Carolyn Ferrell

BA, Sarah Lawrence College. MA, City College of New York. Author of the short-story collection, Don’t Erase Me, awarded the Art Seidenbaum Award of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, John C. Zachiris Award given by Ploughshares, and Quality Paperback Book Prize for First Fiction. Stories anthologized in Best American Short Stories 2018; The Best American Short Stories of the Century; Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers; The Blue Light Corner: Black Women Writing on Passion, Sex, and Romantic Love; and Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to the Present. Recipient of grants from the Fulbright Association, German Academic Exchange (D.A.A.D.), City University of New York MAGNET Program, and National Endowment for the Arts (Literature fellow for 2004). SLC, 1996–

Undergraduate Courses 2019-2020

Writing

The Short Story: Explorations

Open , Seminar—Year

What makes a story a story? What are the tools of fiction writers? How does one go from character to scene to story? When does a story make you want to keep reading—beyond its end? These are questions that we will explore in workshop; we'll think about our stories from the first draft to the revision, exploring questions of craft through weekly writing and reading assignments. The various forms of the short story (including the short short, the frame story, the episodic story, and micro fiction, among others) will guide us as we create. Our reading list includes writers such as Edward P. Jones, Steven Millhauser, Camille Acker, Carmen Maria Machado, and Nana Adjei-Brenyah—writers whose use of point of view, character development, setting, voice, and structure will hopefully provide inspiration. Students are expected to attend at least two readings on campus, as well as to prepare a reading list for conference. Typed critiques of student stories are also required, as is participation in workshop. Last but not least: We'll work on developing our constructive criticism, which, next to reading, is key to becoming a strong writer.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop: The Transformation Process: Memoir and Fiction

Open , Seminar—Spring

How do we, as writers, take our lived experiences and transform them into fiction? The novelist Janet Frame observed that “putting it all down as it happens is not fiction; there must be the journey by oneself, the changing of the light focused upon the material, the willingness of the author herself to live within that light…the real shape, the first shape, is always a circle formed, only to be broken and reformed, again and again.” The purpose of this course is to explore the ways in which memoir and fiction work together to tell the most deeply felt, emotionally honest, and resonant story possible. We’ll look at both the fiction and nonfiction of writers that include Andre Dubus III, Janet Frame, Edward P. Jones, Nana Adjei-Brenyah, George Saunders, and Jamaica Kincaid. The class will be led as a fiction workshop, although there will be some opportunity to explore biography through occasional writing exercises. The workshop will be divided between the discussion of student stories and the discussion of published literature (which will include essays on writing craft). Students are required to do additional conference reading, as well as to attend at least two campus readings per semester. From the start, we will work on developing our constructive criticism, which (when developed in a supportive atmosphere) should help us better understand our own creative writing.

Faculty

Graduate Courses

Writing 2019-2020

Fiction Workshop: Against Perfection

Workshop—Fall

Does it ever happen to you that you feel your draft is never finished—that you could go on revising forever? Number 10 on Zadie Smith’s “Rules of Writing” reads as follows: “Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand—but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.” How might the quest for perfection in a draft actually prevent one from completing it? What role does writer’s block play—or is writer’s block even a thing? In this workshop, we will try to figure out ways to handle our own challenges about writing perfection by doing writing exercises (Brian Kitely’s The Three A.M. Epiphany), reading craft essays (from authors such as Mark Childress, Ann Patchett, and Jane Smiley), comparing early and late drafts from certain authors (Tobias Wolff, Lorna Simpson), and trying to figure out what makes a completed story and how we can get there. We will read a few stories a week by established authors such as Edward P. Jones, Dan Chaon, and Steven Millhauser, and by newer voices such as Camille Acker, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. We want to understand what works in a draft and what can be improved—and find the tools we need to move forward on our own. Hopefully, that “lifelong sadness” will transform itself into confidence, as well as into a strong piece of writing in which one can take pride.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Before and After

