ENG 313 Writing Our Families: Poetry and Creative Nonfiction
Instructor: Noʻu Revilla
“Maybe my writing is never about my brother. Maybe it is always about me, what I don’t understand, what I fear the most. I fear my incapability to solve my brother’s suffering and the suffering he causes. Worse, I fear what I am capable of – my own capacity for despair, for the things unGod, for my ability to set both mine and my brother’s awkward hearts into the pool of lamplight on my desk and give them names.”
— Natalie Diaz
“Once the fire is blazing, fuck the match. Don’t confuse the match (the inspiration) with the fire (the work’s full brightness and heat).”
— Philip Metres
This is no Disney course. Although you may discern or aspire to write your own versions of “once upon a time” during the semester, this class does not promise formulas to “happily ever after” blockbusters. Sometimes, the princess is not a blonde rags-to-riches cishet babe who rocks a fairy godmother. Sometimes, the speaker is a queer Mojave poet writing about life on the rez with her meth-addicted brother. Sometimes, the speaker is actually a Vietnamese son who was born in Saigon and raised in Connecticut, whose name “was fleshed from the toothless mouth / of a war-woman.” In this course, we will expand the category of family as we also expand the category of text. We will read how different poets and creative nonfiction writers find more precise names for the people who mean “family,” more precise language for the ways these creatures – so intimate with our good, bad, and howling parts – shape us. Family, in this course, is not limited to blood relatives but also includes land, gods, chosen family as well as intellectual, activist, and artistic genealogies.
Whether you are a beginning or practiced writer, this course will allow you to develop your creative writing skills, explore your voice, and participate in a creative community. In the first half of the semester, we will learn the basic mechanics and techniques of poetry. In the second half of the semester, we will approach the art of creative non-fiction. We will examine works for their craft and technique and experiment with our own writing exercises.
It is crucial to note that while the writing process is vulnerable, it does not have to be alienating or destructive. Throughout the semester, we will build a learning community that is supportive and thoughtful. As the writing workshop is central to our course, students will participate in at least two large workshops, with the possibility of two smaller roundtables.
Welcome to the family.
REQUIRED COURSE TEXTS
- Natalie Diaz, When My Brother Was an Aztec
- Diana Khoi Nguyen, Ghost Of
Other course texts will be made available as PDFs on Laulima.
GRADING & MAJOR ASSIGNMENTS
This course uses a 700-point system. Workshop submissions and Cycles are credit/no credit so come to class with the appropriate materials. If you need to reschedule workshops, contact your peers and coordinate details, including an email to the rest of the class about the change. The final portfolio must be completed in order to pass the course. I do not accept late portfolios.
100 Active and consistent participation in class discussions and workshops
150 Cycles (6 total, 25 points each)
Each cycle includes drafts of creative and self-reflective writing that you develop throughout the week based on specific readings and in-class writing exercises. Cycles will usually be due on Mondays and be returned to you with my comments by Friday. Notebook reflections should be thoughtful and substantial (150-200 words minimum). This weekly assignment aims to support you as you cultivate regular writing habits, practice different forms and techniques, and build your final portfolio.
25 Poetry & the People attendance
25 Poetry & the People response (2 pages, double-spaced)
In the spirit of June Jordan, this requirement sends you to a poetry event in the community. Discuss the poetry and the people – who organized the event, who attended? What kind of poetry was shared? What resonated with you? What did not? Remember the practice of our workshops and anchor your response in the “what” and “how” of craft and performance.
50 Midterm: Poetry Analysis
200 Four workshop submissions (50 each)
100 Final portfolio
50 Final Exam