Non-Fiction Prose

Since non-fiction
prose is what fiction has traditionally pretended to be, students should
already be familiar with many of the genres and writing strategies we will
encounter in this class.  We will read
captivity narratives, autobiographies, memoirs, nature writing, essays,
histories, and speeches.  The authors
will range from classical rhetoricians, St. Augustine, Anna Rowlandson, Jean
Jacques Rousseau, and Henry David Thoreau, to Virginia Woolf, Malcolm X, Truman
Capote, Hunter Thompson, Rigoberta Menchú, Anne Fadiman, and Dave Eggers.  We’ll also read G.
Thomas Couser’s short introduction to memoir, and other critical and
theoretical texts. My major concerns will be issues of ethics and politics
(What do such texts intentionally or unintentionally do to others in the
world?), issues of representation (what does it mean to say that a text is
“non-fiction?”), and issues of style (what can and cannot happen in a
non-fictional next)?  A course reader
will gather together a number of short pieces; several full-length works will
also be assigned.  In addition to regular
e-mail postings on the readings, students will write at least one substantial
critical paper, and one substantial piece in one of the genres we will be
discussing.  Three outcomes of this
course for students should be a better understanding of the writing environment
that “imaginative literature” actually occupies a very small place within, a
more informed sense of non-fiction’s aesthetic and cultural dimensions and
functions, and a heightened appreciation of the power and appeal of “real”