Sem Techniques in Contemporary Lit (Creative Nonfiction) (CW)

Nonfiction ~ writing worlds into being

“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”)

“Thread holds together, and restricts, while yarn stretches
and gives. Thread is the overall theme that gives meaning to our words and
thoughts – to lose the thread is to be incoherent or inattentive. A yard is a
long, pointless, but usually amusing story whose facts have been exaggerated.
It is infinitely more relaxing to listen to a yarn than to a lecture whose
thread we must follow.” (Kyoko Mori, “Yarn”)

“When the plane that hit the Pentagon and the plane that
crashed in Pennsylvania are looked at side by side, they reveal two different
conceptions of national defense: one model is authoritarian, centralized,
top-down; the other, operating in a civil frame, is distributed and
egalitarian.” (Elaine Scarry, “Citizenship in Emergency”)

Goals &

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

Towards these ends, we will explore (mostly) contemporary
creative nonfiction from a wide variety of cultural perspectives that invite
them to explore the singularities and continuities of their own subjectivities,
observations and discoveries. Based on close reading and study of accomplished
writers, students will experiment and generate their 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.

In the second half of the course, students will concentrate on their own
reading/writing projects. Each student will choose a writer crucial to their
development as a writer. S/he will write an essay or essays of 25 pages or so
based on their immersion in 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 behind Puck’s Alley)

  • How to
    Live, or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer,
    Sarah Bakewell
  • Fun Home:
    A Family Tragicomic,
    Alison Bechdel
  • Unexplained Presence, Tisa Bryant
  • Blue
    , Joan Didion
  • Chernobyl Strawberries, Vesna Goldsworthy,
  • Annals
    of the Former World, John McPhee
  • 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
  • One
    Day I Will Write about This Place
    Binyavanga Wainaina
  • The
    Uncanny Valley
    , Lawrence Weschler

Online Course Reader

Additional readings may be available in an online Course Reader, including
selections from writers such as Albert Wendt, Epeli Hau`ofa, Terry Tempest
Williams, Zadie Smith, James Baldwin,
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Eduardo
Galleano, Toni Morrison and Octavio Paz, as well as writing from Brevity and
Creative Nonfiction E-zines.

Course Requirements

  • Online responses:
  1. One online letter each
    week addressed to the class in         response to current readings;
  2. At least one response
    to any posting by another student;
  • Short papers: metacommentary on your own writing
    in regard to goals, techniques, and strategies;
  • Facilitating
    Discussion: each student is responsible for leading part of one class
    discussion of the week’s readings;
  • Final Project:  25 pages (minimum) of polished work in the
    form of one or more original essays written during the semester.


Final grades are
determined along the following lines:

  •  Weekly online
    responses & in-class discussion         30%
  • Short papers                                                                20%
  • Discussion
    Facilitation                                                 20%
  • Final project                                                                 30%


pass the course, all work must be completed