David Hollander

David

Undergraduate Discipline

Writing

Graduate Program

MFA Writing Program

BA, State University of New York-Purchase. MFA, Sarah Lawrence College. Hollander is the author of the novels Anthropica, a finalist for The Big Other Award for Fiction, and 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, Fence, Conjunctions, Post Road, The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers, Lit Hub, and Unsaid. He has co-authoried the book for a full-length musical, The Count, and his work has been adapted for film and frequently anthologized—notably in Best American Fantasy. SLC, 2002–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023

Writing

Building a Better Matrix: A Fiction Writing Workshop

Open, Seminar—Fall

A blank page is not a physical construction site, and worlds created from language are not “real” in the way that an apple is real. Whether you are writing traditional realist short fiction, or working with magical elements, or making wildly experimental language art, you’re manipulating a matrix—one that, if established with sufficient rigor, creates the illusion of substance from the ether of abstraction. Why, then, is there a seemingly widespread agreement that realism is the “most real” kind of illusion? This workshop will begin from the following assumptions: All fiction is speculative fiction; a story is beholden to nothing other than its own internal logic; logic does not need to sync to the logic of “the real world” (whatever that may mean); and experimentation is not a barrier to Truth (with a capital “t”). We’ll be reading some of the most innovative and surprising fiction being written today and seeking out—through our own weekly writing prompts—the limits of what we call fiction. Our reading list will include a short, unorthodox novel or two (Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid are both strong possibilities), as well as short stories by writers including Julio Cortazar, Carmen Maria Machado, Ottessa Moshfegh, Etgar Keret, Jonathan Callahan, Franz Kafka, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Angela Carter. Over the course of the semester, each student will workshop one original story. We will be writing often, reading great and inimitable works, and attempting to create a community that values experimentation and play in the creation of short fiction. The idea is to honor fiction’s myriad possibilities and to applaud any fictional matrix that arrives to us free of glitches. The only prerequisites are generosity, curiosity, and open-mindedness.

Faculty

Narrative Strategies: Reading Fiction as a Writer

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

There are many ways to read a book (or an essay, or a story, or a poem). We can read for pleasure or for edification, to be enlightened or to be moved. We can read to accumulate facts, to frame an argument, to inform a paper we’re writing. But reading fiction as a fiction writer is a special kind of reading. Writers—especially young writers who are trying to absorb and understand craft—must read a work not only to appreciate its merits but also to see how it was constructed, what conceits it puts into play, what narrative strategies it’s employing. This lecture class will endeavor to break down stories and novels from this writerly perspective and to tease out the craft-level decisions that create a work of fiction’s overall effect. Our weekly class sessions—which I am thinking of more as large-seminar conversations, not as one-way lectures—will revolve around short novels and short stories that use one of four engines to generate their energies: language, structure, voice, or ideas. Our reading list will likely include Cormac McCarthy, Ottessa Moshfegh, Han Kang, Akwaeke Emezi, Harlan Ellison, Dawn Raffel, Laszlow Krasznahorkai, Franz Kafka, and Ted Chiang, among others. Each of our discussions will culminate in a weekly writing prompt that will be posted to a class Slack channel. Group conferences will be used to share some of these prompt responses aloud, to discuss how putting different narrative strategies into practice deepens our relationship to our reading, and to (occasionally) generate new work. The course’s ideal student will be curious about the borders of fiction and interested in exploring many approaches to the blank page without privileging any one of them. Aside from this necessary curiosity, the course has no prerequisites.

Faculty

Graduate Courses 2022-2023

MFA Writing

Influence: A Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

In recent years, my workshops have concentrated on seeing stories architecturally. We have tended to ask (at my behest) questions like: What structural conceits move the story from A to B? How is time handled on the page? In what ways do language and content intersect or diverge? But I have found myself, more recently, wanting to ask questions about influence. Why did the writer submit this work to the workshop? What works have moved or inspired the writer to move in this direction rather than in some other? What does the writer of this story value in fiction? These questions will, I hope, be the building blocks of this class. Each student will workshop at least once (and perhaps twice); but when students submit their original stories, they will also submit a published story that has inspired them. The links between the published work and the original work can be overt or hidden, thematic or architectural, shallow or deep. Discussions of original work will be preceded by a short discussion of the linked published piece and led by the student who submitted both. In addition to the published “inspirational” pieces, students will occasionally read published works, chosen by yours truly, that feature some connection to the work we’ve been discussing and will sometimes respond to writing prompts that, likewise, grow out of our discussions. My expectations are that students will be open to all sorts of fiction, supportive of one another’s efforts, and willing to take risks on the page.

Faculty

Previous Courses

MFA Writing

Fiction Is a Speculation

Workshop—Fall

I am amused by the idea that only some fiction is “speculative.” A blank page, after all, is not a physical construction site. What a writer puts on that page is a series of hypotheses that sponsor no life and no activity outside the page’s confines. Whether the work falls under the umbrella of “psychological realism,” or “expressionism,” or “science fiction,” or “surrealism,” or “naturalism,” or “fantasy,” the goal is the same: to move, change, or otherwise affect the reader. 

This is the spirit in which this speculative fiction writing workshop is offered. Our reading list will include everything from the postmodern fracture narratives of Robert Coover to the genre-bending world-inversions of Anne Carson to the surrealism of Rahawa Haile to the madcap speculations of Harlan Ellison to the architecturally unique work of Carmen Maria Machado to the traditional realism of Jhumpa Lahiri. The goal in discussing these works will be to see their underlying patterns, and the ways in which every story—including the realist stories—must “cheat” reality in some way to deliver its message to you.

