David Hollander

Ellen Kingsley Hirschfeld Chair in Writing

BA, State University of New York-Purchase. MFA, Sarah Lawrence College. David Hollander is the author of the novel L.I.E., a finalist for the NYPL Young Lions Award. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous print and online forums, including McSweeney’s, Post Road, The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers, The Collagist, Unsaid, The Black Warrior Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and Swink. His work has been adapted for film and frequently anthologized, most notably in Best American Fantasy 2 and 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11th. He received his MFA from Sarah Lawrence in 1997, and currently lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, the writer Margaret Hundley Parker, and their two children. SLC, 2002–

Course Information

Current undergraduate courses

Sparks in the Void: A Fiction Writing Workshop

Spring

When I began teaching writing at Sarah Lawrence, I was of the write-what-you-know school and pushed my students to “mine their experience in search of hidden truths” (or something like that). In the 14 intervening years, I’ve traveled 180 degrees from that position, so this course will emphasize the value of play and experimentation in the creation of short fiction. Our reading list may include a short novel or two (Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje), as well as numerous short stories by writers whose works seem—as the late novelist John Hawkes once phrased it—“plucked from the void.” These writers may or may not include Robert Coover, Christine Schutt, Joy Williams, Stanley Elkin, Roxanne Gay, Donald Barthelme, and Harlan Ellison, along with an array of others of whom you’ve probably not heard. In addition to generating weekly responses to strange assignments, students will each “workshop” one (and only one) story. We will be writing all the time; but rather than using peer critique as our primary instructive tool, we will instead use great and unorthodox published works—with a bit of peer critique thrown in for good measure. I am looking for generous individuals who are open to experimentation and play in fiction or who are interested in defining (or redefining) their work in nontraditional terms. That said, the course is offered (generously) to writers of all levels and backgrounds.

Faculty

Current graduate courses

Fiction Workshop

Fall

The formulaic nature of many fiction writing workshops seems (to me) antithetical to what it means to make art. I’ve been trying desperately for years now—with varying degrees of success—to find a way to “teach” writing that feels open, honest, and playful. Want to know what I’d like? For a class to encourage innovation and experimentation, to come to the collective epiphany that the possibilities for story are endless, and that not everything that comes through the classroom has to be discussed in terms of what John Hawkes once called “the enemies of fiction”—plot, character, setting, and theme.

I am suspicious of peer critique that uses, as its engine, the words “I want.” In an ideal situation, we would try to see stories from the inside-out, and try to imagine how they might become more purely what they are, rather than something we want them to be. We would value language, style, and structure. Voice would take precedence over plot.

We would encourage ambitious failure more than careful success. We would applaud a writer for taking a risk, rather than bury her for the risk’s inscrutability. We wouldn’t treat every story as something to be made publication-ready and wouldn’t be so small-bore in the way we think and talk.

These are ideas, of course, and tell you nothing about how I actually run my classroom. So here are a few things I’m (relatively) sure about. Each student will bring at least one story into the classroom over the course of the semester. We will often write in response to prompts designed to help you find a voice, take a chance, do something you wouldn’t expect of yourself. We will, on two or three occasions, take a break from our routine to discuss a great (and, for those of you who don’t know me, likely unorthodox) novel. We will try to spend some time talking about aesthetics, and discussing essays from writers of all stripes who think they’ve got it all figured out.

It’s having it all figured out that scares me. In the end, I want us to follow Socrates’ lead, and to realize that we only know that we know nothing. Every class should be equal parts rigor, play, and discovery. If this sounds interesting, show up, and we’ll work out the details.

Faculty

Fiction Writing Workshop

Fall

The formulaic nature of many fiction writing workshops seems (to me) antithetical to what it means to make art. I’ve been trying desperately for years now—with varying degrees of success—to find a way to “teach” writing that feels open, honest, and playful. Want to know what I’d like? For a class to encourage innovation and experimentation, to come to the collective epiphany that the possibilities for story are endless, and that not everything that comes through the classroom has to be discussed in terms of what John Hawkes once called “the enemies of fiction”—plot, character, setting, and theme.

I am suspicious of peer critique that uses, as its engine, the words “I want.” In an ideal situation, we would try to see stories from the inside-out, and try to imagine how they might become more purely what they are, rather than something we want them to be. We would value language, style, and structure. Voice would take precedence over plot.

