Stephen O’Connor

Undergraduate Discipline

Writing

Graduate Program

MFA Writing Program

BA, Columbia University. MA, University of California-Berkeley. Author of 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 YorkerConjunctions, 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, The Chicago Tribune, The 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–

Course Information

Current graduate courses

Non-Fiction 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

Previous courses

Fact and Research in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry

Spring

This course will explore the complex issues regarding the use of factual material in all forms of creative writing, as well as provide students with practical experience and guidance in various types of research and reporting. The class will begin by trying to pin down the surprisingly enigmatic concepts of “fact” and “truth” and then move on to explore—through readings, discussion, and brief writing assignments—questions such as: What is my obligation to the “truth”? How much should I care about the feelings or reputations of my living subjects? When should I commence research? When should I stop? Are truth and beauty allies or enemies? How do I handle a hostile interview subject? During the first half of the course, students will write brief assignments focused on particular issues regarding the use of fact. The last half of the course will be devoted to workshops of longer pieces—in any form—that the students will write in consultation with the professor. Students will also be instructed in library and Internet research and in libel and copyright law.

Faculty

Nonfiction Workshop

Fall

The first meeting of this workshop will, I hope, consist of 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