BSJ, Northwestern University. MA, University of Chicago. Author of two novels, O Fallen Angel (Chiasmus Press) and Green Girl (Harper Perennial); a book of innovative nonfiction, Heroines (Semiotext(e)'s Active Agents); and at work on a novel, Switzerland (forthcoming from Harper). Also teaches in the writing programs at Barnard College and Columbia University. SLC, 2013–
Current undergraduate courses
In this course, we will think of the essay as coming from the French word essayer, to attempt, stemming from Montaigne’s playful and inquisitive practice. In class, you will read many examples of published essays that take different forms and routes for their wanderings and meditations, from the lyric to the adventurous, by essayists including Claudia Rankine, Anne Carson, Hilton Als, Maggie Nelson, Bhanu Kapil, Leslie Jamison, and others. We will think of what it means to write seriously and philosophically from the position of the self but also extend the self outwards, discussing writing about art, portraits of others, and other topics. And with this same sense of openness, you will write and workshop your own attempts. Open to prose writers and poets, anyone willing to read, write, and rewrite adventurously.
I don’t believe in rules to follow when writing and, if anything, I think writing is often most alive when it breaks preconceived rules. But what I do believe is that the key to writing is learning how to be a writer, which means learning how to exist in the space of the page and on the screen, the space of being alone in a room and developing a practice by reading, rewriting, and repeating. Being a writer often means failing and, hopefully, making discoveries through this failure. As Samuel Beckett has written: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” We will meet twice a week. In the first meeting, we will read and discuss student writing and then, by the second class, you will have read a range of wild texts that encourage playfulness with form—published fiction and essays on writing, including The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. We will be reading as writers in order to artfully steal, instigating weekly failures and experiments of your own. Although you will only be bringing to workshop two pieces for the semester, we will be writing and sharing other short writing in and out of class. I will also expect you to bring new writing or rewrites in conference. Open to anyone serious about the work and play needed.
In this graduate craft class, we will explore emerging literary forms that disrupt our concepts of what fiction should be through works that cross between and infuriate genre—still daring to call themselves novels, while incorporating memoir, criticism, biography, scholarship, theory, and poetics. We will be reading many examples of the nonfiction novel: the contemporary examples inspired by reality TV and the Internet, as well as their more (perhaps) political predecessors that include new narrative and associated works with their stewing in gossip, anecdote, literature, and theory. We will also be reading one work of genre-bending criticism. While reading and talking about how to discuss these works, we will examine ways in which these texts experiment not only with genre but also with narrative, structure, characterization, and plot. I will assign short, instigating exercises each week, where we will play with anecdote and aphorism and write real lives as fiction, and vice versa, culminating in a disruptive revision. Is the novel as we know it dead? Let’s celebrate, gleefully, in its wake. The reading list includes: Speedboat by Renata Adler, I Love Dick by Chris Kraus, Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D. H. Lawrence by Geoff Dyer, To After That (Toaf) by Renee Gladman, Great Expectations by Kathy Acker, Bluets by Maggie Nelson, I am Trying to Reach You by Barbara Browning, How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti, Taipei by Tao Lin, Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee, and Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields.