David Ryan

BA, University of Massachusetts. MFA, Bennington College. Author of Animals in Motion: Stories (Roundabout Press) and Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano: Bookmarked (Ig Publishing, 2017). His fiction has appeared in Esquire, Tin House, Fence, Electric Literature, BOMB, several Mississippi Review Prize issues, Denver Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, Salt Hill, Cimarron Review, Unsaid, failbetter, and others. Anthologies include Flash Fiction Forward (W. W. Norton); Boston Noir 2: The Classics (Akashic); and The Mississippi Review: 30 Years. Essays, reviews, and interviews in The Paris Review, Tin House, BOMB, Bookforum, The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Fiction (Oxford University Press), and others. Recipient of a MacDowell fellowship and a Connecticut state arts grant. Co-founding editor of Post Road Magazine, where he currently edits the Fiction and Theatre sections. SLC, 2013–

Graduate Courses

Writing 2018-2019

Speculative Fiction Workshop: Un-Realism

Workshop—Fall

Paul Ricoeur has suggested that written language—through the unique process by which the human brain converts metaphor into image—can make real what in our day-to-day reality would be tangibly impossible. In other words, we can, through the written word, draw from the ether of madness and real-ize it. It’s unique to the word on the page, our brain’s translation of a little cipher into the letter a,” a combination of ciphers into a word, our internal transmutation of that word into a sound-image—which, combined with other sound-images, produces breathing dreams of logic and paradox and joy and terror and narrative drive. And it’s an internal process that other forms of narrative—like cinema or television or theatre—don’t require of our brains. This internal combustion of words and memories is an amazing alchemy that we, as writers, engineer. We can transfer madness onto a page and make it hard and material. It’s that transference and burnishing of madness—of manipulating metaphor into reality—that I want you to understand deeply and be able to use in new ways by the end of this workshop…to know how to make anything startling and real…to send anyone into the breathing dream. So, rather than a speculative fiction workshop, we might call this an un-realism workshop. We’ll spend about half of each session workshopping student writing but will devote the rest of the time to outside reading: theory and fiction relating to the parable form, Freudian dream work, mise en abyme, frame narrative, mazes, pattern language, conceptual metaphor, surrealism, magical realism, anti-realism, and irrealism. Some caveats: The reading list will be ambitious and mandatory. I tend to run on at the mouth with abstraction, pointy-headed digression, 10-cent words, and apparent non sequiturs. I’ll aggressively point out clichés that you thought were just fine and stop you from writing television shows. If you’re okay with all the above, let’s work together.

Faculty

Fiction Craft: Plot/Unplot: Structure, Voice, and the Narrative Unconscious

Craft—Fall

This class will discuss what makes contemporary narrative move. We’ll begin with some fundamental ideas on plot and form, then progress to less traditional thoughts on narrative’s internal circuitry. Each story that we tell is a kind of consciousness with its own repressed activity living in the space around the words. This narrative unconscious—the madness within the syntax and word choice of its symbolic order—is critical to a reader’s engagement. It’s the heat in a story, the daemonic life within the text. But what is this heat? Why do certain stories have it while others don’t? How do we produce it in our own writing? We’ll start with Aristotle’s Poetics—his ideas on tragic vs. epic plots, unity, and magnitude. How do they relate to contemporary structure and dynamics? I’ll show you how we can adapt them to suit more open and fragmented forms. Then we’ll move into theories of the narrative unconscious: the sublime, Duende, the uncanny, abjection. How is creative writing a kind of madness of language? What does John Dewey mean when he says that art is a “living creature”? How—through plot and the distortions of ambiguity, ellipsis, fragmentation, and metaphor—do we navigate that line between internal logic and creative force? Readings will move from somewhat conventional formal structures to more open forms—Paula Fox, Denis Johnson, Emily Holmes Coleman, Henry Green, Michael Ondaatje, and Jenny Erpenbeck. Theory will draw from Aristotle, Dewey, Bergson, Chatman, Barthes, Freud, Bly, Lorca, Lacan, and Kristeva. Weekly writing exercises will produce self-contained flash pieces, using plot in compressed, unconventional ways to support and counter the week’s theory and creative readings.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