Open , Seminar—Fall

This class will be run as a traditional workshop, with students exchanging their own stories for discussion and completing weekly reading assignments; but the focus of our reading will be on two or more works by a particular author in order to try and understand that author’s trajectory. We will, for example, explore the development of voice and subject matter, as well as characterization, plot, point of view, and form. These writers will be our teachers. By reading their work, we hope to come to a clearer understanding of what makes a story live and breathe. Some authors whom we may consider include Tobias Wolff, Junot Diaz, Dan Chaon, Alice Munro, Lynda Barry, and Roxane Gay. Students will be expected to attend at least two readings on campus, hand in writing assignments every other week, and complete a set of readings for conference.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop: Literary Journals and Writing

Workshop—Fall

Where do the stories come from that are featured in anthologies like Best American Poetry or the O. Henry Prize Stories? How does the fiction in Paris Review compare to that of Prairie Schooner? What sort of writers are published in Tin House? In Ploughshares? Who publishes in reviews and journals to begin with? In this workshop, we will read various literary journals, both online and in print format, as a way to answer these and other questions, as well as to discover new voices. In terms of writing, this workshop will be held in a traditional format, wherein students deliver their work a week in advance of the workshop and write up formal critiques of the fiction of their fellow writers. There will be writing exercises in addition to weekly readings of journals and critical essays. Literary journals can be sources of great reading and inspiration; becoming familiar with them might help you figure out where your own fiction might one day find a home.

Faculty

The Short Story

Open , Seminar—Spring

What makes a story a story? What are the tools of fiction writers? How does one go from character to scene to story? When does a story make you want to keep reading—beyond its end? And how can we, using these tools, begin to put our own stories on the page? In this workshop, we will explore these questions as we read and write our own fiction, which we will do through regular writing and reading assignments. We’ll explore various forms of the short story, including the “short short,” micro fiction, the frame story, the epistolary story, and others. We will read authors such as Edward P. Jones, Alice Munro, Junot Diaz, and Lesley Nneka Arimah, always considering craft issues of point of view, character development, setting, and plot. Students will be expected to attend at least two readings on campus, as well as to prepare a reading list for conference. We will also work on developing our constructive criticism—which, next to reading, is key to becoming a strong writer.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Subject Matter, Voice, Form, Purpose

Open , FYS—Year

What does it mean to be a writer today? How do we find our subject matter, our voices, our forms? The writer Paula Whyman observed, “Art in its many forms can give voice to our concerns, hopes, fears, anxieties—and joys. Art can provide solace. It can spur engagement. It can increase understanding. It can help us feel less alone.” Through weekly reading and writing assignments, we will begin the journey into understanding who we can be as fiction writers. We’ll explore questions of craft: What makes a story a story? How does one go from word to sentence to paragraph to scene? Does there always need to be transformation? What is the role of setting? And how does structure help create voice? The workshop will be divided between discussions of student stories and of published fiction writers, including Denis Johnson, George Saunders, Dorothy Allison, Claudia Rankine, and Lesley Arimah. We will also read from other genres, including graphic memoirs and essays on craft by authors such as James Baldwin, Richard Russo, Roxane Gay, and Robin Hemley. Students are required to do additional conference reading, as well as to attend at least two campus readings per semester. From the start, we will work on developing our constructive criticism; when developed in a supportive atmosphere, our critiques should help us better grasp the workings of our stories and see what those stories can be in the world.

Faculty

Stories and Transformation

Open , Seminar—Year

How do we, as writers, transform lived experiences into stories on the page? The novelist Janet Frame observed that “putting it all down as it happens is not fiction; there must be the journey by oneself, the changing of the light focused upon the material, the willingness of the author herself to live within that light…the real shape, the first shape, is always a circle formed, only to be broken and reformed again and again.” In this workshop, we will think about the many ways in which transformation occurs, whether it be translating life into art or how elements of craft (such as characterization and point of view) facilitate transformation in a story. Some questions that we’ll consider regarding technique will include: What makes a story a story? How does one go from word to sentence to paragraph to scene? Does something always need to “happen”? And what are the different ways in which authors transform their characters and deliver a strong and resonant ending? The actual workshop will be divided between the discussion of student work and of published authors; among those we'll read are Edward P. Jones, Junot Diaz, Alice Munro, Jacqueline Woodson, and Andre Dubus III. We will also read from other genres, including essays on writing and graphic memoir. Students are required to do additional conference reading, as well as to attend at least two campus readings per semester. And from the start, we will work on developing our constructive criticism, which (when developed in a supportive atmosphere) should help us better understand our own creative writing.

Faculty