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Meet the Teaching Artist: Writing the Sublime with Elwin Cotman

by Writing Workshops Staff

9 months ago


Meet the Teaching Artist: Writing the Sublime with Elwin Cotman

by Writing Workshops Staff

9 months ago


Meet Elwin Cotman, author of the upcoming collection Weird Black Girls (2024, Scribner), and the novel The Age of Ignorance (Scribner, 2025). Elwin will be teaching an immersive 8-Week Speculative Fiction Zoom Class titled Writing the Sublime.

With an impressive background in crafting stories that evoke a sense of awe, Cotman is the perfect guide for writers seeking to harness the power of the sublime in their work.

In this online class, participants will delve into the grandiosity of emotions, myths, and legends, exploring how speculative writers utilize the sublime to evoke feelings of wonder, terror, and euphoria. Through analyzing common mythologies and discussing techniques to elevate symbolic meaning, writers of all levels will gain a deeper understanding of integrating the sublime into their writing.

Cotman's class promises engaging exercises, group discussions, and personalized feedback, allowing participants to refine their craft and create narratives that leave a lasting impact.

Don't miss this opportunity to learn from Elwin Cotman and embark on a transformative writing journey into the realms of the sublime.

Hi, Elwin. Please introduce yourself to our audience.

My name is Elwin. I'm the author of four books, and a longtime lover of fantasy and science fiction.

What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft? Or is this just your jam and you love it?

Over the pandemic, I revisited movies, books, and video games that I grew up on and started to think about what drew them to me. Much of it was the sense of spectacle, and that ties in directly with the sublime. That pure rush of sensation that makes me forget this is fiction and I'm swept up in the grandiose. I started to think seriously about how I, as a writer, could create those moments without visuals, or sound, but with the 26 letters provided to me. From there, I started to explore how narrative beats themselves create sublimity in longer works. It's certainly something I focus on these days in my writing, though I think I always have. As for the last question, it's my jam. I want to talk about sublimity.

Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?

My favorite part of the class is that not all the homework will be written. I'm very curious as to what students will come up with when looking at their writing outside of prose. We will open the class with the role of myth in the sublime; then we will talk about mystery; then language; then nature and the cosmic sublime. The last half of class we will read an entire novel and explore how the format creates sublime moments. It was important to me that this class read a full book, not just short stories, as I feel most of the sublime moments in speculative fiction are from novels, and, let's be serious, most speculative writers are working on novels.

What was your first literary crush?

Roy Thomas. He was the main writer on Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan. In my opinion, he's one of the best writers of serialized fantasy storytelling, and his story arcs were epic. His "Queen of the Black Coast" arc from Conan is, well, sublime.

What are you currently reading?

Saints and Sinners by Angela Carter.

How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?

Becoming a professional writer has helped streamline things: I write what I'm contracted to write. Meanwhile, there's 4-5 other ideas I'm obsessing over.

Where do you find inspiration?

The world around me and humanity in general. I use writing to try and make sense of it all.

What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?

"Just publish it." I got that from Margaret Killjoy, who was visiting writer at a writers cooperative I used to live at. I said I had been working on one novella for seven years and she said, "Just publish it." Life is short. Get your work out there. Find an audience. Put it on Wattpad and get a million-dollar Netflix deal. Move on to the next thing. It's stuck with me because I've tried (and failed) to follow it over the years, but it's always that advice I come back to.

What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?

Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer. I use it in my classes and think it's so thorough and colorful and just a joy to read. For something easier to physically carry, Ursula Le Guin's Steering the Craft is excellent.

Bonus question: What’s your teaching vibe?

I'm a "life of the mind" type. I enjoy introducing concepts and leading discussion. I love making connections between texts and the real world events/movements they speak to. This style apparently makes me annoying to high school students but adults seem to get a kick out of it.

Learn More About Working with Elwin:

You can learn more about Elwin's upcoming class, Writing the Sublime, and sign up now!

Instructor Elwin Cotman is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the author of three collections of speculative short stories, The Jack Daniels Sessions EP, Hard Times Blues, and Dance on Saturday. He has done concept work for videogames from Square Enix. He is also author of the poetry collection The Wizard's Homecoming (2023, Nomadic Press), as well as the upcoming collection Weird Black Girls (2024, Scribner), and the novel The Age of Ignorance (Scribner, 2025). Cotman earned his BA from the University of Pittsburgh and his MFA from Mills College.

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