David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling & Humor His New Masterclass

For more than 25 years, the holiday season has brought to the radio not just Christmas carols but a diaristic monologue by a writer with, in every sense, a distinctive voice. When it first aired on Morning Edition, "Santaland Diaries" made David Sedaris' name, not that he holds the piece in esteem as high as some of his fans do. "People will say, 'Oh, I loved that Santaland thing,'" Sedaris said in a recent interview, but "that thing is so clunkily written. I mean, it’s just horribly written, and people can’t even see it." Most are "listening to the story, but they’re not paying attention to how it’s constructed, or they’re not paying attention to the words that you used. They’re not hearing the craft of it." Sedaris fans who do hear the craft of it may well be in the target audience for a new Masterclass taught by the man himself.

Here on Open Culture we've previously featured Masterclasses by writers as intellectually and stylistically various as Joyce Carol Oates, Malcolm Gladwell, Margaret Atwood, and Dan Brown. But we've never conducted investigations into any of their writing processes in the same way we have into Sedaris' writing process, his own view of which constitutes the core of his Masterclass' content. "If you write about people, you have to be interested in people," he says in the trailer above. For him that means asking unexpected questions, like "Do your children shower?" or "Who's the drunkest customer you've had today?" It also means keeping a diary in which to record the answers, and with which, even more importantly, to maintain a daily writing habit.

Even now, with a full schedule of readings to give around the world, Sedaris writes every day without fail. But he also did it for fifteen years before "The Santaland Diaries" brought him the attention that got his first book published. "I meet a lot of young writers and I say, 'Do you write every day?'" he mentions in one lesson. "They say, 'No, but just — you know, I write when it strikes me.' I don't know. I suppose that might work for some people." But it certainly wouldn't work for him, nor would doing fewer than his customary twelve to eighteen rewrites of each piece. In other lessons he covers such aspects of the craft as "observing the world," "connecting with the reader," "ending with weight," and "writing about loved ones."

For that last lesson Sedaris brings in a special guest: his sister Lisa, there to talk about what it feels like to be written about by her famously observant brother. That will come as a special treat for anyone who recognizes her from all her appearances in Sedaris' family stories, but each lesson seems to play to Sedaris' strengths as a writer as well as a performer: he gives readings of diary entries and published pieces, but also gives his students advice on how to handle readings of their own in the future. As with every Masterclass, you can take this one for a one-time fee of $90 USD or with an all-access pass to every course on the site for $180. Sedaris makes no promises that the course will bestow upon all who take it a worldview as distinctive as his, to say nothing of a fan base as lucrative as his, but it will surely make them better at "hearing the craft of it," a skill as worthy of cultivation as it is rare.

Note: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Doris Kearns Goodwin Teaches U.S. Presidential History & Leadership

FYI: Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin--author of Leadership: In Turbulent Times, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt--has just released a new online course on MasterClass. Here's the ground that the course covers:

Altogether, she’s spent more than 50 years studying great American presidents and leaders of the past, writing several award-winning, bestselling biographies, including No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History. Now she’s sharing her knowledge and teaching you to lead like a president.

In Doris’s MasterClass, you can learn to develop the characteristics and human skills of exceptional American leadership, from Lincoln to Obama. Doris brings to life the stories and experiences of four presidents she knows by heart—Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ—and shares a template of human skills that make great leaders: humility, empathy, resilience, self-awareness, self-reflection, the ability to create a team and communicate through stories, and sharing your ambition for the greater good. She also uses examples from other historical figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr., to teach effective leadership qualities and practical wisdom for every day. Learn how to make better decisions, manage a crisis, and get a message across, whether you’re interacting with the media, communicating to a team at work, or delivering a speech meant to inspire and empower thousands of people.

In this class, you’ll learn about:
• Developing emotional intelligence
• Experiences and stories of U.S. presidents
• Building resilience
• Building and leading a team
• Making better decisions, big or small
• Navigating a crisis
• Delivering a message and considering an audience
• The power of speeches
• Replenishing your energy
• Civic engagement

Purchase a pass ($90) to the course here. Or, for $199, get an All Access Pass to the 70 courses in the MasterClass catalogue.

As a free unrelated bonus, you can stream Kearns Goodwin's long interview with Tim Ferris. There, she takes an engaging look at the leadership skills of four American presidents--Lincoln, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and LBJ. It's well worth a listen...

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour Teaches a Course on Creativity & Leadership

Imagine a famous magazine editor, and smart money says the image that comes to mind has a bob haircut and sunglasses. No one has defined the role of magazine-editor-as-cultural-force, and so consistently lived it, more than Anna Wintour, and the online education company Masterclass has somehow convinced her to take her hand off the wheel of Vogue — and put aside those oversized shades — just long enough to star in a course about how she steers that behemoth of a publication through the waters of fashion. "I know many people are curious about who I am and how I approach my work," Wintour says in the trailer above. "This is a class for those who want to understand my leadership style, and then understand the experiences that have helped me become an effective leader."

You may well have already heard a thing or two about Wintour's leadership style, the famously exacting nature of which has provoked different reactions from different people (and possibly even inspired a bestselling novel and its feature-film adaptation).

