Heather Harpham

BA, World College West. MA, MFA, New York University. Author of the memoir Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, selected for Reese Witherspoon Bookclub (April, 2017). Fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in The Guardian, Slate, Parents, MORE Magazine, Water~Stone Review and Red Magazine (UK) as well as the anthology, Physical Dramaturgy: Perspectives from the Field. Writing also includes six solo plays, produced throughout US and internationally in the Kathmandu International Theater Festival of Nepal and Notafe Festival of Estonia. Recipient of grants from the Brenda Ueland Prose Prize, the Marin Arts Council Independent Artist Grant, and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women. SLC 2014–

Previous Courses

MFA Writing

Exteriors, Interiors: Creative Nonfiction as a Two-Step Dance


An active workshop (we’ll write together every session) designed to grow the writer’s capacity to animate inner and outer worlds with equal power. This dual-perspective dance requires, in turn, both nuance and bravado. How can we draw readers’ attention to what we most want them to see externally, without breaking faith with the inner world? Conversely, can phenomena as subtle and “intangible” as consciousness leap across the page with such force that a reader feels them physically? We will think collectively about how (and when and if) to tunnel in or zoom out, psychically and environmentally. The aim is for each writer to find freedom in toggling between inner/outer orientations.

We’ll also read writers who refuse to toggle, or who toggle minimally, and still make it work. Examples may include Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking; Souad Mekhennet’s I Was Told to Come Alone; Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World; Maya Angelou’s Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas; Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: and selections from Philp Pullman’s Daemon Voices.


Mixed-Genre Prose Craft: The Craft of Humor and Joy: Writing with and About Delight and Amusement


In this multigenre craft course—spanning poetry, prose, and graphic memoir—we will identify, analyze, and emulate the grace and power of folding humor and joy into the narrative line. As effortless as humor and joy may appear on the page, these are—like any conscious act of craft—deliberate gestures that the writer has chosen to leaven or enrich their work. In considering joy, we will look at who typically has had or has laid claim to the “right” to joy. In other words, what does it mean for a writer who is experiencing active oppression to embrace and articulate the sources of joy in their life? Simultaneously, we’ll seek to upend the assumption of sameness at the heart of Tolstoy’s famous line, “All happy families are alike…,” by considering work by writers who sing their unique happiness on the page and forge kinship with the reader by sharing quotidian joys. In considering humor, we will focus on how—even (maybe especially) for writers who have been otherwise locked out of the experience of belonging fully within their culture—the use of humor has been a disarming tool, a survival mechanism, and a pathway toward transcendence. As John Waters said in a recent interview, “You can only change peoples’ minds if you make them laugh.” Writing that we’ll read may include, but is not limited, to: Bettyville, George Hodgman; Born a Crime, Trevor Noah; Fun House, Alison Bechdel; “Joy,” Zadie Smith; Picnic, Lightning, Billy Collins; The Book of Delights, Ross Gay; Baby, I Don’t Care, Chelsey Minnis; The Gilded Six-Bits, Zora Neale Hurston; and The Trayvon Generation, Elizabeth Alexander.


Writing Humor and Joy—Nonfiction Workshop


In this creative nonfiction workshop, humor and joy will be the leavening agents that we invite one another to integrate into material of any weight or gravity. Humor—whether used as the driving force of a satirical piece or as a light dusting of levity within a piece that’s hugely serious—affords us, as writers, a way to disarm and charm readers—to share a breath with them across time. Likewise, finding artful ways to animate joy on the page is a gift that only rare writers have fully explored; it can feel indulgent or unnecessary. But in an era that is rippling with worry, uncertainty, and despair, joy in our writing matters more than ever; it’s a power source to propel us forward—not with blind optimism but, rather, with deep appreciation for what’s most precious, most worth preserving and transmitting. The grace and power made possible by folding humor and joy into virtually any narrative line are available to any of us but require eager attention and careful architecture. As effortless as humor and joy may appear on the page—like any conscious act of craft—these are deliberate gestures that the writer has chosen to enrich their work. Our aim will be to harness the special momentum that joy and humor offer to creative nonfiction narratives and to amplify both within our own writing. Writers whose work may serve as a guide include, among others, Elizabeth Alexander, Chris Struck, George Saunders, John Berger, Ross Gay, Virginia Woolf, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Caitlin Moran, and ZZ Packer.


MFA Theatre

Movement for Performance


This yearlong class will awaken and engage the fundamental instrument of the performer: the human body. In the first semester, we'll rely on Action Theater as our primary tool. Action Theater --by combining a rigorous, systematic physical technique with a belief in the inherent intelligence and artistry of the imagination --seeks to quiet the “chatter” of the inner critic and bring heightened awareness to pure sensation. It offers students the essential skill set of physical theater including: vivid somatic articulation; emotional agility and flexibility; ready access to imaginative impulses; and sensitive response to ensemble partners. The goal is to train performers who can translate the vitality, sensitivity and daring instincts of great improvisers into any theatrical work they undertake. In our second semester, we'll integrate several other physical methods, possibly including: Viewpoints, Chekhov Technique, Butoh and Richard Schechner's rasaboxes. As a culminating project, all students will create a movement-based piece that reflects their growth. Some reading required, as well as ongoing writing in a movement journal.