Writing Courses

One of the oldest programs of its kind in the country, Sarah Lawrence’s nationally recognized Graduate Writing Program brings students into close mentoring relationships with active, distinguished writers. Students concentrate in fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry, developing a personal voice while honing their writing and critical abilities.

The program seeks to enroll students who bring rich life experience to the writing process and fosters a stimulating community of writers who get to know one another in workshop discussions and remain connected throughout their lives. In addition to workshops, students benefit from one-on-one biweekly conferences with faculty. There are plenty of opportunities to read, hear, and share work on campus, including a monthly reading series, a festival that brings nationally known writers to campus, and an annual literary publication.

2017-2018 Courses

Writing

Poetry Workshop/Mixed-Genre Craft

Workshop—Spring

Poetry students may take this class as either a craft class OR a workshop. Please email Paige Ackerson-Kiely (packerson@sarahlawrence.edu) if you have any questions.

In this class, we will read and discuss books that do not fit cleanly in a single genre, work that blurs the boundaries between poetry and prose or fiction and memoir. Authors to be read include: Maggie Nelson, Eula Biss, Aurelie Sheehan, Eliza Griswold, Ben Lerner, and others. Half of each class will be devoted to discussing the weekly book. The other half of each class will be spent discussing student work. So the class itself will be a hybrid of craft and multi-genre workshop. Students will be encouraged, but not required, to embark on a project that explores hybrid forms. For workshop, students can bring in poetry or prose or anything in between. There will be biweekly one-on-one conferences, where any genre of creative writing will be welcome and discussed.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

The formulaic nature of many fiction writing workshops seems (to me) antithetical to what it means to make art. I’ve been trying desperately for years now—with varying degrees of success—to find a way to “teach” writing that feels open, honest, and playful. Want to know what I’d like? For a class to encourage innovation and experimentation, to come to the collective epiphany that the possibilities for story are endless and that not everything that comes through the classroom has to be discussed in terms of what John Hawkes once called “the enemies of fiction”—plot, character, setting, and theme. I am suspicious of peer critique that uses, as its engine, the words “I want.” In an ideal situation, we would try to see stories from the inside-out and try to imagine how they might become more purely what they are rather than something that we want them to be. We would value language, style, and structure. Voice would take precedence over plot. We would encourage ambitious failure more than careful success. We would applaud a writer for taking a risk rather than bury her for the risk’s inscrutability. We wouldn’t treat every story as something to be made publication-ready and wouldn’t be so small-bore in the way that we think and talk. These are ideas, of course, and tell you nothing about how I actually run my classroom. So here are a few things I’m (relatively) sure about. Each student will bring at least one story into the classroom over the course of the semester. We will often write in response to prompts designed to help you find a voice, take a chance, do something you wouldn’t expect of yourself. We will, on two or three occasions, take a break from our routine to discuss a great (and, for those of you who don’t know me, likely unorthodox) novel. We will try to spend some time talking about aesthetics and discussing essays from writers of all stripes who think they’ve got it all figured out. It’s having it all figured out that scares me. In the end, I want us to follow Socrates’ lead and to realize that we only know that we know nothing. Every class should be equal parts rigor, play, and discovery. If this sounds interesting, show up and we’ll work out the details.

Faculty

Nonfiction Craft: Experiments in Form

Craft—Spring

Creative nonfiction is a fusion of genres. It uses elements of fiction such as dialogue, scene, character, and metaphor. It also uses the tools of poetry, journalism, memoir, and even visual art to tell its stories. In this class, we’ll see how this open field of possibility allows us to adventure into new kinds of expression, style, and form. We’ll see how these newly crafted modes uniquely position us, as writers, to be agents of social and political change and to practice finding the universal in our personal stories. To this end, we’ll discuss the use of research: how to conduct it, its ethical boundaries, and how to balance it with personal content. We’ll also explore the possibilities of point of view, tense, and voice and practice using them as tools of storytelling. This class will involve assigned readings, in-class discussions, sharing and discussion of student work, written responses, and writing prompts to help you find the voice and shape of your creative nonfiction. Among our readings will be works by Hilton Als, Leslie Jamison, Patty Yumi Cottrell, Wayne Koestenbaum, Kelly Sundberg, Italo Calvino, Durga Chew Bose, Mary Ruefle, Anna Journey, Elena Passarello, Emily Witt, Justin Taylor, Margo Jefferson, Lidia Yuknavitch, Diana Spechler, T. Kira Madden, Jacqueline Woodson, and John Jeremiah Sullivan.

