Stephen O’Connor

Stephen O’Connor

Undergraduate Discipline

Writing

Graduate Program

MFA Writing Program

BA, Columbia University. MA, University of California–Berkeley. Author of Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings, Here Comes Another Lesson, short fiction; Rescue, short fiction and poetry; Will My Name Be Shouted Out?, memoir and social analysis; Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed, history/biography. Fiction and poetry have appeared in The New Yorker, Conjunctions, One Story, Electric Literature, Threepenny Review, The Missouri Review, The Quarterly, Partisan Review, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. Essays and journalism have been published in The New York Times, DoubleTake, The Nation, AGNI, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, and New Labor Forum, among others. Recipient of the Cornell Woolrich Fellowship in Creative Writing from Columbia University, the Visiting Fellowship for Historical Research by Artists and Writers from the American Antiquarian Society, and the DeWitt Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. SLC, 1997, 2002–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018

Writing

Fiction: True or False?

Open , Seminar—Spring

In this class, we examine the much maligned but remarkably fruitful miscegenation of fiction and nonfiction. For roughly the first half of the semester, we will read and discuss works that are either composed of both fiction and nonfiction or that call such genre distinctions into question. We will begin by looking at Stephen Crane’s two accounts of being shipwrecked: one is a short story; the other, journalism/memoir. We will also read excerpts from fiction that incorporate discrete nonfictional segments (John Berger’s Pig Earth and Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting), fiction that disguises itself as nonfiction (John Haskell’s I’m Not Jackson Pollock and Rachel Cusk’s Outline), nonfiction that isn’t quite (Lauren Slater’s Lying, Ryzard Kapuscinski’s The Emperor, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men), and works with no clear genre (Jenny Boully’s The Body, John Edgar Wideman’s Fanon, and Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar). The second half of the semester will be devoted to workshopping the students’ own mixed-genre works, the composition of which will be the primary focus of their conferences. Among the questions that we will take up are: What are the differing advantages of fiction and nonfiction? How does genre affect an author’s obligations to readers? Is there a clear distinction between the genres? When does blurring that distinction render thrilling art, and when does it amount to a con job?

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Previous Courses

Nonfiction Laboratory

Open , Seminar—Fall
This course is for students who want to break free of the conventions of the traditional essay and memoir and discover a broader range of narrative and stylistic possibilities available to nonfiction writers. During the first half of the semester, students will read and discuss examples of formally innovative nonfiction that will serve as the inspiration for brief assignments. Completed assignments will also be read aloud and discussed each week. During the second half of the semester, students will workshop longer pieces, which they will have written in consultation with the instructor as a part of their conference work. All readings will be found in The Next American Essay, edited by John D’Agata, or in the photocopied handout.
Faculty
Related Disciplines

Non-Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

The first meeting of this workshop will consist of, I hope, a spirited and thought-provoking discussion of the aesthetics and ethics of nonfiction writing. Topics that might come up are: Is it possible to write about other people without exploiting them? What is the difference between factual and essential truth? What is the main effect I want my writing to have on my reader? During the second class, we will discuss three very differently structured essays, with the goal of establishing a common set of concepts and terms that will be useful in the discussion of student writing. The remainder of the semester will be devoted to workshops, during which students will be encouraged to make specific and honest remarks (no one is ever helped by false praise), while always being considerate of the writer’s feelings, and respectful of the writer’s freedom to defy convention. Workshops will involve detailed discussion of technical matters (point of view, metaphor, pacing, etc.), but never to the point that we lose track of bigger issues pertaining to the role that writing plays in the lives of readers and writers and in society as a whole. Ideally, by the end of the semester, students will have a fairly clear idea of what works best in their own writing, and will have made significant steps toward working out their personal aesthetics.

Faculty

Nonfiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

The first meeting of this workshop will consist of, I hope, a spirited and thought-provoking discussion of the aesthetics and ethics of nonfiction writing. Topics that might come up are: Is it possible to write about other people without exploiting them? What is the difference between factual and essential truth? What is the main effect that I want my writing to have on my reader? During the second class, we will discuss three very differently structured essays with the goal of establishing a common set of concepts and terms that will be useful in the discussion of student writing. The remainder of the semester will be devoted to workshops, during which students will be encouraged to make specific and honest remarks (no one is ever helped by false praise), while always being considerate of the writer’s feelings and respectful of the writer’s freedom to defy convention. Workshops will involve detailed discussion of technical matters (point of view, metaphor, pacing, etc.) but never to the point where we lose track of bigger issues pertaining to the role that writing plays in the lives of readers and writers—and in society as a whole. Ideally, by the end of the semester students will have a fairly clear idea of what works best in their own writing and will have made significant steps toward working out their personal aesthetics.

Faculty