Seminar in Creative Writing

Course Description Spring 2020


ENG 713 (1) Seminar in Creative Writing: Theory and Structure of the American Short Story

Tuesday, 6-8:30 pm

Professor Gary Pak


Course Description


In order to be a good writer, one must be a good reader.  For a professional writer, life experiences are invaluable and bring an irreplaceable element to his/her writing, but at the same time many, if not all, professional writers will argue that reading and analyzing good writing is the best way to learn how to tell a story.  As short story scholar Charles E. May has claimed, “Stories, therefore, do not come merely from life, they also come from other stories, and because writers know stories probably better than anything else, they are often likely to write stories about stories.”


In this course, we will focus our attention on the development of the contemporary American short story, i.e., short fiction that has evolved since WWII.  We will start our study with a look at the structure and functions of the heart of story telling, narrative.  From there, we will look at a number of theorists on the genre to help us define and deepen considerations of where the short story has come from, what it is today, and where the genre may be heading.  To enhance our understanding, we will analyze story collections of several prominent American writers as well as a contemporary short story anthology.  Then, each member of the class will report on a story collection of a writer of his/her choice as a contribution to the class’s collective study of the form. Finally, for the concluding module of the course, the class will turn into a writing workshop where each student will submit his/her own short stories for critique and evaluation by the class.


Student Learning Outcomes


  • Foundational knowledge of basic narrative theories relevant to the study of the short story.
  • Understanding of advanced research methods.
  • Written and oral ability to be able to place one’s critical work within broader critical and artistic conversations.
  • Independent research using secondary resources.
  • Ability to map, historicize and contextualize the short story genre.
  • Ability to evaluate and critique short fiction in a workshop setting.




There will be several writing assignments: weekly contributions to a class blog; a publishable book review; and submissions of five short stories to the writing workshop.  Active participation in discussions and in the writing workshop as well as excellent attendance are, of course, mandatory course requirements.



Required Texts



  • Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Kasia Boddy, The American Short Story Since 1950 (e-text in Voyager)
  • Charles E. May, The New Theories of the Short Story
  • Frank O’Connor, The Lonely Voice
  • James Wood, How Fiction Works


Short Story Collections:

  • Raymond Carver, Cathedral
  • Henry Dumas, Echo Tree: The Collected Fiction
  • Hisaye Yamamoto, Seventeen Syllabus and Other Stories
  • Tobias Wolff, ed., The Vintage Anthology of Contemporary American Short Stories


Some of the above critical readings will be uploaded to Laulima “Resources.”