Brian Morton

BA, Sarah Lawrence College. Author of five novels, including Starting Out in the Evening and Florence Gordon, and contributing editor of Dissent magazine. He has received the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Koret Jewish Book Award for Fiction, and the Pushcart Prize and has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Kirkus Prize for Fiction. SLC, 1998–

Undergraduate Courses 2021-2022

Writing

Near to Life: The Art of the Short Story

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

After reading a story by an older writer, the young James Joyce wrote, “Is this as near as [he] can get to life, I wonder?” You could say that Joyce was pointing toward a goal that many great fiction writers strive for: the goal of bringing to the page one’s unique way of apprehending life rather than relying on formula and convention. Something like this striving lay behind Chekhov’s revolt against traditional plot, Woolf’s search for new ways to render the subtleties of consciousness, Stein’s experiments with language, Proust’s explorations of time and memory, and Garcia Marquez’s adventures in magical realism. In this lecture class, we’ll read short stories old and new, with the aim of learning both from those who’ve come before us and those who are working now. Writers we’re likely to encounter include Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Toni Cade Bambara, Anton Chekhov, Kate Chopin, Edwidge Danticat, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Gaitskill, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, Carmen Maria Machado, Katherine Mansfield, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Herman Melville, Lorrie Moore, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Bryan Washington. We’ll also read criticism, letters, and a little bit of theory. Although the understanding that writers learn from other writers is inscribed in the very nature of the class, we’ll be guided above all by the idea that imaginative writing is a domain of freedom—that the history of fiction is the history of writers shaping their work in ways that previous generations couldn’t have imagined.

Faculty

Nonfiction Workshop: Writing the Essay of Opinion

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course is for students interested in writing essays about political and cultural questions. Each week in class, in addition to talking about your work, we’ll discuss two or three published pieces (some of them long, some not so long) that look at social questions from widely different points of view. Our aim will not be to arrive at a consensus as to which ideas have greater merit; rather, we’ll be examining the rhetorical strategies by which different writers seek to persuade. Writers we’re likely to read include James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joan Didion, Ralph Ellison, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Jeannie Suk Gersen, Vivian Gornick, Irving Howe, Laura Kipnis, John McWhorter, Dwight Macdonald, George Orwell, Claudia Rankine, David Foster Wallace, and Zadie Smith, as well as a few earlier thinkers such as G. K. Chesterton, Frederick Douglass, William James, John Stuart Mill, and Virginia Woolf. Given the range of writers and opinions we’ll be reading, it’s safe to say that everyone in the class will be encountering many ideas they consider objectionable over the course of the semester. So, if you believe you can be harmed by exposure to points of view that differ starkly from your own, it would be best not to register for this class. Otherwise, it’s open to all interested students

Faculty

Writing and Reading Fiction

Open, Seminar—Year

If you're a young writer, these three habits are important to cultivate: the habit of writing a lot, the habit of reading a lot, and the habit of trusting your imagination. The aim of this class is to help with all three. We’ll meet once a week to talk about both published fiction and your own work in an atmosphere of encouragement and support. Students won’t be looking for weaknesses in one another’s work; instead, you’ll be helping one another identify your strengths and clarify your literary goals. We’ll also meet for one hour on each of the other four weekdays to write in one another’s company. Writers whose work we’ll discuss include Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Anton Chekhov, Percival Everett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, R. K. Narayan, Z. Z. Packer, Grace Paley, Delmore Schwartz, and Nafissa Thompson-Spires. The only prerequisites for the class are an interest in writing a lot, an eagerness to read the work of your peers in a genuinely supportive way, and a willingness to get up early. (The four weekly writing sessions will begin at 8:30 a.m.)

Faculty

Previous Courses

MFA Writing

Colloquium

Seminar—Year

The literary colloquium features events by SLC faculty members, visiting writers, editors, publishers, and literary agents and is designed to bring MFA students in contact with a wide array of ideas from the world of writing. Examples of regular events in the colloquium are: a residency in each genre, which includes a reading and a craft talk by a visiting author; conversations with writing faculty members and visiting writers; and panels and discussions focused on publishing, teaching, editing, or other career-related topics. By participating in forums related to both craft and professional development, students benefit from exposure to many voices, genres, and experiences.

Faculty

Writing

Fiction Workshop

Open, Small seminar—Spring

If you're a young writer, these three habits are important to cultivate: the habit of writing a lot, the habit of reading a lot, and the habit of trusting your own imagination. The aim of this class is to help with all three. We will meet once a week to talk about published stories and essays (by writers including Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, James Baldwin, Toni Cade Bambara, Anton Chekhov, Kathleen Collins, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chester Himes, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, James Alan McPherson, ZZ Packer, Delmore Schwartz, and Nafissa Thompson-Spires) and to share our work in an atmosphere of encouragement and support. Students won’t be criticizing one another’s work; instead, you’ll be helping one another identify your literary strengths and clarify your literary goals. We will also meet for one hour on each of the other four weekdays to write in one another’s company. I’ll be happy to provide prompts every day to help you get started; but if you don't want to use the prompts, you won’t have to. All you’ll need to do is show up and write. Although I hope that our classroom conversations will be fantastic, I have a hunch that the practice of writing together four days a week will be the part of the class that you’ll treasure the most when you think back on it years from now when, if you keep going, you’ll be deep into your life as a writer.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Writing and Reading Fiction

Open, FYS—Year

A novelist once began a lecture by asking how many people in the audience wanted to be writers. When almost everyone raised a hand, he said, “So why the hell aren’t you home writing?” The novelist was asking the right question. The only way to improve as a writer is to write a lot. You might have all the talent in the world. You might have had a thousand fascinating experiences. But talent and experience won’t get you very far unless you have the ability to sit down, day after day, and write. Accordingly, my main goal is to encourage you to develop or sustain the habit of steady writing. You’ll be expected to produce a short story every two weeks, which we’ll discuss in detail during our one-on-one conferences. In class, we’ll be talking about novels, short stories, and essays—learning from writers who have come before us. We’ll read a mix of classic and contemporary writers, including James Baldwin, Anton Chekhov, Jennifer Egan, Percival Everett, Henry James, Toni Morrison, Sigrid Nunez, Philip Roth, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Virginia Woolf. We’ll meet in conference every week during the fall semester and every other week in the spring.

Faculty