on leave yearlong
BA, Dartmouth College. MFA, Columbia University. Author of three books of poetry and four books of fiction, including her most recent collection of stories, Make Me Do Things (2013), for which she was awarded a 2014 Guggenheim fellowship for fiction. Her novels include The Border of Truth (2007) and Loverboy (Graywolf, 2001/Harcourt, 2002), which was awarded the 2001 S. Mariella Gable Novel Award and the 2002 Forward Silver Literary Fiction Prize and was chosen in 2001 as a Los Angeles Times Best Book. Loverboy was adapted for a feature film directed by Kevin Bacon. Swoon (University of Chicago Press, 2003), was a finalist for the James Laughlin Award. Her work has been widely anthologized and translated; her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Granta.com. Harvard Review, The Quarterly, The Literarian, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, Elle, BOMB, More, and NOON. SLC, 1996–
In this fiction workshop, we will study and practice a range of narrative strategies and narratives forms. Or, plainly put, this is a class in how stories work. How situation, character, scene, dialogue, time, place, syntax, and diction might be managed in prose fiction to break a reader’s heart will be the at the core of our conversation. This course is writing and reading intensive. There will be weekly reading and writing assignments. Students are expected to explore, experiment, shape, and revise extensively.
This is a yearlong foray into the writing of prose fiction. Emergence into adulthood, the journey out of childhood, the formation of self—there is no shortage of writers that have explored this terrain. Think of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, James Baldwin, Louise Erdrich, Marilynne Robinson, Philip Roth. What is the self, and how is it shaped? By place, family, health, class? Is the self shaped by circumstance; and, if so, how does the self exceed or escape circumstance? The coming-of-age story explores these questions and will be our jumping off point for learning the craft of fiction. We will begin with the landscape of childhood—the complex fictions we heard, saw, and felt around us—and how, as writers, we leap from the “actual” to the artifice of fiction. What, then, is a story? How do we find the stories that we need to tell and then tell in a voice of our own making? What are the strategies of short fiction? In our year together, we will begin by gathering the tools of fiction—character, scene, narration, dialogue, place, time, situation—and seeing how these gather, twist, and shape into necessary fictions. We will read a wide variety of authors—not as students of literature but as fiction writers breaking it down to understand how the story was made. Students will be writing every day, completing weekly writing assignments and working on longer stories and revisions. This course in the art of fiction will also be a course in necessity, wonder, and reverence—which are, finally, what generate great fiction.
We will focus on reading and writing poems with the understanding that the poem is a made object. To that end, we’ll think a lot about strategies into and through and out of poems—syntax, sentence-making, line-making and, of course, music. What is our responsibility to the poem and in the poem will be questions engaged in the workshop.