Faculty

Speculative Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

 There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns. —Octavia Butler

This speculative fiction workshop will be a home for those strange stories that grow outside the manicured gardens of the real. We will interpret “speculative” broadly, welcoming stories of science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, weird literature, and anything in between. Student work will be the center of class, but we will also spend time honing our “imaginative literacy”—our understanding of different genre conventions and traditions. We’ll discuss worldbuilding, horror vs. terror, fairy tale structures, and other concepts to deepen our appreciation and craft. Because genres are, in a sense, large conversations between artists, we will also discuss outside readings from authors such as Ray Bradbury, Kelly Link, Julio Cortazar, Gene Wolfe, Franz Kafka, Ursula K. Le Guin, Ted Chiang, Shirley Jackson, and more (including writers that you love and recommend).

Faculty

Speculative Fiction Craft: Science Fiction

Craft—Spring

For the last hundred years or so, science fiction has been a way for writers to imagine the future but also, implicitly or explicitly, to think about the present. In this craft class, we’ll read genre and mainstream works from the 1920s to the 2010s, with particular attention to the ways in which science fiction uses language to create a world and the ways in which its created worlds cast light on technology, gender, race, politics, and other human notions.

Faculty

Poetry Craft: Powers of the Strange and Particular: Topics in Craft

Craft—Spring

How can reading or writing a poem be an act of resuscitation? An awakening of one’s “sight,” one’s mind and questions? How do writers cultivate encounter, observation, and imagination to tip and trouble language into experience? In this course, we will explore a range of texts that inspire wonder and exemplify the powers of imaginative practice(s)/strategies. Studying writers whose work is original, strange, wondering, we will consider the gifts of mystery and strangeness in poems (and here I am hearing Paul Celan in “The Meridian,” translated by Pierre Joris: “The poem estranges. It estranges by its existence, by the mode of its existence, it stands opposite and against one, voiceful and voiceless simultaneously, as language, as language setting itself free, as language in statu nascendi—as Valery once said”). Together we will work to understand some of the ways in which the texts are working while also engaging in experiments and studies to awaken our own idiosyncratic ways of saying and seeing. We will read approximately one book of poems a week, along with supplementary materials. As a way of learning with the materials, class participants will be expected to write poems in response to writing experiments, give in-class presentations on assigned topics in craft, and write several short responses/papers to texts. The course will be reading- and writing-intensive. It will also be a kind of laboratory for trying and making. Among the artists whose work we will study are Federico García Lorca, Hélène Cixous, Ilya Kaminsky, Lucille Clifton, Larry Levis, Paul Celan, Lucie Brock-Broido, Vanessa Villareal, Mary Ruefle, Toi Derricotte, J. Michael Martinez, Ross Gay, W.S. Merwin, and Kimiko Hahn. Key topics in craft include: diction, syntax, line, place, metaphor, image, and structure.

Faculty

Fiction Mixed-Genre Craft: Auto/Other

Craft—Spring

What can we think about when thinking about writing real people, whether it's about someone we know or someone from history? It seems like the right moment in the contemporary to think seriously about the ethics and aesthetics of both the autoportrait and the portrait of others, which can range from a consideration of character to that of biography. What if there were other forms of literature that weren’t reduced to nonfiction versus fiction? What if we thought of texts as being friendships, or autopsies, or elegies, or investigations? In this prose craft class, we will read texts (mostly novels and essays) that are often about the self, as well as looking outwards, to a consideration of others. We’ll be thinking through innovative literary works that might include Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, Sophie Calle’s Address Book, Anne Carson’s Nox, Danielle Dutton’s Margaret the First, César Aira’s An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, Édouard Levé’s Suicide, and Chris Kraus’s Aliens and Anorexia.

Faculty

Nonfiction/Mixed-Genre Craft: Fact and Research in Fiction

Craft—Spring

This course will explore the complex issues regarding the use of factual material in all forms of creative writing, as well as give students practical experience and guidance in various types of research and reporting. The class will begin by trying to pin down the surprisingly enigmatic concepts of “fact” and “truth” and move on to explore through readings, discussion, and brief writing assignments questions such as: What is my obligation to the “truth”? How much should I care about the feelings or reputations of my living subjects? When should I commence research? When should I stop? Are truth and beauty allies or enemies? How do I handle a hostile interview subject? How do I organize my files so that I can easily access the results of my research? During the first half of the course, students will write brief assignments focusing on particular issues regarding the use of fact. The last half of the course will be devoted to workshops of longer pieces—in any form—that the students will write in consultation with the teacher. Students will also be instructed in library and Internet research, and libel and copyright law. There will be bi-weekly one-on-one conferences.