But as Wintour herself explains it, "you need someone who can push you, that isn't pulling you back" — sensible advice even for leaders of companies, teams, and classrooms who don't mind projecting a somewhat more laid-back image. But even for those who want to project as much individual strength and resolve as possible, "it's really, really important to surround yourself with a team whose opinions that you trust, who are not in any way frightened of disagreeing with you, and you have to listen."

In her Masterclass, Wintour teaches, in other words, "how to be a boss." That phrase appears at the top of its syllabus, whose twelve lessons include "Anna's Management Tips" and "Editorial Decision-Making" as well as "Photographers and Models," "A Look Back at Iconic Covers," and "Transforming the Met Gala." Though geared toward viewers with an interest in the business of fashion (case studies include the careers of Miuccia Prada and Michael Kors), "Anna Wintour Teaches Creativity and Leadership" also offers principles for any human endeavor that requires invention, group work, and meeting hard deadlines over and over again. You can take the course individually for $90 USD, or as part of a $180 yearly all-access pass to every course on Masterclass, including another one on creativity by a similarly productive cultural figure, similarly recognizable by personal style alone: David Lynch.

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Joyce Carol Oates Teaches a New Online Course on the Art of the Short Story

How on Earth does Joyce Carol Oates do it? Since her debut 56 years ago she has put out 58 novels, not to mention her poetry, plays, nonfiction, diaries, and thousands — literally thousands — of short stories. (In recent years, she's also written no small number of tweets.) But though she's spent decades with the adjective prolific attached to her name, none of us would know her name in the first place if her work had nothing more distinctive about it than its sheer volume. No matter how much a writer writes, all is for naught if that writing doesn't make an impact. The question of how to make that impact, in several senses of the word, lies at the heart of Oates' new online course offered through Masterclass.

"The most powerful writing often comes from confronting taboos," Oates says in the course's trailer above. "As a writer, if one can face the darkest elements in oneself, and the things that are secret, you have such a feeling of power." The truth of that comes through in any of Oates' novels, but also in her shorter works of fiction, even the early stories that make up her very first book, 1963's collection By the North Gate.

We might call her one of the writers whose short stories offer distillations of their sensibilities, and so it makes sense that her Masterclass focuses on "the Art of the Short Story." Its fourteen lessons cover such aspects of short-story writing as drafting, revising, and sharing; observing the world with a journal; and of course, "exploring taboo and darkness."

Oates draws examples from her own vast body of work, of course, including her much-reprinted short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" But she also examines the writing of such predecessors as Virginia Woolf, William Carlos Williams, and Ernest Hemingway, as well as stories written by the two students who appear in the class videos. This is as close as most of us will ever get to being workshopped by Joyce Carol Oates, and if that appeals to you, you can take her Masterclass for $90 USD or buy the all-access pass to every course on the site (including courses taught by novelists like Margaret Atwood, Judy Blume, and Neil Gaiman) for $15 per month. But be warned that, however daunting the prospect of tapping into one's own dark memories and forbidden thoughts, the question of how Oates does it has another, potentially more frightening answer: eight hours a day.

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Critical Thinking: A Free Course

In the playlist above, Gregory Sadler presents a 24-lecture course on "Critical Thinking"--something the world could always use more of. Presented at Fayetteville State University, the course features lectures on topics like Deductive and Inductive Arguments, Fallacies, Rhetorical Devices, Appeals to Authority and much more. The textbook used (and referenced) in the course was Moore and Parker's Critical Thinking. The individual lectures are as follows:

  1. Issues, Claims, Arguments
  2. Arguments and Non-Arguments
  3. Value Judgements 
  4. Deductive and Inductive Arguments with Implicit Premises
  5. Complex Arguments, Unstated Premises
  6. Deductive and Inductive Arguments 1
  7. Deductive and Inductive Arguments 2
  8. Deductive and Inductive Arguments 3
  9. Fallacies of Composition and Division
  10. Information Sources
  11. Experts and Appeal to Authority
  12. Critical Thinking and Advertising
  13. Rhetorical Devices 1
  14. Rhetorical Devices 2
  15. Rhetorical Devices 3
  16. Fallacies 1
  17. Fallacies 2
  18. Fallacies 3
  19. Fallacies 4
  20. Fallacies 5
  21. Fallacies 6
  22. Inductive Arguments 1
  23. Inductive Arguments 2
  24. Inductive Arguments 3

Also find the complete playlist of lectures on YouTube here. Sadler's YouTube channel features other courses and a wealth of philosophy lectures.

