Mary Morris

Mary Morris

Undergraduate Discipline

Writing

Graduate Program

MFA Writing Program

BA, Tufts College. MPhil, Columbia University. Novelist, short-story writer, and writer of travel literature. Author of the novels Crossroads, The Waiting Room, The Night Sky, House Arrest, Acts of God, and Revenge; the short story collections Vanishing Animals and Other Stories, The Bus of Dreams, and The Lifeguard Stories; the travel memoirs Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone and Wall to Wall: From Beijing to Berlin by Rail; an anthology of the travel literature of women, Maiden Voyages and Angels and Aliens: A Journey West. Recent work in Atlantic Monthly, Narrative, and Ploughshares; recipient of the Rome Prize in Literature and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Creative Artists Public Service Awards. SLC, 1994–

Current undergraduate courses

The Art of the Story: Connected Collections

Spring

From Edgar Alan Poe (Fall of the House of Usher) to Sandra Cisneros and Tim O’Brien, writers have been engaged in the art of writing stories that weave and interconnect. Whether through theme as in Poe or, more recently, Dan Chaon’s Among the Missing or Joan Silber’s Ideas of Heaven, through geography as in James Joyce’s Dubliners or Sandra Cisernos’ House on Mango Street, or through characters as in The Things They Carried (O’Brien) or Olive Kittridge (Elizabeth Strout), or finally through an incident that links them such as Haruki Murakami’s After the Quake, Russell Banks’s The Sweet Hereafter, or Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, writers have found ways to link their stories. This workshop will focus on the writing of stories that are connected in one of these various ways. We will read extensively from connected collections. Exercises will be created in order to help students mine their own material in order to create small collections of narratives with similar preoccupations, terrains, or people.

Faculty

Previous courses

Edgy Memoirs

Spring

There are memoirs that people write when they’ve had a great acting career or been president of a large country. We read these for their historic/cultural value—for our interest in the subject that is their lives. But there’s another kind of memoir that is trying to tell a whole other kind of truth. These are more personal stories of dysfunction, addiction, overcoming the odds. They take us on alcoholic journeys or into dungeons—into scary families and scarier souls. In this workshop, we attempt to uncover this kind of truth; but this isn’t a class in autobiography. What differentiates these stories from other tales of grief and woe is that they are, quite simply, well-told. It is one thing to have a story to tell. It is quite another to know how to tell it. In this workshop, we will read these memoirs and attempt to write one of our own. We’ll read Jonathan Ames, Mary Karr, Kathryn Harrison, Jeanette Taylor, and Nick Flynn, as well as others. The emphasis will be on how to tell our stories. We will work on scenes and scene development. The goal is for students to begin to write, or at least to contemplate, a memoir of their own.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

Fall

The job of a writer is to make the reader want to turn the page. This can be accomplished by various means; but, ultimately, what will draw the reader in and keep him there is the story. While this course will address itself to all aspects of fiction writing, including voice and character development, our focus will be on the art of storytelling. What is a story, and how does it get made? How do we move from one event to another, and what kind of causality does that movement entail? As Flannery O’Connor once said, “The end of a story must both surprise and feel inevitable.” We will look at short novels and stories that accomplish this task. Most readings, however, will be individually assigned to meet the needs of each student in conference. In workshop, we will mainly look at the work the students bring to the class and think about how well a story is being told. Might the writer make better use of any element of the story? And is there anything that stands in the way of the story being told?

Faculty

Fiction Writing Workshop

The job of a writer is to make the reader want to turn the page. This can be accomplished by various means; but, ultimately, what will draw the reader in and keep him there is the story. While this course will address itself to all aspects of fiction writing, including voice and character development, its focus will be on the art of storytelling. What is a story and how does it get made? How do we move from one event to another, and what kind of causality does that movement entail? As Flannery O’Connor once said, the end of a story must both surprise and feel inevitable. We will look at short novels and stories that accomplish this task. Most readings, however, will be individually assigned to meet the needs of each student in conference. In workshop, we will mainly look at the work that the students bring to the class and think about how well a story is being told. Is there any element of the story about which the writer might make better use? And is there anything that stands in the way of the story being told?

Faculty

First-Year Studies: The Source of Stories: Writing from Your Own Experience

FYS

Where do our stories come from? Do they come from what happens to us? From what we read in the newspapers? From what we make up in our heads? Or from all the above? The novelist John Berger once said that writers draw their material from three sources: experience, witness, and imagination. The goal of this mixed-genre workshop—which will focus on the short story, personal essay, and memoir—is for the emerging writer to find and develop his or her own subject matter. Students will be asked to explore the raw material of their lives, adding the mix of witness (what we have seen or been told) and what we invent. We begin with an assignment based on Joe Brainard’s book I Remember. Students make their own lists of memories of childhood and adolescence. We will turn these lists into anecdotes and scenes and eventually into stories. Students will also begin a list called “I Imagine”; and in this assignment, we will explore family lore, stories students have heard from others, or perhaps even stories drawn from newspaper accounts. We will look at writers who have delved into their own subject matter in both fiction and nonfiction, such as James Baldwin, Sandra Cisneros, Tim O’Brien, Virginia Woolf, Paul Auster, and Lorrie Moore, and discuss the various issues posed in each form. Students will be given assignments intended to evoke subject matter in both genres. For example, a piece of family lore might become a short essay or a work of fiction. Students will write short stories, essays, and memoir and learn to move freely from one genre to the next, attempting to reimagine their material in different forms. The emphasis will be on voice and narrative, both of which are essential for good fiction or nonfiction. We will also spend a good deal of time learning what it means to write a scene. This is a course for any student who wants to explore the material that will become the source of his or her stories.