Faculty

Mixed-Genre Craft: Reading for Writers

Craft—Spring

To become a really strong writer, the most useful and interesting thing that you can do is to become a really strong reader. (It is the way good writers have always learned how to write.) In this course, we will explore a range of compelling works—in fiction, drama, poetry, and film—with the aim of understanding how those texts work and why they succeed as well as they do. As you retrace closely the footsteps of the literary imagination, you will widen and deepen your own work in any genre. Our informal class discussions will be oriented toward the project of expanding your awareness of options and choices and toward acquiring new techniques. Texts will include: Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse; Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory; Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day; G. B. Shaw’s drama, Saint Joan; Samuel Beckett's one-act play, Krapp's Last Tape; the Epstein Brothers and Howard Koch’s screenplay for Casablanca; poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, Walt Whitman, Stanley Kunitz, D.H. Lawrence, and others.  In addition to Casablanca, films will include The Sting, The Fallen Idol, Babette's Feast, and The Lives of Others.

Faculty

Poetry Craft: Kitchen Sink

Craft—Spring

This craft class will be a both a conceptual and and an exercise-driven romp through some of the more vexing, but healthy, dichotomies in modern and contemporary poetry: Intensity and intimacy/line and syntax/emotion and tone/speech and writing/lyric and narrative/voice and vocal acuity/address and angles of address/opening and closing/description and perception/craft and art. In each session, we will be bicameral: part lecture and discussion-based, part exercise, workshop and play. We will explore the mechanics and thinking behind some of these forces that shape how poems move, develop, and generate themselves.

Faculty

Fiction Craft Class: Not the Usual Suspects: Examining the Fiction of Women and People of Color

Craft—Spring

In his essay, “White Flights,” author Jess Row writes, “Deracination is a long-lived and nearly universal trope in white American literature and it remains an ideal and covert fantasy in a country which today is about as far from racially homogenous as has been possible in the history of humankind.” In her essay, "The Second Shelf," Meg Wolitzer notes that "women get shockingly short shrift as reviewers and reviewees in most prestigious publications." Becoming better close readers is the primary goal of this class. In the stories that we read, we will examine elements of craft—dialogue, setting, voice, plot, rate of revelation, etc. By learning to read well with a writer’s eye, much can be learned regarding your own work—and, hopefully, your enjoyment of reading fiction will increase as well. But alongside that traditional effort, we will spend some time talking about the intersections of craft with some of these issues: How is race indicated? What is the place of dialect and vernacular? What is cultural appropriation, and how does one avoid it, confront it, discuss it? How does sexuality and gender play out in the work of some women writers? We will read a lot of fiction, as well as nonfiction, that examines these issues. And we will spend a little time discussing the meaning/place of race within literature and within the creative writing industrial complex. Among the authors read will be ZZ Packer, Danielle Evans, Sherman Alexie and others. 

Faculty

Nonfiction Craft: Cultural Criticism: A Conversation Between Readers and Writers

Craft—Spring

We grow as writers by responding to the work of others. George Bernard Shaw was a theatre critic before he was a playwright. Dave Eggers was a reviewer before he was a novelist and memoirist. This nonfiction craft class will explore the role that opinion plays in the arts and allow you to try your hand at several forms of writing—the critical essay, the short reported piece, the online review—that may be new to you. We will also be looking at how technology is changing the shape of opinion, criticism, and recommendation—and asking the following sorts of questions: How important is expertise when one is passing judgment on something? What is the role of "voice" in criticism? How does the medium (magazine, television, blog) affect the message? Does everyone’s opinion matter? No familiarity with any of the aforementioned is necessary for this class! Its primary purpose is to unleash your Inner Cultural Critic by encouraging a lively exchange of ideas, honing your writing skills, and helping you find your voice—both in the classroom and on the page!

Faculty

Poetry Workshop: Cardinal Paradise: Poets Imagine Their First Books

Workshop—Spring

What makes for a compelling first book? What is the force, wonder, and (dare we say) awe that drives a writer to create his/her very first collection of poems? What are the elements of an engaging book that summon a loyal readership? Can we see the experience of writing a first book not as toil but as an introduction to our initial song and paradise? In this class, we will read first books by poets that include: Lucie Brock-Broido, Eduardo Corral, Marie Howe, Ilya Kaminsky, Suji Kwock Kim, Rickey Laurentiis, Danez Smith, and Ocean Vuong, among many others. While we discuss image, feeling, narrative, persona, memory, monologue, and witness, we’ll also devote ourselves to technical devices such as manuscript orchestration, formal strategies, structure, rhythm, sound, and the ever-elusive book title—and even more elusive personal voice. We’ll read a book a week, engaging with the exciting differences from book to book, discussing time, history, and the environment in which each book was written while finding its connection to your own process of first manuscript development. Students are expected to experiment, write, revise, read consistently, and be passionate about creation.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop: Graduate Workshop in Novel and Linked Stories

Workshop—Spring

The class is for students who are working on novels or on short stories that they plan to connect in some way. Workshops will ask what the fiction wants to mean and how it goes about conveying this. We’ll talk a good deal about shape and structure and creating narrative tension. Students will be asked to write tentative summaries for novels or annotated tables of contents for story collections and to think about how the parts will connect to the whole. Writers can expect their work to be read in sections rather than as completed entities. Most of the class time will be spent discussing student work, but we’ll also do outside reading and look at a range of examples.

