Office: McGuinn 100 Hours: Before class, by appointment
Best American Essays 2003, Fadiman/Atwan
Best American Magazine Writing 2003
Creative Nonfiction: True Stories With A Subjective Twist
Creative Nonfiction, sometimes called literary or lyrical journalism, grew out of the work of maverick writers—Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote, for example—who created a new form by adding a subjective twist to their nonfiction reporting. Over the past five years, the form has come into its own, with novelists, poets, and journalists adding their voices to the growing number of practitioners working in the genre. Today, creative nonfiction is the fastest growing literary form, with pieces appearing regularly in prestigious publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s, as well as in newspapers, literary quarterlies, and online magazines.
Creative nonfiction is more than simply memoir writing or autobiography, though both certainly fit the description. Essays that adhere to the form are as likely to be authored by doctors, philosophers, historians, and scientists, writing within their disciplines, as by poets, novelists, or other artists. Stephen Jay Gould, Oliver Sacks, Tracy Kidder, and Gay Talese, to name a few, have all written creative nonfiction essays. According to Lee Gutkind, editor of the literary journal Creative Nonfiction, people drawn to the creative nonfiction form have “an intellectual curiosity about the world around us or a fresh viewpoint or approach to staid and seemingly inaccessible disciplines.”
This semester, we’ll look with a writer’s critical eye at an assortment of essays, examining how the pieces are put together and why they work. In our discussions on craft, you’ll learn the techniques you need to write compelling essays. You’ll learn to engage your readers by writing realistic dialogue, building interesting scenes, describing dynamic characters and settings. Exercises and homework assignments, designed to complement classroom discussion, will give you the opportunity to experiment with structure and form, as you learn new ways of exploring and expanding your creativity.
Essay Assignments: In addition to regular short exercises, you’ll write two creative pieces: a two to three-page memoir and a five-page informative essay about something you’re passionate about. Because it’s almost impossible to write a good essay in one draft—as any practicing writer knows, the “real” writing happens in the revision—you are encouraged to write multiple drafts. A polished final draft of your workshop essay will be due the last night of class.
Papers will be graded on creativity, content, style, structure, and mechanics. All essays must be turned in the evening they are due. Paper Format: We’ll be using the Modern Language Association (MLA) standard manuscript format for English and the humanities.
Attendance and Class Participation: A large portion of this class will be conducted in workshop format. Please remember: workshops help the critic as much as they help the writer. It’s not fair to you or to your classmates, who depend on your insight and support, if you don’t show up.
(Extra incentive: attendance and participation count toward your grade.)
Grades: Grade assessments are based on three components, ranked in the following order: quality of essays, attendance and participation, completion of homework and exercises.
Conferences: I’d be pleased to meet with you before class to discuss the essay you’re working on-or to talk about writing in general. So that I’ll be able to give you the attention you need, I ask that you schedule an appointment the week before you’d like to meet.
Peer Critique: The peer critique is your response to the pieces presented in the workshops. Please read each piece carefully, then write an analysis, describing the essay’s strong points and pointing out areas where you feel the writing might be improved. Try to make your comments as specific as possible. Careful analysis of the peer essays will, of course, help the author, but will also help you to become a better writer and critic.
One final note: One week before your scheduled workshop, you’ll be asked to bring copies of your second essay to class. You must to bring enough copies for everyone. Because this class meets in the evening, it’s nearly impossible to distribute work outside of class. Essays not brought to class the night they are due will not be reviewed. If an emergency forces you to reschedule your workshop, you are responsible for: 1) finding a classmate to switch time slots with you; 2) informing me, so I can update the schedule. Workshops are to be rescheduled ONLY in emergency situations. I hope you find this a rewarding and productive semester. I look forward to sharing your work.