"Critical Thinking" has been added to our list of Free Philosophy Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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How to Take Every MasterClass Course For Less Than a Cup of Good Coffee

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

Masterclass has developed a catalog of online courses taught by "the world’s greatest minds." As it stands, they have 70 courses covering filmmaking, creative writing, photography, songwriting and more, taught by figures like David LynchAnnie LeibovitzMalcolm Gladwell, Margaret Atwood, Neil GaimanDavid Mamet and others. You can sign up for an individual course for $90. (Each course is listed below.) Or if you purchase an All Access Pass, you can take every course in the catalog over a 12-month period. The All Access Pass runs $199--which translates to about $3.50 per course. Not bad, but if you want something completely free, see our collection: 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities


Helen Mirren Teaches Acting

Samuel L. Jackson Teaches Acting

Natalie Portman Teaches Acting


David Lynch Teaches Creativity and Film

Spike Lee Teaches Filmmaking

Werner Herzog Teaches Filmmaking

Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking

Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking

Jodie Foster Teaches Filmmaking

Ron Howard Teaches Directing

Mira Nair Teaches Independent Filmmaking

Hans Zimmer Teaches Film Scoring

Danny Elfman Teaches Music for Film


Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography

Jimmy Chin Teaches Adventure Photography

Writing: Fiction, Poetry, TV, Plays & More

Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing

Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing

Neil Gaiman Teaches The Art of Storytelling

David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing

Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry

Dan Brown Teaches Writing Thrillers

Dominique Ansel Teaches French Pastry Fundamentals

David Baldacci Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing

James Patterson Teaches Writing

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing For Television

Aaron Sorkin's MasterClass

R.L. Stine Teaches Writing for Young Audiences

Joyce Carol Oates on  the Short Story

Music and Songwriting

Carlos Santana Teaches The Art and Soul of Guitar

Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz

Tom Morello Teaches Electric Guitar

Itzhak Perlman Teaches Violin

Armin van Buuren Teaches Dance Music

Christina Aguilera Teaches Singing

deadmau5 Teaches Electronic Music Production

Timbaland Teaches Producing and Beatmaking

Usher Teaches the Art of Performance

Hans Zimmer Teaches Film Scoring

Danny Elfman Teaches Music for Film


Steve Martin Teaches Comedy

Judd Apatow Teaches Comedy


Wolfgang Puck Teaches Cooking

Gordon Ramsay Teaches Cooking

Gordon Ramsay Teaches Cooking II: Restaurant Recipes at Home

Alice Waters Teaches Home Cooking

Dominique Ansel Teaches French Pastry Fundamentals

Thomas Keller Teaches Cooking Techniques

James Suckling Teaches Wine Appreciation

Massimo Bottura Teaches Modern Italian Cooking

Aaron Franklin Teaches Texas-Style BBQ


Marc Jacobs Teaches Fashion Design

Diane Von Furstenburg Teaches Fashion

Anna Wintour Teaches Creativity and Leadership


Garry Kasparov Teaches Chess

Daniel Negreanu Teaches Poker

Phil Ivey Teaches Poker Strategy

Will Wright Teaches Game Design and Theory


Stephen Curry Teaches Basketball

Serena Williams Teaches Tennis

Simone Biles Teaches Gymnastics Fundamentals

Business and Economics

Bob Iger Teaches Business Strategy & Leadership

Sara Blakely Teaches Self-Made Entrepreneurship

Paul Krugman Teaches Economics and Society

Howard Schultz Leading a Values-Based Business


Bob Iger Teaches Business Strategy & Leadership

Doris Kearns Goodwin Teaches US Presidential History and Leadership

Anna Wintour Teaches Creativity and Leadership


Frank Gehry Teaches Design and Architecture

Jane Goodall Teaches Conservation

David Axelrod & Karl Rove Teach Campaign Strategy

Chris Hadfield Teaches Space Exploration

This page will be updated as more courses get added to the MasterClass catalog.

Billy Collins Teaches Poetry in a New Online Course

In its latest release, Masterclass has launched a new course, "Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry," which they describe in the trailer above and the text below. You can sign up here. The cost is $90. Or pay $180 and get an annual pass to their entire catalogue of courses covering a wide range of subjects--everything from filmmaking (Werner Herzog, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese), to acting (Helen Mirren) and creative writing (Margaret Atwood), to taking photographs (Annie Leibovitz) and writing plays (David Mamet). Each course is taught by an eminent figure in their field.

Known for his wit, humor, and profound insight, Billy is one of the best-selling and most beloved contemporary poets in the United States. He regularly sells out poetry readings, frequently charms listeners on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion, and his work has appeared in anthologies, textbooks, and periodicals around the world.

Called “America’s Favorite Poet” by the Wall Street Journal, Billy served two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate and is also a former New York State Poet Laureate. He’s been honored with the Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry and a number of prestigious fellowships. He’s taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, and Lehman College, and he’s also a distinguished professor at the City University of New York. Now he’s teaching his first-ever MasterClass.

In his MasterClass on Reading and Writing Poetry, Billy teaches you the building blocks of poems and their unique power to connect reader and writer. From subject and form to rhyme and meter, learn to appreciate the pleasures of a well-turned poem. Discover Billy’s philosophy on the craft of poetry and learn how he creates a poet’s persona, incorporates humor, and lets imagination lead the way. By breaking down his own approach to composing poetry and enjoying the work of others, Billy invites students to explore the gifts poetry has to offer.

In this online poetry class, you’ll learn about:
• Using humor as a serious strategy
• The fundamental elements of poetry
• Billy’s writing process
• Turning a poem
• Exploring subjects
• Rhyme and meter
• Sound pleasures
• Finding your voice
• Using form to engage readers
• The visual distinctions of poetry

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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