As for how the class will actually run, here are a few things I’m (relatively) sure about. Each student will bring at least one, and possibly two, stories into the classroom over the course of the semester. Students will often write in response to prompts designed to help them find a voice, take a chance, do something they wouldn’t expect of themselves. We will, on two or three occasions, take a break from our routine to discuss a great (and, for those who don’t know me, probably unorthodox) novel. We will try to do away with the words, “I want” in our critiques of student stories, and to instead attune ourselves to what each story is trying to do, and to imagine how it might become more purely what it is rather than something we want it to be.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

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 Workshop: Seeking the Limits of the Frame

Workshop—Spring

I’ve been trying throughout my teaching career to find a way to teach writing that feels open, honest, and playful. My goal is to encourage innovation and experimentation and to lead my classes to the collective epiphany that the possibilities for fiction are nearly 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 the novel”—plot, character, setting, and theme. I am suspicious of peer critique that uses, as its engine, the words “I wanted.” In an ideal situation, we would try to see stories from the inside-out and 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 right alongside Hawkes’ quartet of imagined enemies. Voice would take precedence over plot. We would encourage ambitious failure more than careful success and wouldn’t care about readying every story for publication. We would applaud writers for taking a risk rather than burying them for the risk’s inscrutability. We wouldn’t be so small-bore in the way we think and talk about writing. The goal of this workshop is to move closer to these ideals. Doing so will require us to read published work that explores many narrative and aesthetic strategies: stories driven by language (like those of Dawn Raffel and Anne Carson, for example); stories driven by structural innovation (Julio Cortazar, Margaret Atwood); stories that thrive on patterns (Anton Chekhov, Carmen Maria Machado); and stories with a conceptual bent (Angela Carter, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah). Every class should be equal parts rigor, play, and discovery, as we seek to use the work of these masters—and our own collective imagination—to illuminate the outer edges of the frame of fictional possibility.

Faculty

Fiction Writing Workshop

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

Writing

First-Year Studies: Fiction: A User’s Guide

Open, FYS—Year

Many students enter college as avid readers and writers, but their understanding of what fiction is—its range and possibilities—will greatly expand during these undergraduate years. This FYS writing workshop is designed to both invite and fast-track that experience by exposing students to fiction’s aesthetic diversity and the myriad ways it can enchant, enlighten, and unsettle us—without privileging any single approach. To that end, we will read everything from the psychological realism of Anton Chekhov and Jhumpa Lahiri, to the eerie expressionism of Franz Kafka and Haruki Murakami, to the funhouse narratives of Donald Barthelme and Angela Carter, to the genre-bending work of Brian Evenson and Kelly Link. We will not only explore the logic behind stories but also analyze their construction: the way point-of-view decisions steer us through a work of fiction, the way meaningful patterns drive us deeper, and the way sentence-level choices engineer a story’s lasting effect. But the course—a “user’s guide,” after all—is as much about writing as it is about reading. Students will bring what they are learning to their own work, initially by responding to weekly writing prompts and later by sharing several longer pieces with their classmates during focused peer-critique sessions. Students are encouraged to play on the page, as we build a community determined to seek out the borders of fiction. The class will culminate in a final portfolio, giving students the opportunity to collect, arrange, and reflect upon the diverse work that they have created over the course of the year. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: The House of Fiction: A Guided Tour

Open, FYS—Year

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). But over time, I’ve come to see this as an insufficient way of thinking (and talking) about fiction writing. It cultivates a reverence for plot and character but ignores the aspects of fiction that seem especially vital to me: language, structure, voice, and ideas. That’s why this FYS workshop will emphasize the value of play and experimentation in the creation of short fiction. My goal, in fact, is to suggest that the world of fiction is like a gargantuan, twisted, labyrinthine house and not some little cottage on a grassy hill. I want to show my students around, explore secret rooms, open doors that lead nowhere, traverse long dark corridors, peer into dark and forgotten wells. Our weekly writing assignments will explore some of these spaces, and students will be asked to write in ways they may never have considered writing before. Our reading list will be dynamic and multifaceted, seeking to constantly expand our notions of what fiction is and can be. The list will include a number of short novels (Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy, Kamby Bolongo Mean River by Robert Lopez, The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino are all possibilities), as well as dozens of short stories by writers who often defy convention. These may include Robert Coover, Dawn Raffel, Joy Williams, Stacey Richter, David Foster Wallace, Shelley Jackson, Roxane Gay, Donald Barthelme, and Harlan Ellison. Students will be writing all the time, as we constantly expand and update our imagined blueprint of the House. Our goal is to create a community that values and supports risk-taking and innovation. I want my writers to leave this first year of college with a better understanding of how big and deep and funny and meaningful fiction can be. If this sounds interesting, you can find me behind the “Welcome” mat burning in front of the old iron door teetering from its rusted hinges.

Faculty

The Enemies of Fiction: A Fiction-Writing Workshop

Open, Seminar—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 the plot’s efficiency, the theme’s effectiveness, the characters’ foibles. If we are not careful, our discussions can descend to the level 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 a wide range of styles and aesthetics and will 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, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Concrete by Thomas Bernhard, and The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector) and weekly short stories by writers both well-known or ignored. These writers may include Robert Coover, Dawn Raffel, Etgar Keret, Julio Cortazar, Ottessa Moshfegh, Donald Barthelme, Harlan Ellison, and Carmen Maria Machado. 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