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 2017-2018

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 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

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

Previous Courses

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

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

This class will combine discussions of student work with writing exercises and readings in critical theory and psychology. We'll also read stories from published writers whose work serves a given discussion. We’ll talk about narrative approaches using psychic distance; fiction as dream; fiction as desire; the role of the unconscious; repetition and difference; and metaphor theory. Rather than cling to what we "know" in artful, literary fiction, I'm a firm believer in Cynthia Ozick's tenet: "When you write about what you don't know, this means you begin to think about the world at large. You begin to think beyond the home-thoughts. You enter dream and imagination...it's our will to enter the world...." The most grounded realism needs to enter the reader's mind like a dream. It needs to leave the reader a complete stranger to its world, even after they've finished reading. I want to get the class thinking about entering the broader world, about writing stories that don't ever leave their readers

Faculty

Studies in Form

Craft—Fall

Students will explore techniques for generating, revising, and conceptualizing our fiction's deep structure, using ideas drawn from common and uncommon sources. We’ll discuss organizing principles found in organic matter, chance operations, dreams, psychology, narratology, mimesis, music theory, and film studies, among others. I’d like to convey just how many ways we can look at a text and find art in its arrangement. I feel that the more you know about the possibilities of form, the more you can stray from convention in your fiction without losing its cohesion and resonance. This class will touch on some topics that I discuss in workshop but will go much deeper, extending ideas and introducing many new ones.

Faculty