Faculty

Ficton Workshop

Workshop—Spring

The dream of the perfect short story has haunted writers for as long as the form has been around. In this workshop, we'll be looking at the way a great story is more often a masterpiece of imperfection; that is, we’ll be exploring the tensions between constraint, elegance, and order on one hand and transcendence, disorder, and "lifeness" on the other—and the strange harmonics that can arise from all of the above. Each writer will be asked to turn in two stories and one radical revision. Along the way, we’ll be reading and arguing with work by Grace Paley, Deborah Eisenberg, Edward P. Jones, Denis Johnson, and Mavis Gallant, among others.

Faculty

Mixed-Genre Craft/Poetry Workshop

Craft—Spring

Poetry students may take this class as either a craft class OR a workshop. Please email Paige Ackerson-Kiely (packerson@sarahlawrence.edu) if you have any questions.

In this class, we will read and discuss books that do not fit cleanly in a single genre, work that blurs the boundaries between poetry and prose or of fiction and memoir. Authors to be read include: Maggie Nelson, Eula Biss, Aurelie Sheehan, Eliza Griswold, Ben Lerner, and others. Half of each class will be devoted to discussing the weekly book. The other half of each class will be spent discussing student work. So the class itself will be a hybrid of craft and multigenre workshop. Students will be encouraged, but not required, to embark on a project that explores hybrid forms. For workshop, students can bring in poetry or prose or anything in between. There will be biweekly one-on-one conferences, where any genre of creative writing will be welcomed and discussed.

Faculty

Nonfiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring
This workshop will focus on the elements common to a wide range of nonfiction writing. We will examine and analyze the structure of the well-formed sentence, of the paragraph, of the personal essay and memoir fragment. Readings will be drawn from a wide range of contemporary and classic texts, and the class will be assigned exercises based on the readings. We will look closely, at some point in the semester, at contemporary experimental nonfiction writing. Students will also be asked to workshop at least two substantial pieces of nonfiction prose and a number of smaller pieces. We will investigate the issues surrounding the notions of style and voice and will spend a considerable amount of time thinking collectively about how factual material and research are accommodated within the stylistic constraints of literary texts. My expectation is that the discussions will be lively and civil and that everyone will contribute.
Faculty

Poetry Workshop: chaos, inherited form and exploration

Workshop—Spring

This generative workshop will function as a survey of what’s possible in your work. What’s of primary importance in this class is developing the clarity and range of your voice—to use form as a little boat that will help you stay afloat upon the wet chaos of literature. We’ll experiment with the necro-pastoral/ecopoetics, performance poetry, the lyric-essay, polyvocality, and documentary poetics, as well as more traditional inherited formal constraints such as the sonnet, sestina, and haibun. Be prepared to write a poem a week and to be extraordinarily generous with each other’s work and time. You’ll meet with me, one-on-one, once every other week. Readings include writing from Cameron-Awkward Rich, Quan Barry, Mary Ruefle, Eve Sedgwick, Yannis Ritsos, and many others.

Nonfiction Workshop: To Tell the Truth

Workshop—Spring

Hannah Arendt, quoting Kafka in Men in Dark Times: “It is difficult to speak the truth, for although there is only one truth, it is alive and therefore has a live and changing face."


This class will explore the mysteries of writing what has been called “nonfiction,’ focusing particularly on questions around what has been called lying and what has been called telling the truth. Was Toni Morrison right when she said our minds have an “antipathy to fraud”? Does lying have a syntax? What are the cultural contexts, nourishments, and manipulations that may affect what happens between a writer and a drafted or published sentence? What’s the difference between a lie that illuminates the truth and a lie that obfuscates or tries to extinguish it? Can popular writing lie? Is it possible to “tell the truth”? We will discuss drafts of student work in conference; in class, we’ll discuss readings, in light of the questions above, as a way of guiding our own makings. Our readings may include the work of James Baldwin, Anne Carson, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Jamaica Kincaid, Dionne Brand, Aimé Césaire, Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, Edward Said, Hannah Arendt, and Teju Cole, as well as that of Wallace Stegner, Henry Kissinger, William F Buckley Jr., and the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. You will be expected to attend class, engage with assigned and suggested readings, participate in discussions, and, by the end of the class, produce 20 pages of publishable nonfiction. The only prerequisites are a passion for reading that equals your passion for writing and a willingness to undertake whatever might be necessary to read and write better on our last day of class than on our first.

