Nelly Reifler

The Ellen Kingsley Hirschfeld Chair in Writing

BA, Hampshire College. MFA, Sarah Lawrence College. Author of a story collection, See Through, and a novel, Elect H. Mouse State Judge; fiction in magazines and journals, including Story, Tweed’s, BOMB, McSweeney’s, Nerve, Black Book, The Milan Review, and Lucky Peach, as well as in the anthologies 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11, Lost Tribe: New Jewish Fiction From the Edge, Found Magazine’s Requiem for a Paper Bag, and No Near Exit: Writers Select Their Favorite Work From Post Road Magazine. Fiction also read on NPR’s Selected Shorts and as an Audible à la carte edition. Recipient of a Henfield Prize, a UAS Explorations Prize, and a Rotunda Gallery Emerging Curator grant for work with fiction and art. Writer in Residence, Western Michigan University, 2014; recommendations editor at Post Road, 2010-present. SLC, 2002–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023

Writing

The Rules—and How to Break Them: A Prose Process Class

Open, Large seminar—Spring

In this class, we will interrogate and test the rules for writing fiction. We’ll look at how some writers explode those rules—and we’ll see how we can do the same in our own writing by asking questions. What does it mean when we ask what’s at stake in a story? What makes dialogue believable? How do we create embodied characters? What makes an ending resonate? How do we build cohesive worlds? What is a beginning? An end? With an eye toward playfully disrupting the rules of fiction, we’ll use lists, footnotes, erasures, numbering, and omissions; we’ll study verb mood, unexpected points of view, and tense; and we’ll collaborate on other formulae that can help us and our readers find new paths to our imaginations. Students will work with writing assignments, play writing games, and do in-class exercises to generate narratives. Most conferences will be small-group meetings, with time set aside for individual conferences as well. Conference work will focus on expanding and fine-tuning what we have written; each student will finish the semester with several complete pieces of fiction. We will read work by authors such as Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Yasunari Kawabata, Gari Lutz, Anton Chekhov, Elizabeth Crane, Padgett Powell, Katherine Anne Porter, Octavia Butler, Robert Lopez, Matthew Sharpe, Renee Gladman, D. Foy, Stefanie Sobelle, and members of the Oulipo movement.

Faculty

The Voice: A Fiction Workshop

Open, Seminar—Fall

This workshop will focus on the process of finding and deepening voice as the vernacular of your imagination. We will build stories and their inhabitants using source material that is meaningful to each of us: literature, of course, but also music, film and video, visual art, semiotics, fashion, architecture, games, urban myths, family lore and history, our ever-shifting identities, and more. We will work toward writing the voices that feel most true to us and shaping stories based on our own visions for narrative itself. We will read work by writers such as Samuel Beckett, Jayne Ann Phillips, Virginia Woolf, Mitchell S. Jackson, Garielle Lutz, Carmen Maria Machado, Robert Lopez, D. Foy, and Shelly Oria. We will also listen to music, watch videos and excerpted films, look at art, and examine popular culture and our own families as if we were anthropologists. We will work to shed ideas of what we should be writing and discover what’s already inside us ready to be written.

Faculty

Graduate Courses 2022-2023

MFA Writing

Speculative Fiction Craft Class

Craft—Fall

In this class we will approach speculative fiction as an expression of daydreams, memories, nightmares, fantasies, anxieties, curiosities, projections, desires, and—most of all—the body. The primary focus will be building imaginary worlds with mindful attention to our unique lived experiences. We will work to put aside cerebral planning projects and rules that bind us to particular genres. And we will interrogate our assumptions about reality to expand our definitions of the unreal. Every class will include writing experiments that support each student’s imagination; each experiment will build upon the previous one. We will be reading work by published authors whose work reflects a similar process and may include Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Karin Tidbeck, Octavia Butler, Philip K. Dick, Helen Oyeyemi, Shelley Jackson, Renee Gladman, Chris Adrian, Amal El-Mohtar, Yasunari Kawabata, and others.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Writing

