Mary Morris

BA, Tufts College. MPhil, Columbia University. Novelist, short-story writer, and writer of travel literature. Author of the novels The Jazz Palace, 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 published 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–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018


Previous Courses

First-Year Studies “I Won’t Grow Up”: A Fiction Workshop on Coming of Age

Open , FYS—Year

Coming of age is one of the major themes in literature. Childhood and its demise, the loss of innocence, maturity, and memory are all matters that great writers have dealt with through the ages. Indeed, someone has said that writers are people who want to remain children. In this fiction-writing workshop, we will examine the theme as it applies to literature and our lives; and we will learn the craft of writing short stories. Starting with Peter Pan as a focal point, we will talk about what it means to grow up or to not grow up, as the case may be. We will read a wide body of material from writers such as Mark Twain, J. D. Salinger, Anne Frank, Harper Lee, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, Alison Bechdel, and Sandra Cisneros. Students will be given weekly prompts to help them get started writing their own stories. They will also keep journals that are intended to help them delve into memory. These journals might include a visual component such as collage, photography, or watercolor. Crayons and cartoons will be welcome—though the writing will always come first. Students will write short stories and personal essays. They will be asked to remember and imagine. They will evolve a body of fictive work that deals with the central issues of childhood—such as family, sense of place, class, gender, ethnicity, and race—writing about the essential moments of initiation into the adult world. All students will present a full-year portfolio of their writing (and possibly other artwork) that deals with this theme.


The Art of the Story: Connected Collections

Open , Seminar—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.


Writing the Dark Side

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: Previous fiction-writing experience.

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.


Edgy Memoirs

Open , Seminar—Fall

Permission of the instructor is required.

People who have had a great acting career or been president of a large country write memoirs that we read for their historic/cultural value. Our interest is in the story of their lives. But there's another kind of memoir—one that is trying to tell another kind of truth. These memoirs are more personal stories of dysfunction, addiction, overcoming the odds. They take us on alcoholic journeys, into scary families and scarier souls. In this workshop, we will attempt to uncover this kind of truth. But this isn’t a class in autobiography; rather, it is a class in telling a story. What differentiates these stories from other tales of grief and woe is that they are, quite simply, well-told. We will read memoirs by authors such as Kathryn Harrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, Nick Flynn, and Jeanette Taylor. And we will attempt to write one of our own. The emphasis will be on how to tell our stories. This workshop is only for those with some experience writing creative nonfiction.


Additional Information

Selected Publications