Faculty

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

Nonfiction Workshop: Writing About Ideas

Workshop—Spring

In this course, we will read and analyze essays that are, at most, only nominally about the person who is writing them. This will not, therefore, be a class in which the focus is on self-discovery; instead, it will be on discovery of something outside the self. In order to write meaningfully about the world around us, we must be engaged with it through thought and through other kinds of exploration. In this course, we’ll practice the art of thinking—which is harder than we might, well, think it is. It involves silence and separation from distraction and the hard work of developing a relationship with one’s own intellect. We’ll work on fluency in writing and will apply keen editing skills to our own sentences and paragraphs. It will be really fun.

Faculty

Speculative Craft: The Radical Fantastic: Speculative Fiction Against the Machine

Craft—Fall

Mythology has always played a central role in how we view and interact with our world. Junot Díaz said, “Tolkien could have been talking about the power of stories when he described his One Ring: stories rule us, they find us, they bring us together, they bind us, and, yes, they can pull us apart as well.”  More often than not, mainstream speculative fiction reiterates dominant normative fantasies about gender, race, and power in our society. But what about counternarratives? Throughout history, subversive writers have used science fiction and fantasy to explore possibilities of radical change and expand our ideas of what’s possible, often while looking with unflinching eyes at a bleak, desperate future. Change begins with the imagination; and in this course, we will stretch our imaginations toward a radically different future than the one we were given. We will read work from DuBois, Butler, LaValle, Alexie, Anzaldúa, Okorafor, and others. Additionally, we’ll discuss elements of narrative structure, world building, character development, voice, and rhythm.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

This fiction workshop will focus on the submissions of the participants alongside a handful of published works that we will read closely with an eye toward gleaning lessons from them to inform our compositional practices. Our discussions will marshal our highest intelligence in the service of helpful, cogent, respectful feedback about what works and what doesn’t in the pages under consideration. Over the course of the semester, and using both submissions and published works as points of departure for our conversations, we will explore the formal underpinnings of narrative art, emphasizing craft techniques such as: managing point of view and time, writing with the five senses, incorporating both showing and telling in one’s work, writing more effective dialogue, creating stakes, establishing voice, cultivating beauty, emphasizing conflict, promoting ambiguity and a multiplicity of interpretive possibilities, and scrupulously earning the kind of affect that is the opposite of kitsch. In-class writing exercises will be few; we will have plenty to talk about in our short time together every week. Supplemental works will be: Pastoralia by George Saunders; Runaway by Alice Munro; Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell; The Sellout by Paul Beatty; Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri; Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill; Dubliners by James Joyce; The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, ed. Tobias Wolff; and occasional handouts. (Any versions of these books are acceptable, including digital.)

Faculty

Nonfiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

The personal essay is an ancient form—Montaigne, Seneca, St. Augustine, and Sei Shonogan are early practitioners—with modern applications and implications. We'll discuss the context from which the essay arises and subjects that lend themselves well to the form. By analyzing successful models and exploring the contours, elements, and language of the essay, we’ll come to a deeper understanding of its purposes and pleasures. This workshop will encourage innovative approaches to the personal essay, as well as thoughtful use of poetic language, juxtaposition, and white space. We’ll discuss some of the forms that a personal essay may take, including the braid and lyric essay, wherein a steady accretion of key imagery and associations build meaning. Most importantly, perhaps, we will seek to make sense out of chaos by drawing threads of metaphor and connection across seemingly disparate landscapes. My goal is to dispense with notions of “appropriate” subject matter, or assertions that one must have lived an extraordinary or tragic life in order to write compelling nonfiction. To that end, we will work with the artifice of memory rather than against it. We will approach our work as conduits for awe, not as scribes for predetermined or too-familiar plot lines. Reading lists may include Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, Maggie Nelson, Octavio Paz, Italo Calvino, Justin Torres, Sarah Manguso, E. B. White, David Foster Wallace, Montaigne, Sei Shonogan, Anne Carson, and others.

Faculty

Pedagogy Craft and Internship: Teaching Good Prose

Craft—Fall

Prerequisites: Completion of at least two semesters in the MFA Writing program or permission of the instructor.

This course will prepare student-teachers with a working knowledge of theories, methods, and procedures for teaching functional and academic reading and writing skills to first-year college students. The course has two main components, which include attendance in the Teaching Good Prose pedagogy seminar held on Fridays from 2:30 to 4:10 p.m., as well as a supervised teaching assistantship in a freshman writing class at SUNY Purchase. In the pedagogy seminar, readings and class discussions will explore strategies for designing and teaching lessons that will improve students’ ability to compose analytical college essays; express ideas clearly and effectively in well-developed, focused arguments with relevant and adequate evidence; and use the style and conventions of standard academic prose. Student-teachers are supervised by the instructor and supervisors and are required to attend one class per week. Additionally, student-interns are expected to meet with students outside of class for 1-2 hours per week.