We would encourage ambitious failure more than careful success. We would applaud a writer for taking a risk, rather than bury her for the risk’s inscrutability. We wouldn’t treat every story as something to be made publication-ready and wouldn’t be so small-bore in the way we think and talk.

These are ideas, of course, and tell you nothing about how I actually run my classroom. So here are a few things I’m (relatively) sure about. Each student will bring at least one story into the classroom over the course of the semester. We will often write in response to prompts designed to help you find a voice, take a chance, do something you wouldn’t expect of yourself. We will, on two or three occasions, take a break from our routine to discuss a great (and, for those of you who don’t know me, likely unorthodox) novel. We will try to spend some time talking about aesthetics, and discussing essays from writers of all stripes who think they’ve got it all figured out.

It’s having it all figured out that scares me. In the end, I want us to follow Socrates’ lead, and to realize that we only know that we know nothing. Every class should be equal parts rigor, play, and discovery. If this sounds interesting, show up, and we’ll work out the details.

Faculty

Previous courses

Fiction-Writing Workshop

Fall

The formulaic nature of many fiction-writing workshops seems (to me) antithetical to what it means to make art. I’ve been trying desperately for years now—with varying degrees of success—to find a way to “teach” writing that feels open, honest, and playful. Want to know what I’d like? For a class to encourage innovation and experimentation, to come to the collective epiphany that the possibilities for story are endless, and that not everything that comes through the classroom has to be discussed in terms of what John Hawkes once called “the enemies of fiction”—plot, character, setting, and theme. I am suspicious of peer critique that uses, as its engine, the words “I want.” In an ideal situation, we would try to see stories from the inside out and try to imagine how they might become more purely what they are rather than something that we want them to be. We would value language, style, and structure. Voice would take precedence over plot. We would encourage ambitious failure more than careful success. We would applaud a writer for taking a risk rather than bury her for the risk’s inscrutability. We wouldn’t treat every story as something to be made publication-ready and wouldn’t be so small-bore in the way we think and talk. These are ideas, of course, and tell you nothing about how I actually run my classroom. So here are a few things I’m (relatively) sure about. Each student will bring at least one story into the classroom over the course of the semester. We will often write in response to prompts designed to help you find a voice, take a chance, or do something you wouldn’t expect of yourself. We will, on two or three occasions, take a break from our routine to discuss a great (and, for those of you who don’t know me, likely unorthodox) novel. We will try to spend some time talking about aesthetics and discussing essays from writers of all stripes who think they’ve got it all figured out. It’s having it all figured out that scares me. In the end, I want us to follow Socrates’ lead and realize that we only know that we know nothing. Every class should be equal parts rigor, play, and discovery. If this sounds interesting, show up—and we’ll work out the details.

Faculty

The Enemies of Fiction: A Fiction-Writing Workshop

Year

The late novelist John Hawkes said that he began writing fiction with the assumption that its “true enemies” were “plot, character, setting, and theme.” This same quartet seems to dominate the conversation in writing workshops. We like to “vote” on a plot’s efficiency, a theme’s effectiveness, a character’s right to exist. If we’re not careful, we can descend to the language of a corporate focus group—a highly effective forum for marketing laundry detergents but maybe not for making art. This yearlong workshop will attempt, in its own small way, to see the fiction of both published masters and participating students through a wider lens. In the first semester, we will read across a wide range of styles and aesthetics and write in response to weekly prompts designed to encourage play. Issues of language, structure, and vision will be honored, right alongside Hawkes’ imagined enemies. In the second semester—provided all goes well—each student will workshop two stories. Our reading list will include several short and unorthodox novels (possibilities include Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Concrete by Thomas Bernhard, and Florida by Christine Schutt) and weekly short stories by writers both well-known and ignored. These may or may not include Robert Coover, Dawn Raffel, Joy Williams, Stanley Elkin, Rick Moody, Shelley Jackson, Donald Barthelme, Harlan Ellison, and Kelly Link. We will also regularly read essays that challenge us to think about what art is and why anyone would want to make it. I am looking for generous students interested in fiction-as-play. The model here is counterpoint; so it may help if you have already taken a fiction-writing workshop, though the course is offered (generously) to writers of all backgrounds.

Faculty