Faculty

The Source of Stories: Writing From Your Own Experience: Mixed-Genre Workshop

Spring

The novelist John Berger once said that writers draw their material from three sources: experience, witness, and imagination. The goal of this mixed-genre  workshop—which will focus on the short story, personal essay, and memoir—is for the emerging writer to find and develop his or her own subject matter. Students will be asked to explore the raw material of their lives and adding the mix of witness (what we have seen or been told) and what we invent. We begin with an assignment, based on Joe Brainard’s book, I Remember. Students will make their own lists of memories of childhood and adolescence. We will turn these lists into anecdotes and scenes and eventually into stories. Students will also begin a list called “I Imagine” and, in this assignment, we will explore family lore, stories they have heard from others, or perhaps even draw from newspaper accounts. We will look at writers who have delved into their own subject matter in both fiction and nonfiction—such as James Baldwin, Sandra Cisneros, Tim O’Brien, Virginia Woolf, Paul Auster, and Lorrie Moore—and discuss the various issues posed in each form. Students will be given assignments intended to evoke subject matter in both genres—for example, a piece of family lore might become a short essay or a work of fiction—and write short stories, essays, and memoir, learning to move freely from one genre to the next and attempting to reimagine the material in different forms. The emphasis will be on voice and narrative, both of which are essential for good fiction and nonfiction. We will also spend a good deal of time learning what it means to write a scene. This is a class for any student who wants to explore material that can become the subject matter of stories.

Faculty

Writing the Dark Side

Year

Flaubert once said that we should be ordinary in our lives so that we may be violent and wild in our imaginations. This class is designed for that purpose—to allow your dark side to run wild. What is the purpose of fiction if not to unlock the secrets of the human heart. To paraphrase the crime writer Kate Atkinson, we write these stories not in order to solve the puzzle of crimes but to solve the problem of being alive. From the Bible to Brett Easton Ellis, murder has intrigued. Mysteries perplex. And human behavior can be stranger than anything that you could make up. In this course, you get to dip into your own Jeckyl and Hyde. But, while the content of this course is to probe the darkness, the primary goal—and, in some ways, the only goal—is the writing. We will write stories and workshop them. Prompts will be designed and discussions will focus on character, plot, language. The writing is essential, because we wouldn’t read Ray Bradbury or Joyce Carol Oates as we do if they weren’t written by great writers. We’ll read tales from the dark side, starting with Cain and Abel and then on to Shakespeare’s MacBeth, Poe, Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock, Kafka, John Fowles, Joyce Carol Oates, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and mystery writers such as Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, and Kate Atkinson. We will perhaps read James Ellroy’s Black Dahlia, along with the memoir that he wrote about the murder of his own mother, My Dark Places. We’ll dip into the world of “noir” and write stories from our own dark places while learning the essentials of fiction writing. Not for the faint hearted. You will compile a collection of your stories by the year’s end.

Faculty

Writing the Dark Side: Murder, Mayhem, and Mystery

Year

Flaubert once said that we should be ordinary in our lives so that we may be violent and wild in our imaginations. This class is designed for that purpose—to allow your dark side to run wild. What is the purpose of fiction if not to unlock the secrets of the human heart. To paraphrase the crime writer, Kate Atkinson, we write these stories not in order to solve the puzzle of crimes but to solve the problem of being alive. From the Bible to Brett Easton Ellis, murder has intrigued. Mysteries perplex us. And human behavior can be stranger than anything you could make up. In this course, you get to dip into your own Jeckyl and Hyde; but, while the content of this course is to probe the darkness, the primary goal—in some ways, the only goal—is the writing. We will write stories and workshop them. Prompts will be designed, and discussions will focus on character, plot, language. The writing is essential, because we wouldn’t read stories by Ray Bradbury or Joyce Carol Oates as we do if they weren’t written by great writers. We’ll read tales from the dark side, starting with Cain and Abel. On to Shakespeare’s Othello, Poe, Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock, John Fowles’s The Collector, Joyce Carol Oates's Zombie and Dark Water,  Kafka’s The Penal Colony, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man...and perhaps Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Helter Skelter, Stephen King, and mystery writers such as Raymond Chandler, Agatha Cristie, and Kate Atkinson. We will most likely read James Ellroy’s Black Dahlia, along with the memoir he wrote about the murder of his own mother, My Dark Places. We’ll dip into the world of “noir” and write stories from our own dark places while learning the essentials of fiction writing. This is not for the faint-hearted. You will compile a collection of your stories by the year’s end. Some previous knowledge of fiction writing is preferred but not required.

Faculty

Selected Publications