Faculty

Poetry Craft: 20th-Century Avant-Garde Poetry

Craft—Fall

This class will focus on the history of 20th-century avant-garde poetry. We will begin briefly in the 19th century with Charles Baudelaire, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Lautréamont, and Stéphane Mallarmé and then examine various avant-garde, experimental, and non-mainstream poetry movements, including Symbolism, Imagism, Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Harlem Renaissance, Négritude, Black Arts Movement, Black Mountain School, Beats, New York School, feminist poetry, Objectivism, cross-cultural poetics, ethnopoetics, spoken-word poetry, hip-hop, language poetry, concrete poetry, and more. We will end by focusing on recent trends, such as Flarf, conceptual writing, and digital poetry. Along the way, we will pause to talk more extensively about important figures in this history, such as T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Aimé Césaire, Charles Olson, Adrienne Rich, Amiri Baraka, John Ashbery, and Alice Notley, as well as read the work of a few younger writers. We will also occasionally reference parallel developments in 20th-century avant-garde art, theatre, and music. We will write poems inspired by, though not necessarily imitative of, materials presented in class.

Faculty

Mixed-Genre Craft: Beginnings

Craft—Fall

The moment when a spider sends out the first strands of a new web, or when a bird positions the first twigs of a new nest, the eternal contest between imaginative freedom and natural constraints begins. This course will explore the complexity of written beginnings through weekly readings of poems, essays, and narratives, both fictional and nonfictional. Decisions will have to be made concerning: Who is speaking the narrative, essay, or poem? Who is experiencing it? Who is receiving it? How much context (backstory) does the reader need at the outset? Where in the story should the telling of it begin, and what difference might that choice make? How do we pull or push the reader, decisively, through the looking glass, into this new world? And finally, how do we END the beginning, intriguingly, so the reader will want to move on to the MIDDLE? Readings will be chosen from works that raise these questions, and many others, in provocative and instructive ways. Students will lead the discussions each week (with the instructor) from a writer’s perspective.

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 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

Poetry Craft: Managing Your Material

Craft—Fall

In a good poem, the elements work together as a unit, just as our own combinations of body and mind work together. But if we are studying body and mind as medical students do, we would soon realize that it is impossible to consider all parts at once. The way to deal with a complicated subject is to look at it part by part.…[Regarding poetry,] we have to talk separately about the elements that make it up—such as imagery, diction, rhythm—even though we know they cannot exist in isolation.  —from “Western Wind” by John Frederick Nims

We will examine how poets manage their content by isolating elements such as diction, syntax, structure, pacing, tone, imagery, and metaphor, among others, so that we can see how the elements are working on their own and how they cooperate and don’t cooperate with each other. What decisions is the poet making? And how do those decisions influence us as readers? There will be assignments throughout the semester that include generating poems, reading, writing a short paper (two-to-three pages), teaching a poem to the class, and more. We will read work by Carson, Francis, McClain, and many others, both as full books and through class handouts. 

Faculty

Mixed-Genre Craft: Writing With Wit

Craft—Fall

Did you hear the one about the MFA student who blended strong prose with a sense of humor? Probably not, since so many don’t. Or maybe they‘re just not encouraged. In this workshop, you’ll learn to inject humor into your work by connecting with your comic voice. We’ll read and discuss the work of legendary humorists, including James Thurber and Dorothy Parker, as well as contemporary wits such as David Sedaris, Nora Ephron, Woody Allen, Ian Frazier, Merryl Markoe, Fran Lebowitz, and Sloane Crosley. Writing assignments will help strengthen your voice across four basic forms: the personal essay, the comic novel or short story, the topical news column, and the parody piece. We’ll also do some in-class exercises designed to shake off preconceived notions of “literary” prose and help you find the funny in the characters, dialogue, and situations that you create. Whether your goal is to pen a Shouts and Murmurs piece for The New Yorker, a post for McSweeney’s, or just loosen your style with a lighter touch, the first step is the same: Take your sense of humor seriously. Sample reading selections include: The Fun of It: Stories From The Talk of the Town, The New Yorker, Lillian Ross, ed.; I Found This Funny, Judd Apatow, ed.; selected interviews from And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations With Humor Writers (Sachs, ed.) and How To Write Funny, John Kachuba, ed.; Saturday Night, Susan Orlean; Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris; and The Onion.