Realms of the Unreal: Speculative Fiction Workshop

Open, Seminar—Year

Although every work of fiction is a fantasy, fiction writers often strive to portray a cohesive reality. In this workshop, we will focus on writing and reading fiction that embraces fantastic, splintered, and speculative realities. We will focus on creating worlds from our dreams, daydreams, collective myths, and imagined technologies. We'll treat our stories as laboratories that accommodate daring and complex experiments. We’ll talk about subjectivity and the scope of human perception—and explore how much of what we agree to call reality is itself a fantasy. We will also examine the precedents set in science fiction, fantasy, and other areas of literature that deal with the realms of the unreal. Authors whose work you may be assigned for class or conference include Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Philip K. Dick, William Burroughs, Octavia Butler, Judy Budnitz, Helen Oyeyemi, Karin Tidbeck, Cathy Park Hong, William Gibson, Paul LaFarge, Shelly Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, David Ohle, Samuel Delaney, Yasunari Kawabata, Angela Carter, and Dolan Morgan—along with theorists and philosophers such as Jean Baudrillard and Markus Gabriel. We’ll identify and discuss conventions within genres, both working within them and pushing against them.

Faculty

The Rules—and How to Break Them

Open, Seminar—Year

The first part of this yearlong class will be modeled after a graduate-level craft fiction class. We will examine and discuss fundamental craft terms, as well as the generally accepted contemporary rules for writing fiction. We’ll look at how some writers explode those rules—and we’ll see how we can exploit the rules in our own writing. The craft class will segue into a workshop, in which we will discuss student work each week using what we’ve learned about craft rules and rule-breaking. We’ll be reading work by published authors, such as Katherine Anne Porter, Anton Chekhov, Octavia Butler, Raymond Carver, Robert Lopez, E. M. Forster, Samuel Beckett, Helen Oyeyemi, Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Joy Williams, Barry Hannah, Denis Johnson, Renee Gladman, Elizabeth Crane, Shelly Jackson, Gary Lutz, and others.

Faculty

The Rules—and How to Break Them: A Prose Process Class

Open, Large seminar—Fall

In this class, we will interrogate and test the rules for writing fiction. We’ll look at how some writers explode those rules. And we’ll see how we can do the same in our own writing by asking questions. What does it mean when we ask what’s at stake in a story? What makes dialogue believable? How do we create embodied characters? What makes an ending resonate? How do we build cohesive worlds? What is a beginning? An end? With an eye toward playfully disrupting the rules of fiction, we’ll use lists, footnotes, erasures, numbering, and omissions; we’ll study verb mood, unexpected points of view, and tense; and we’ll collaborate on other formulae that can help us and our readers find new paths to our imaginations. Students will work with writing assignments, play writing games, and do in-class exercises to generate stories. Conference work will focus on expanding and fine-tuning what we have written; each student will finish the semester with several complete pieces of fiction. We will read work by authors such as Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Yasunari Kawabata, Gari Lutz, Philip K. Dick, Anton Chekhov, Elizabeth Crane, Robert Lopez, Matthew Sharpe, Renee Gladman, D. Foy, Stefanie Sobelle, and members of the Oulipo movement.

Faculty

The Rules—and How to Break them: A Prose Process Class

Open, Large seminar—Spring

In this class, we will interrogate and test the rules for writing fiction. We’ll look at how some writers explode those rules—and we’ll see how we can do the same in our own writing by asking questions. What does it mean when we ask what’s at stake in a story? What makes dialogue believable? How do we create embodied characters? What makes an ending resonate? How do we build cohesive worlds? What is a beginning? An end? With an eye toward playfully disrupting the rules of fiction, we’ll use lists, footnotes, erasures, numbering, and omissions; we’ll study verb mood, unexpected points of view, and tense; and we’ll collaborate on other formulae that can help us and our readers find new paths to our imaginations. Students will work with writing assignments, play writing games, and do in-class exercises to generate stories. We will read work by authors such as Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Yasunari Kawabata, Gari Lutz, Philip K. Dick, Anton Chekhov, Elizabeth Crane, Robert Lopez, Matthew Sharpe, Renee Gladman, D. Foy, Stefanie Sobelle, and members of the Oulipo movement.

