This course takes writing seriously as a practice of critical-mindedness—through reading, discussion, and revision. The theme of this course will be “autobiographical fiction,” and the semester will begin with an exploration of what it means to write “what you know” and “what you don’t know.” This course strives to get to the heart of three simple questions: why does one become a writer, what does one write about, and how does one achieve anything at all?
We will theorize, relate, and engage points in a spectrum of creative prose writing: nonfiction, autobiographical fiction, fiction, and anti-fiction. We will accomplish this by acquiring an understanding of what it means to do researched writing—into one’s own past, family’s past, people’s past, history, culture, and place. In this way, students will be asked to critically think about what the stories we want to tell demand of us, what must we remember or learn, and overall who we need to become in order to accomplish each project. At the beginning of the semester, we will read essays by writers who we will look toward for both inspiration and wisdom.
Our goals of the semester are twofold: First, we will discern between our ethics as writers and how this informs who we are writing for (ourselves, students, implied audience, community), and where we are writing from (when the story takes place, what setting, and on whose land we are telling our story). Second, we will triangulate and discern our aesthetics (style, voice, forms, genre) through reading, watching, and discussing different modes of storytelling (short stories, graphic novels, television, film), and the ways in which they each have their own affordances. Thus, we will examine how different storytelling mediums and genres require, or reject, certain strategies—for example, discussing what a scene onscreen can accomplish that a page cannot, or when is it better to tell a story rather than show it.
Taking these two goals together, we will observe what narrative strategies (focalization, framing, tone, symbol, motif) are mutable across genres, and then which strategies will serve our stories and how we should tell them. This semester will include a number of workshops, where students will engage with one another’s work enthusiastically and with respectful, generative criticism, and likewise receive feedback on drafts that will be revised and compiled into a final portfolio.
When time permits, we will also strive to talk about publishing one’s work (when/where to submit), pursuing an English degree, deciding on applying to MFA programs, and what it means to work on something book-length. Naturally, we may also talk about the publishing industry, the professionalization of the writer, the writer as public figure, and writing as a career—the challenges that QPOC writers may face in particular. Genre writers (fantasy, science fiction, romance, comics), as well as Art/ACM/journalism/theatre majors are welcome. If you have any questions, you may email the instructor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Weekly writing due in-class/Laulima
Creative nonfiction piece
Story collection review
Attend a literary/community event
Short story/CNF piece/novel excerpt/script
Revision portfolio & artist’s statement
- Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
- Student-selected short story collection (published in the past two years)
Aside from the required book-length texts, all other readings (subject to change) will be made available on Laulima. Any visual text will be shown in class. It will be the student’s responsibility to have access to PDFs on the day they will be discussed:
- Moonlight, written and directed by Barry Jenkins. Episodes from TV shows, Steven Universe, High Maintenance. Web-series episodes from Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Fatimah Asghar and Sam Bailey’s Brown Girls. Clips from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, and August Wilson’s Fences.
- Creative nonfiction pieces & craft essays by Alexander Chee, Jennifer Hope Choi, Nicole Chung, Laurel Fantauzzo, Roxane Gay, Morgan Jerkins, Saeed Jones, Thomas King, Christine H. Lee, Margot Livesey, Yiyun Li, Rajiv Mohabir, Toni Morrison, Matthew Salesses, and Brandon Taylor.
- Excerpts from story collections by James Baldwin, Edwidge Danticat, Junot Díaz, Roxane Gay, Edward P. Jones, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kristiana Kahaukawila, Lorrie Moore, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Paul Yoon, Jenny Zhang, and student selected short stories.
- and lastly, students’ writing. It’ll be your responsibility to print your fellow classmates’ work and bring copies of their stories to class.
Understanding of the elements/conventions of storytelling across mediums and genres
Familiarity with workshop procedure, revision process
Ability to understand texts, and one’s own writing from a craft, institutional, editorial and publishing perspective
Ability to understand texts, and one’s own writing, from a historical perspective
Ability to discern and analyze one’s own authorial decisions, voice, and power