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Fiction Craft: The Varieties of Narrative Style, or The How of Telling a Story

Craft—Fall

In the opening of Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, the narrator acknowledges to the reader the difficulties in explaining “Why” the calamities visited upon a particular family occurred—but then adds that the story as it unfolds will concern itself with “How.” This seems to be the challenge for every writer: to discover how to tell a story about the lives of specific human beings that will convey to the writer and the reader the meaning of those lives from perspectives which neither may have considered before. In this course, students will read 10 novels, along with essays about and interviews with the writers. Students will engage in class discussions, examining how particular narrative strategies—epistolary; first, second, and third person; multiple narrative perspective; dialogue and interior driven narratives; nonsequential narrative; story within a story; and mix of fiction and autobiography—are used by writers to present readers with a challenging relationship to the story they are trying to tell. Books: 84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff, The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, Snowdrops by A.D. Miller, The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta by Mario Vargas Llosa, The Appointment by Herta Muller, The Whites by Richard Price, An Ishmael of Syria by Asaad Almohammed, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, and Making It Up by Penelope Lively.

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Fiction Craft: Writing for the Screen—The Bullet-Proof Screenplay

Craft—Fall

Screenwriting is not so much a writing discipline as it is one allied with the tenants of the oral tradition of storytelling. In the best scripts, you are telling us your film. —Screenwriter/Director, Paul Schrader, Telluride, CO, 1989

In screenwriting, you show. You don’t tell. —Classic screenwriting adage (attributed to just about every screenwriting guru)

I wrote a beautiful script, and ‘they’ shot it—shot it full of holes—and made a terrible film. —Classic screenwriter lament (attributed to just about every screenwriter unhappy with his/her produced work)

In this graduate craft class, we will explore writing for the screen, be it silver, flat, computer-based, for iPad or smart-phone, et al. The aim is to understand how to create a “bullet-proof screenplay” in which a writer “tells” a film through prose that effectively “shows” what we see and what we hear moment-to-moment, articulating the action (“the doing”) of the characters and thereby revealing the emotional moments of recognition in the characters’ journey. Structured as a combination of seminar craft class along with some workshop-style exchanges, writers will journey through the nature and construct of the screenplay form. The fundamentals of character, story, world building, universe and setting, formatting, visual writing, dramatic action, tension, conflict, sequence structure, acts, and screenplay style will be explored. Analysis of published screenplays and peer work within the context of a productive environment will help writers hone a critical eye and develop skills to apply to troubleshooting one’s own work. Overall, the writer builds a screenwriter’s tool kit for use as future opportunities may emerge in writing for the screen. Skills learned in this craft class can be effectively applied to other threads of writing.  
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Nonfiction Craft: Writing From the Podium: The Sermonic American Essay

Craft—Fall

The essay, in its American incarnation, is a direct outgrowth of the sermon—developed out loud and for the purpose of persuading (and, just as importantly, entertaining) an audience. Beginning with Winthrop on the boat and Jonathan Edwards’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, our nonfiction tradition has been coaxing and argumentative, insistent and not infrequently irritating. The implications of this sermonic heritage can be found in the sentences, styles, voices, and attitudes of writers from Emerson and Douglass to Didion and Sontag. In this course, we will read and discuss sermons and speeches from the likes of Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinem, and Billy Graham, as well as a range of argumentative essays, and make work informed by the tendencies and strategies that we find.

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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.

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Poetry Workshop: The Unknown

Workshop—Fall

What moves people’s hearts, in every case, is the unknown….If so, wouldn’t it be a good thing to unknow the world? —Kenya Hara

This is a class about curiosity and inquisitiveness, about walking forward into the unknown and backward into the unknown. We will read texts in this vein, taking inspiration from Kenya Hara’s design text, Ex-formation, and Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit. Students will be expected to undertake biweekly, class-created writing experiments, such as: “Go to a part of the city that you’ve never been to before. Spend one hour on a bench looking only at people’s feet. Write a poem.” Texts and themes will include: Ex-formation by Kenya Hara, Grapefruit by Yoko Ono, Time/Here by Richard McGuire, Animals/What did We Do Wrong? by Fanny Howe, Love Love, an Index by Rebecca Lindenberg, Language/Look by Solmaz Sharif, Size/Complete Minimal Poems by Aram Saroyan, and Sleep/A Pillow Book by Suzanne Buffam.
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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