Faculty

MFA Writing

Fiction Craft

Craft—Spring

All fiction is written taking into account the basic constraints of prose: grammar, punctuation, and the formal standards of style. In this class, we will explore the use of imposed structures to build compelling, surprising works of fiction. A writing constraint can be as hypnotic as an illusionist’s sleight of hand, freeing the writer’s mind for magic. We’ll cover a range of topics over the course of the semester—from point of view to the passage of time to embodied characters and beyond—and use our experiments to explore them fully. We’ll also take different approaches to intentionally breaking established rules. Students will work with writing assignments, play writing games, and occasionally collaborate to generate stories. There will be opportunities throughout the course to apply what we’re doing to works that students already have in progress. We’ll read pieces created using such techniques by authors such as Garielle Lutz, Shelley Jackson, Thomas Bernhard, Georges Perec, Robert Lopez, Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Renee Gladman, Jen Bervin, Matthew Sharpe, Elizabeth Crane, and others. We’ll also discuss some theories around constraints in writing. We’ll talk with contemporary authors about their writing processes, and each student will design a constraint that we will use for writing in class. Poets and nonfiction students are welcome in this class.

Faculty

Fiction Craft: The Prose Experiment

Craft—Spring

All fiction is written taking into account the basic constraints of prose: grammar, punctuation, and the formal standards of style. In this class, we will explore the use of other structures to build compelling, surprising works of fiction. A writing constraint can be as hypnotic as an illusionist’s sleight of hand, freeing the writer’s mind for magic. We’ll examine the effects of lists, footnotes, erasures, numbering, and omissions; the impact of experiments with verb mood, unexpected points of view, and tense; different approaches to intentionally breaking established rules; and the ways in which other formulae can help us and our readers find new paths to our imaginations. Students will work with writing assignments, play writing games, and occasionally collaborate to generate stories. We’ll read fiction—created using such techniques—by authors such as Gertrude Stein, Thomas Bernhard, Georges Perec, Robert Lopez, Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Renee Gladman, Joshua Ferris, Matthew Sharpe, Elizabeth Crane, and others. We’ll also discuss some theories around constraints in writing. We’ll talk with contemporary authors about their writing processes, and each student will design a constraint that we will use for writing in class.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

The most delicate choices a writer makes significantly affect a story or novel. In this workshop, we'll take a closeup look at your fiction: we'll focus on precision of language, explore the mysteries and mechanics of point of view, and talk about building a stable world with words. We'll treat our stories as laboratories of the imagination that accommodate daring and complex experiments.

Empathy is a prerequisite for discussing each other's work effectively. In workshop discussions we'll cultivate articulate critiques that always keep the writers' intentions in mind. Revision will be emphasized; over the course of the semester each student will revise a story or novel excerpt at least twice and will have the option to workshop different drafts. The published works we read for class and conference will be chosen in response to students' writing and will include authors such as Gary Lutz, Denis Johnson, David Bezmozgis, Rivka Galchen, Anton Chekhov, Junot Diaz, Barry Hannah, Octavia Butler, Katherine Anne Porter, David Ohle, Yasunari Kawabata, and Joy Williams.

Faculty

Speculative Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

Although every work of fiction is a fantasy, fiction writers often strive to portray reality. In this workshop, we will focus on writing and reading fiction that embraces the fantastic. We will focus on creating worlds from our dreams and daydreams. We’ll treat our stories as laboratories of the imagination that accommodate daring and complex experiments. We’ll talk about subjectivity and the scope of human perception—and explore how much of what we agree to call reality is itself a fantasy. We will also examine the precedents set in science fiction, fantasy, and other areas of literature that deal with the realms of the unreal. Authors whose work you may read for class or conference include Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Philip K. Dick, William Burroughs, Octavia Butler, Judy Budnitz, Helen Oyeyemi, Karin Tidbeck, Cathy Park Hong, William Gibson, Paul LaFarge, Shelly Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, David Ohle, Samuel Delaney, Yasunari Kawabata, Angela Carter, and Dolan Morgan, along with theorists and philosophers such as Jean Baudrillard and Markus Gabriel. We’ll identify and discuss conventions within genres, both working within them and pushing against them. 

Faculty