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& They Call Us Crazy: Outsider Writing to Cross the Borders of Human Imagination // with Caits Meissner

  • 06 September 2023
  • 17 October 2023
  • Online
  • 18

About This Class

In this creativity-generating workshop we’ll follow in the footsteps of genius eccentrics, outsiders and outlaws who've stepped beyond their perceived limitations, risking ridicule (and worse) to access their unique creative offerings — ultimately proving that what is outside the norm — and the academy — is often the most deliciously innovative and juicy. Together we’ll engage playful and boundary-pushing exercises to become co-conspirators in building a vibrant universe, soaked in the imagination’s brightest colors. Flexing our natural instinct for curiosity, we'll write beyond the world of convention, actively practicing how to find inspiration anywhere. A range of silly/light to inquisitive/profound themes tie together disparate artists of various mediums that we'll use as a diving board into short and extended creative exercises. We’ll ignite creative experiments in non-writing mediums (just for fun!) in order to aid our writing. We’re after a hands on, interactive experience aimed at shaking up and pushing the edges of the creative spirit. The ultimate hope is for the writer to surprise themselves.

Week by Week

Each week we’ll engage with a series of diverse artists in different mediums, as well as a packet of multiple poems, and other supplemental readings revolving around a central theme. In response, non-writing experiments, as well as short and long writing prompts will be given in service of generating new work. We’ll share encouraging feedback throughout the process — staying away from critique in this course, opting for questions, curiosities and other ways to push the imagination further.

Writers we’ll read: Amiri Baraka, Tracy K. Smith, George Bradley, Nathalie Handal, Audre Lorde, Etheridge Knight, Zora Neal Hurston, Phillis Wheatley,  Maggie Nelson, Jane Hershfield, Danielle DeTiberus, Kim Addonizio, Yona Harvey, Pablo Neruda, Michael Waters, Joseph O. Legaspi, Mahogany L. Browne,  Safia Elhillo, Reg E Gaines, Eve Ewing, etc.

Week One: Mashups, Remixes, Recycling: the Art of Re-appropriation

Artist inspiration: Nancy Chunn, Noah Purifoy, Joseph Cornell, El Anatsui, erasure poems, centos, etc.

Week Two: Diving into Sky, Calling in the Sea: Imagining the Beyond

Artist inspiration: Sun Ra, Jason De Caires, science fiction illustration, Guo Fengyi, Octavia Butler, etc.

Week Three: Unshackled Voices / The Rose that Bloomed From Concrete

Artist inspiration: Etheridge Knight, Phyllis Wheatley, Anthony Papa, Bill Traylor, The Lady Lifers, etc.

Week Four: Fracturing the Mirror: Redefining Self = Redefining the World

Artist inspiration: Frida Kahlo, RiotGrrrl Manifesto, Cindy Sherman, Annegret Soltau, Afghani Women's Landays, etc.

Week Five: I Love What I Love: Honoring the Obsessive Genius Itch

Artist inspiration: Yayoi Kusama, Xenobia Bailey, Gregory Blackstock, Gee’s Bend Quilts, Adolf Wolfi, etc.

Week Six: Ancient/Future Fly: The Art of Adornment

Artist inspiration: David Wojnarowicz, Kalinga tattoo artists, the Omo people, Delphine Diallo, Alexander McQueen, etc.

Take-away: Getting Messy: Hyper experimentation and the Glory of Imperfection

Artist inspiration: Judith Scott, Cy Twombly, Doug Kearney, etc.

Who Should Take This Class

This generative workshop is for writers looking to combat writer’s block, begin a new collection, try something out of the ordinary and have some fun! It is a low pressure setting for new writers who are curious about entering the writing process, and a place for experienced writers to push their boundaries into new expressions and mediums. 

Some folks who previously took this class say:

"Honoring so many types of people and cultures made me feel very included and in touch with the wide world. The "outsiders" take us into ourselves. At a time when the U.S. has become a nation I do not always feel comfortable in, it's salutary to find a refuge in art. Congratulations to Caits Meissner for being in the vanguard of humane wisdom and integrative action."

"I have forgotten how daring I once was in BEGINNING to create. Now, at age 74, I tend to make assumptions about what processes work, what my themes and obsessions are, methods of revision, and where I need to discard because THIS will never work. I look forward to reviewing and rereading the materials and ideas to kickstart in new ways... I have already began to "explode" old drafts, to open them up to goofiness, wordplay, contrasting tones and voices--and queries about where can I take this without feeling I KNOW where I'll end up. The course was very informative, rejuvenating, and quite a bit of fun."

["I gained] the permission to experiment freely and to be more involved with the process as opposed to a product. Amazing class. I am so thankful to have taken it!!"


This is an online class, hosted on the online teaching platform, Wet Ink. The Wet Ink platform allows students to log in on their own time to post comments and critiques directly to authors’ works. You can also view deadlines, track revisions, and watch video or listen to audio. At the end of the class, each student will receive an email that contains an archive of all their content and interactions. The day before class begins, you’ll receive an invitation to join Wet Ink. There are no browser requirements, and Wet Ink is mobile-friendly.

Students should expect to spend 3 hours per week perusing resources and readings, engaging in several writing/creation prompts, and briefly responding to peers’ work. From our interactions, we sustain a welcoming and inspiring community together.

About the Teacher

Caits Meissner is the author of the illustrated hybrid poetry book Let It Die Hungry (The Operating System, 2016), and The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You (Well&Often, 2012), co-written with poet Tishon Woolcock. The recipient of multiple artist residencies and fellowships, including the BOAAT Writers Retreat and The Pan-African Literary Forum, Caits is widely published in literary journals including The Literary Review, Narrative, Adroit, Drunken Boat and The Offing. She has taught, consulted and co-created extensively for over 15 years across a wide spectrum of communities, with a special focus on imprisoned people, women and youth. Caits holds a BFA in Communication Design from Pratt Institute, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York. She currently serves as the Prison and Justice Writing Program Manager at PEN America.

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