Writing Courses

One of the oldest programs of its kind in the country, Sarah Lawrence College’s nationally recognized graduate writing program brings students into close mentoring relationships with active, distinguished writers. Students concentrate in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, or speculative fiction, 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.

MFA Writing 2020-2021 Courses

Art and Activism: Contemporary Black Writers

Workshop—Fall

Toni Morrison once wrote, “If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic.” She referred to the interior life of her ancestors as being a large (perhaps the largest?) charge she, as an author, faced; the characters she created, in part from pictures, in part from the imaginative act, yielded “a kind of truth.” We are experiencing a new age of Black artists and activists charging the world to heed their own truth; our focus as writers will be to delve into the fullness of their experience. Nana Ama Adjei-Brenyah brings magical realism to the doorstep of quotidien political events; Edward P. Jones establishes setting as character, garnering comparisons to James Joyce. Nafissa Thompson-Spires uses satire to address themes of identity; and both Danielle Evans and Jamel Brinkley write in a charged realist tradition that is RIEBY (my new acronym: right in everybody’s back yard!). Class readings will include essays on technique, short stories, and memoir; we’ll discuss the elements of craft as they pertain to the published literature as well as to our own work. This workshop will also have at its heart the discussion of student manuscripts, and the development of constructive criticism. Talking about race, talking about craft, and talking about our own fiction should occur in an environment where everyone feels valued and supported; the road may be bumpy at times, but how else to get to that truth Toni Morrison so prized?

Faculty

Beginnings—Mixed Genre Craft

Graduate Seminar—Spring

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. There will be biweekly, one-on-one conferences.

Faculty

Cinematic Form in Prose Narrative

Craft—Fall

This course will approach the craft of creative nonfiction and fiction from the perspective of film theory. We'll learn how our prose can benefit from understanding cinematic focal length, lighting, depth of field, the montage principle, and framing. We'll discuss the ways cinema and prose manipulate time and space, structure types of plot, generate empathy and mediate psychic distance.

To do this, we'll read film and narrative theory, as well as theory that blurs distinctions between psychology, philosophy, and linguistics. We'll watch movies that illustrate the cinematic principles. And we’ll read prose that illustrates the film techniques we're learning.

Faculty

Craft of Fiction/Speculative Fiction—Adaptation

Craft—Spring

This craft class will be focused on filmic adaptations of existing prose and stage work. Our breakdown of the craft of adaptation will be more lab than academic criticism. To that end, we will be studying specific examples of filmic adaptations over the course of the semester with the expectation that, by semester’s end, students will have drafted their own feature-length adaptation of an existing prose or stage work. Class time will alternate between film screenings and follow-up discussion of the source material. Examples include: No Country for Old Men (No Country for Old Men), Arrival (Story of Your Life), The Social Network (The Accidental Billionaires), William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), Moonlight (In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue), 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew), Carol (The Price of Salt), and Edge of Tomorrow (All You Need Is Kill). Due to the length of some films on the syllabus, class will occasionally run over.

Faculty

Exteriors, Interiors: Creative Nonfiction as a Two-Step Dance

Workshop—Fall

An active workshop (we’ll write together every session) designed to grow the writer’s capacity to animate inner and outer worlds with equal power. This dual-perspective dance requires, in turn, both nuance and bravado. How can we draw readers’ attention to what we most want them to see externally, without breaking faith with the inner world? Conversely, can phenomena as subtle and “intangible” as consciousness leap across the page with such force that a reader feels them physically? We will think collectively about how (and when and if) to tunnel in or zoom out, psychically and environmentally. The aim is for each writer to find freedom in toggling between inner/outer orientations.

We’ll also read writers who refuse to toggle, or who toggle minimally, and still make it work. Examples may include Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking; Souad Mekhennet’s I Was Told to Come Alone; Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World; Maya Angelou’s Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas; Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: and selections from Philp Pullman’s Daemon Voices.

Faculty

Fiction Is a Speculation

Workshop—Fall

I am amused by the idea that only some fiction is “speculative.” A blank page, after all, is not a physical construction site. What a writer puts on that page is a series of hypotheses that sponsor no life and no activity outside the page’s confines. Whether the work falls under the umbrella of “psychological realism,” or “expressionism,” or “science fiction,” or “surrealism,” or “naturalism,” or “fantasy,” the goal is the same: to move, change, or otherwise affect the reader. 

This is the spirit in which this speculative fiction writing workshop is offered. Our reading list will include everything from the postmodern fracture narratives of Robert Coover to the genre-bending world-inversions of Anne Carson to the surrealism of Rahawa Haile to the madcap speculations of Harlan Ellison to the architecturally unique work of Carmen Maria Machado to the traditional realism of Jhumpa Lahiri. The goal in discussing these works will be to see their underlying patterns, and the ways in which every story—including the realist stories—must “cheat” reality in some way to deliver its message to you.

