Then, they’ll explore, feeling out their options, picking up shells and deciding if their heft, size, and weight feel right for the story they will contain.  By the end of the class, students will have generated the first draft of a hermit crab essay and have the opportunity to gain feedback from teacher and peers about how they might move their essay forward. 

This workshop will be held online. 

Saturday, October 15, 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. ($75)

For seven years, Sarah Earle was a lecturer in first-year composition and English as a second language at the University of New Hampshire.  She has also taught creative nonfiction at St. Paul’s Academic Summer Program in Concord, NH, and worked as an editor of Outlook Springs Literary Magazine. She holds her MFA in nonfiction writing from UNH; you can read her essays in Bayou Magazine and The Cobalt Review, and her fiction in The Rumpus and The Carolina Quarterly.

Sarah Earle