Mary Morris

on leave spring semester

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 2021-2022


Edgy Memoirs

Open, Seminar—Fall

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. Our interest is in the story of their lives. But another kind of memoir tries to tell another kind of truth. Those are more personal stories of dysfunction, addiction, oppression, and overcoming the odds. These stories may take us on alcoholic journeys or tales of abuse into scary families and scarier souls. They can also be funny, uplifting, and redemptive. In this workshop, we attempt to uncover that kind of truth; but this isn’t a class in autobiography; rather, it’s 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 Michael Ondaatje, Kathryn Harrison, Garred Conley, Cathy Hong Park, David Sedaris, Nick Flynn, James McBride, and Jeanette Taylor, as well as memoirs by recent Sarah Lawrence graduates such as T Kira Madden and Anna Qu. And we will attempt to write one of our own. The emphasis will be on how to tell our stories. Exercises and prompts will be designed to help jumpstart you.


Previous Courses


The Source of Stories: Writing From Your Own Experience and Beyond

Open, Seminar—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, 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 and stories they have heard from others or perhaps even drawing 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 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 the material that becomes the subject matter of stories.


Additional Information

Selected Publications