This workshop will take a hybrid approach to the traditional roundtable discussion of student work. We’ll discuss student work; but we’ll also spend significant class time talking about theories on narrative structure and form, linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. We’ll read and analyze published fiction and creative nonfiction that illustrates how the theory can leave the conceptual realm and be useful to creating work—because, as important as it is to be writing as much as possible right now, it’s as important to bend and broaden your understanding of the ways in which people perceive and dream and hope and remember and forget. These are the drivers of narrative as much as they are of living. So we’ll read and discuss philosophical and psychological texts; we’ll look into dreams and memory, metaphor, formal symmetry, dialectical method, the uncanny, desire, and whatever else seems suited to the class. Where in past workshops I've focused on shorter published work to read—short stories, mostly—I'd like to spend time on entire novels and story collections this time around, with a couple of weeks devoted to flash fiction. We’ll also work on mandatory writing prompts that further internalize the class discussions.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

This workshop will take a hybrid approach to the traditional roundtable discussion of student work. We’ll discuss student work but will also spend significant class time talking about theories on narrative structure and form, linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. We’ll read and analyze published fiction and creative nonfiction that illustrates how the theory can leave the conceptual realm and be useful to creating work. Because, as important as it is to be writing as much as possible right now, it’s as important to bend and broaden your understanding of the ways in which people perceive and dream and hope and remember and forget. These are the drivers of narrative as much as they are of living. So we’ll read and discuss philosophical and psychological texts, we’ll look into dreams and memory, metaphor, formal symmetry, dialectical method, the uncanny, desire, and whatever else seems suited to the class. Where in past workshops I’ve focused on shorter published work to read—short stories, mostly—I’d like to spend time on entire novels and story collections this time around, with a couple of weeks devoted to flash fiction. We’ll also work on mandatory writing prompts that further internalize the class discussions.

Faculty

Creative Nonfiction Workshop: Writing Yourself Into the Truth

Open , Seminar—Spring

In this creative nonfiction workshop, we'll read and critique each other's work; but we'll also read established writers and learn concepts relating to structure, form, plot, reception theory, drama, and suspense. Though we tend to associate some of these ideas with fiction and film, they just as easily can be harnessed to create compelling nonfiction. The real thing here is to better understand how we shape conscious experience from the chaos of our lives into something artful. So our readings will include not just nonfiction but also autobiographical fiction, parable, and anything else that seems useful along the way. We'll learn how to find the center of interest that is living, but sometimes hiding, in our work—how to tease it out and intensify it. If truth informs what we have to say about ourselves and the world, paradox and desire give that interest the energy it needs to be compelling to others. So we'll write about ourselves without losing sight of what makes that truth complicated, dramatic, and enduring.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

I feel there are different ways to get better at writing. One is the technical approach: studying and improving syntax, form, pacing—the way you put your ideas together. But I believe you also can improve by working on the organization of your perception, your thinking. Because if you clarify your thinking—i.e., try to expose the machinery behind the desire to read and write—your writing can improve with the deeper imprint of your own voice. John Cage refers to the experience of the sublime in the “time-arts” (such as literature) as a combination of “clarity” and “grace.” We experience clarity through the cold, precise, physical articulation of the text. This is technique's currency—we must get our words right. But grace comes from somewhere else. It's the spirit of the articulation. It’s what makes a reader feel something that transcends simple clarity. I believe grace comes from developing your perception as a writer. In this workshop, we will come at both clarity and grace. We’ll workshop each week in a traditional manner. But we’ll also read from texts in psychology, philosophy, and linguistics, emphasizing ideas that sharpen creative perception by looking inside the world. We’ll look at creative writing’s relationship to desire, memory, dream, space and time, recursion, contingency, involution, and more. All theory readings will be paired with published fiction, poetry, and memoir that demonstrates how the ideas shape actual creative writing, how they can be useful to our own writing.

Faculty