Work Schedule: Writing Creative Nonfiction, Spring 2004
ESSAY ASSIGNMENTS: In addition to regular exercises, you will be writing two essays, a short, 2-3 page memoir and a longer (5 page) personal-informative essay. Your must turn in a revised draft of your first essay on 3/8; a polished draft of your second essay is due on the final night of class. Late Papers will not be accepted. You are encouraged to do multiple revisions. Though it is not required, I suggest that you form peer workshops, with group members critiquing one another’s drafts.
ALL assignments are to be DOUBLE-SPACED, with 1” margins, and MUST adhere to page limits. Shorter pieces can be fully developed by tightening your focus. Week One Discussion: 1) Writers and the writing process
1/26 2) Subjectivity and Truth
3) Getting started—what interests you?
Week Two Reading: “On Keeping a Notebook,” handout
2/2 Writing: 1) One page reflection on writing process.
2) Copy an opening and a closing that you admire (may be from different sources). Describe, in a paragraph, what appeals to you and why.
Discussion: 1) Start with a punch; end with a bang.
2) Focus & Narrative form
Exercise: Revise essay open and close.
Week Three Reading: “Learning to Drive,” Pollitt, BA 212
2/9 “Phoning It In,” Bing, BM 233
Paper DueWriting: Paper #1 Write a 2-3 page essay describing an experience in which you experienced an “ah-ha” moment or learned something new. (Please keep a copy for yourself.)
Discussion: Voice, Point of View
Exercise: Switching POV
Week Four Reading: “Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli,” Gopnik, BA 103
2/16 Writing: Write a short (1 page) essay, where the subject of the piece acts as a lens to expose a larger picture.
Discussion: Point of View, 2; Narrative Distance
Exercise: Altering Narrative Distance
Week Five Reading: “Lying in Wait,” Smith, BM 131
2/23 Writing: (One page) Describe someone you love or someone you detest. Make the description come alive.
Exercise: You’re MIA: Describe yourself.
Week Six Reading: “The Love of My Life,” Strayed, BA 291
3/8 Writing: 1) Write a short (one-page) dialogue.
Rev. Due. 2) Revision Paper #1
Exercise: Two-person dialogue writing
Week Seven Reading: “The Learning Curve,” Gawande, BA 83
3/15 Writing: (One page) Write a short, focused story about something you’ve done—a particular event. Incorporate thoughts, feelings, dialogue, narration.
Discussion: 1) Focus & Meaning
Exercise: Round the class stories
Week Eight Reading: “Horsemen Pass By,” Sullivan, BM 34
3/22 Writing: (One page) Using Sullivan’s essay as a model, divide one of your pieces into sections. Briefly describe the contents of each section.
Please bring a draft of one of your essays to class.
Exercise: How Does Structure/Organization Change A Story?
Week Nine Reading: “Death Isn’t Fair,” BM 292
4/5 Writing: (One Page) Write a brief story about someone you consider heroic. Put that person someplace specific.
Discussion: 1) Profluence
2) Emotion versus Sentimentality
Week Eleven Reading: “I Bought a Bed,” Antrim, BA 17
4/12 Writing: (One Page) Write a brief analysis of the essay you intend to present as your final piece. What’s working? What isn’t? What moves the story forward?
Please bring a copy of one your essays to class. Week Twelve Reading: “A Delivery for Fred Astaire,” BA 174
4/26 Writing: Write a one page opening of a new essay.
2) Make a list of questions about writing in general or essay writing in particular. Arrange the questions in descending order of importance.
Discussion: Answering Questions
Week Thirteen Reading: “The Most Dangerous Beauty,” BM 3
5/3 Writing: Copy two paragraphs written by your favorite author, then write two paragraphs of your own, imitating his or her style. Finally, write a paragraph describing the stylistic techniques you copied.
Discussion: Style, Edit, Final Revision
Please bring a copy of your final essay to class. Week Fourteen Writing: 1) Polished Draft of Workshop Essay
5/10 2) Personal Evaluation—where do you think you are now with your writing? What has changed in your writing this semester? How have you grown as a writer?