David Hollander

BA, State University of New York–Purchase. MFA, Sarah Lawrence College. Author of the novel L.I.E., a finalist for the NYPL Young Lions Award. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in dozens of print and online forums, including McSweeney’s, Conjunctions, Fence, Agni, The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers, Post Road, 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. SLC, 2002–

Undergraduate Courses 2019-2020

Writing

Building a Better Matrix: A Fiction Writing Workshop

Open , Seminar—Spring

A blank page is not a physical construction site. It seems to go without saying that anything that appears on that page is a speculation—a series of hypotheses that sponsor no life and no activity outside the page’s confines. Whether you are writing traditional realist short fiction, 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, tacit agreement that realism is the “most real” kind of writing? This workshop will argue that all fiction is speculative fiction, that a story is beholden to nothing other than its own internal logic, and that 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 may include a short, unorthodox novel or two (Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star are both strong possibilities), as well as short stories by writers including Carmen Maria Machado, Dawn Raffel, Donald Barthelme, Harlan Ellison, Roxanne Gay, Julio Cortazar, and Rick Moody. 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 all of fiction’s myriad possibilities without privileging any one of them. The only prerequisites are generosity, curiosity, and open-mindedness.

Faculty

Graduate Courses

Writing 2019-2020

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 that 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 about which I’m (relatively) sure. 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’s 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

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
Related Disciplines

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

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

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 across 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 Florida by Christine Schutt) and weekly short stories by writers both well-known and ignored. These writers may or may not include Robert Coover, Dawn Raffel, Joy Williams, Stanley Elkin, Julio Cortazar, 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 this course is offered (generously) to writers of all backgrounds.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

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 that 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