Nonfiction Writing

Nonfiction: writing the worlds

poem is more likely to take a snapshot of the world, but nonfiction keeps the
camera rolling, resists the urge to say Cut!” (J.D. Schraffenberger, “Full

 “When I was moving to a house that felt a bit
too big yet, I wondered, ‘Well, how does a hermit crab know when it is time to
move?” (Bonnie J. Rough, “Notes on the Space We Take”)

Goals & Objectives

  • To cultivate creative writing skills by modeling
    work on that of accomplished, noteworthy writers;
  • To develop skills of close reading of literary
  • To deepen the practice of writing as a process
    that involves brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, proofreading, and peer-editing;
  • To strengthen skills in integrating research
    into creative expression.;
  • To develop and foster advanced creative writing
    skills necessary for successful book publication.

Toward these ends, the workshop will focus on the writing of creative
nonfiction which is fresh, vivid and compelling. We will read and study a wide
range of important writers who can serve as models, inspiration and/or points
of departure for our own writing. I will encourage you to experiment and
generate your own essays from memoir and auto/biography, to literary journalism
and travel writing, from spiritual biography to sports and science writing. The
argument of this course is that such a method of reading and writing is a
crucial exercise in the development of craft. To read an accomplished writer’s
work as a writer is to learn what to take and what to leave, as well as how to
see and hear the world with a writer’s eye and ear.

student will choose a writer crucial to their development as a writer. S/he
will write an essay or essays of 20 pages or so inspired by that writer’s work.
The course will be led as a reading and a writing workshop. Students will be
required to write a substantive reading response on a blog for each week’s
class, and to lead discussion in one class during the semester.

Required Reading (available from
Revolution Books in Puck’s Alley)

  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel
  • Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle
  • Blue Nights, Joan Didion
  • Chernobyl Strawberries, Vesna Goldsworthy
  • The Truth of the Matter:
    Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction,
    Dinty Moore
  • Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatje
  • Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine
  • Changing My Mind, Zadie Smith

Course Requirements

  • Online responses: For
    each assigned reading, an online response will be due on our class website.
  • Short papers will
    consist of metacommentary, in which you reflect on your own writing in regard
    to your goals, techniques, and strategies.
  • Class Presentation: as
    complement to assigned readings for the week, each student will present a
    writer or piece of writing not included in our syllabus for consideration and
    discussion by the class.
  • Portfolio will consist
    of several “finished” pieces of creative non-fiction, of 20 pages or so, written
    during the semester.

Assignments & Grades

  • Online Responses                                                       30%
  • Short Papers                                                               20%
  • Class Presentation                                                      20%
  • Portfolio                                                                       30%


In order to pass the course, all work must be