Nonfiction Writing


Thornton Wilder wrote this to the author John Knowles in 1945: “It is from our deepest subjectivity that we write.” Like a memorable piece of nonfiction, this quote carries many layers of truth. It is indeed important to write the objective details of our world. To write an autobiographical piece, we must begin to understand our own our own distinctive backgrounds, and our own unique points of view, in order to observe, and work within, the contexts we wish to explore.

Over the course of the semester, we will interpret the term “nonfiction” broadly, in different forms, including text, graphic, oral history, film, and performance works. Ultimately, we will focus on the memoir essay and personal essay forms of nonfiction, but we will also absorb works across a variety of mediums and from a number of different countries, traditions, and eras. We will also explore the ethics of nonfiction writing through the works of theorists and practitioners.


  • Interpret nonfiction writing in a variety of media through close reading and viewing.
  • Engage the ideas and the writing of others in active, compassionate, critical ways.
  • Draft and revise original nonfiction work by a series of deadlines, prepared for a small audience of readers.
  • Track different modes of thought on nonfiction by engaging a body of philosophies and practices.
  • Discover and articulate your own ethics and aesthetics within nonfiction.


  • Weekly readings. Each student will be assigned to lead one discussion during one class over the course of the semester.
  • Three short pieces of textual writing exercises, approximately 700 words.
  • One longer autobiographical piece, revised twice, with a final to be turned in at the end of the semester. (Approximately 2000 words.)
  • Regular attendance and participation.


For a small reading and writing course to be effective, all participants should commit to being present at each class meeting.


  • The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr
  • The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui
  • Other readings made available as PDFs.