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

The formulaic nature of many fiction-writing workshops seems (to me) antithetical to what it means to make art. I’ve been trying desperately for years now—with varying degrees of success—to find a way to “teach” writing that feels open, honest, and playful. Want to know what I’d like? For a class to encourage innovation and experimentation, to come to the collective epiphany that the possibilities for story are endless, and for not everything that comes through the classroom to be discussed in terms of what John Hawkes once called “the enemies of fiction”—plot, character, setting, and theme. I am suspicious of peer critique that uses, as its engine, the words “I want.” In an ideal situation, we would try to see stories from the inside out and try to imagine how they might become more purely what they are rather than something we want them to be. We would value language, style, and structure. Voice would take precedence over plot. We would encourage ambitious failure more than careful success. We would applaud a writer for taking a risk rather than bury him/her for the risk’s inscrutability. We wouldn’t treat every story as something to be made publication-ready and wouldn’t be so small-bore in the way we think and talk. These are ideas, of course, and tell you nothing about how I actually run my classroom. So here are a few things I’m (relatively) sure about. Each student will bring at least one story into the classroom over the course of the semester. We will often write in response to prompts designed to help you find a voice, take a chance, do something you wouldn’t expect of yourself. We will, on two or three occasions, take a break from our routine to discuss a great (and, for those of you who don’t know me, likely unorthodox) novel. We will try to spend some time talking about aesthetics and discussing essays from writers of all stripes who think they’ve got it all figured out. It’s having it all figured out that scares me. In the end, I want us to follow Socrates’ lead and to realize that we only know that we know nothing. Every class should be equal parts rigor, play, and discovery. If this sounds interesting, show up—and we’ll work out the details.

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Fiction Workshop: Literary Journals and Writing

Workshop—Fall

Where do the stories come from that are featured in anthologies like Best American Poetry or the O. Henry Prize Stories? How does the fiction in Paris Review compare to that of Prairie Schooner? What sort of writers are published in Tin House? In Ploughshares? Who publishes in reviews and journals to begin with? In this workshop, we will read various literary journals, both online and in print format, as a way to answer these and other questions, as well as to discover new voices. In terms of writing, this workshop will be held in a traditional format, wherein students deliver their work a week in advance of the workshop and write up formal critiques of the fiction of their fellow writers. There will be writing exercises in addition to weekly readings of journals and critical essays. Literary journals can be sources of great reading and inspiration; becoming familiar with them might help you figure out where your own fiction might one day find a home.

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Poetry Workshop

Workshop—Fall

This course will focus intensively and humanistically on participants’ own work. Roughly a third of the discussion time will be devoted to classics and to work that will never be found in the canon. We’ll pay close attention to the development of the individual voice and examine poetics, prosody, issues of form and tone in contemporary and classical poetics, and the radically experimental text. We’ll focus on the revision process: How do artists push themselves toward new worlds? How do poets achieve spontaneity without sacrificing rigor? How do texts reconcile clarity and unpredictability? Expect to read widely, to approach texts in new ways, and to create many wild drafts and a finished portfolio of six to ... poems. 

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Nonfiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

This course is intended to help each student settle into his/her voice and produce work that resonates with his/her distinct set of experiences, interests, and insights. The prime focus will be personal essay and memoir. The coursework will include workshop pieces that students develop in conversation with the instructor and shorter exercises intended to open the student’s awareness of his/her process. Students can expect to do an extensive amount of revision, to engage in a deepened practice of reading, and to draw connections between writing and other creative fields such as music and film.

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Nonfiction Workshop: The Personal Essay

Workshop—Fall

In this course, we will study the writings of great essayists to discover how the form works to create universal meaning from personal stories. We will discuss the process of writing and practice (through informal classroom exercises) moving thoughts and ideas from the mind to the page with fluency. From there, we will focus on elements of craft and style and work specifically on writing good sentences and then good paragraphs and, ultimately, formal, polished essays that will be submitted to workshop.  

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Fiction Workshop: The Art of the Novel

Workshop—Fall

The novel is a vast landscape; but despite the liberal space, a good novel requires structure—direction, motive, and dynamic characters that will take readers through the terrain. Through reading, writing, and discussion, this intensive workshop will challenge students to expand on ideas, using the tools given to make the novel work as a unified, compelling whole. This course may be more beneficial for students who already have a novel in progress; however, it is also open to those who are just getting started. Each student will have the opportunity to workshop twice, up to 25 pages. We’ll discuss at least two selected works to aid our discussions on technique/craft in relation to shaping your novel. Excerpts of other books and stories will be assigned as we go along to better aid your individual storytelling process. Authors may include Chimamanda Adichie, NoViolet Bulawayo, Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Elizabeth Strout, and Jacqueline Woodson. Prompts will be given at the beginning of every workshop to get your creative juices flowing.

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Poetry Workshop

Workshop—Fall

This graduate workshop will involve a lot of reading and writing. What are the dominant myths in Western culture? How is your own worldview influenced by them? What is your relationship to the garden? To time? To error? To form? To wholeness? To brokenness? How does the manner (the how) of your poems reflect that worldview? What is your relationship to “the natural world”? If you join this class, you will read The Book of Genesis, The Greek Myths, and many other nonfiction texts, as well as books of poems—approximately a book a week. You will write a poem a week and meet with another member of our class community once a week in a poetry date. You will keep a journal of observations each week. You will meet with me in a conference every other week. And you will collect your poems into a chapbook at the end of the term. I ask for full participation, deep inquiry, and rigor. We will have a wonderful time.

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