As for how the class will actually run, here are a few things I’m (relatively) sure about. Each student will bring at least one, and possibly two, stories into the classroom over the course of the semester. Students will often write in response to prompts designed to help them find a voice, take a chance, do something they wouldn’t expect of themselves. We will, on two or three occasions, take a break from our routine to discuss a great (and, for those who don’t know me, probably unorthodox) novel. We will try to do away with the words, “I want” in our critiques of student stories, and to instead attune ourselves to what each story is trying to do, and to imagine how it might become more purely what it is rather than something we want it to be.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

I’ve been trying throughout my teaching career to find a way to teach writing that feels open, honest, and playful. My goal is to encourage innovation and experimentation and to lead my classes to the collective epiphany that the possibilities for fiction 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 the novel”—plot, character, setting, and theme. I am suspicious of peer critique that uses, as its engine, the words “I wanted.” 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 right alongside Hawkes’ quartet of imagined enemies. Voice would take precedence over plot. We would encourage ambitious failure more than careful success and wouldn’t care about readying every story for publication. We would applaud a writer for taking a risk rather than burying them for the risk’s inscrutability. We wouldn’t be so small-bore in the way that we think and talk about writing. These are ideas, of course, not guidelines.

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—possibly no more than that. Students will often write in response to prompts designed to help them find a voice, take a chance, do something that they wouldn’t expect of themselves. We will, on two or three occasions, take a break from our routine to discuss a great (and likely unorthodox) novel. We will try to spend some time talking about aesthetics and discussing essays by writers who think they’ve got it all figured out. It’s having it all figured out that scares me. I stand with Socrates, who only knew that he knew 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

Finding Delight—Poetry Workshop

Workshop—Spring

Throw into the little box /A stone /You’ll take out a bird /Throw in your shadow/You’ll take out the shirt of happiness —from “The Tenants of the Little Box,” by Vasko Popa

Perhaps we will continue this semester to see one another inside the little boxes of Zoom, but I take heart from Vasko Popa’s poem (quoted above) that, even within our new strange constraints, there is a place for transformation and delight. Perhaps we will, at some point, meet in person. In the meantime, there are pets to be met. This will be a workshop where we encourage one another to be the most ourselves in our writing, plotting out the poem’s most unique path according to the signposts that the rough draft gives us. We’ll help one another cram the little boxes of our poems with imagination, honesty, and discovery. We’ll read selections of contemporary poetry, which will be primarily discussed in breakout sessions of student pairs; and, occasionally, we’ll do in-class writing exercises guided by the signposts provided by Ross Gay’s “The Book of Delights.” Each student will have the opportunity to bring a question to class that they would like to discuss as a group. Students will write one poem per week.

Faculty

In My Honest Opinion: Documentary, Identity, and Testimony Poetics

Craft—Fall
The truth…is one of those words that constantly crosses our universe in a dazzling wake, but it also pursued by suspicion….truth is what writing wants.

—Hélène Cixous.

Whatever a person wants to get out of art, life has more of it.​​

—manuel arturo abreu

As poets, we have an obligation to writing, not only as a technical skill we continually learn to improve, but as a method of truth-seeking. Rather than an end-point or static entity, the truth is a dynamic process of understanding, relearning, risk-taking, and transformation. Our work during this craft class will challenge us to re-envision what it means to be a truthful speaker in 2020, whether poetry has ethical obligations and to whom, and what role sociality plays in our writing practices. Testimony, documentary, and identity poetics are three literary frameworks we can use to help us answer questions like, “Whose words can we trust in today’s political landscape?” and “Whose testimony is valid?” Readings will come from Layli Long Soldier, June Jordan, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Cameron Awkward-Rich, Bhanu Khapil, Simone White, and others. Classes will include discussions of outside readings and student work as, throughout the semester, students work toward the completion of a chapbook-length collection of documentarian poems. We will try to uncover how poetry can help us to document the world around us and to redefine ourselves as autonomous individuals and social agents.

Faculty

Lost in the Maze: Unseen Forces, Conspiracies and Fate in Speculative Fiction

Craft—Fall

“World-building” in speculative fiction often brings to mind the maps on the endpapers of fantasy novels, showing the terrain that characters will traverse on their journeys. But in many great novels and stories, characters start out embedded in the heart of a labyrinth... and never find their way out. In this course, we'll look at fictive universes that trap and delude their inhabitants, sending them on twisting routes to dead ends or keeping them in ignorance of the powers-that-be who are secretly determining the shape of their lives. We'll closely read stories and novel excerpts from authors including Manuel Gonzales, Kelly Link, Victor LaValle, Jonathan Lethem, Kazuo Ishiguro, Samantha Hunt, Mark Z. Danielewski, and others, in order to reverse-engineer the all-encompassing systems they present in their fiction. Ultimately, we'll ponder how writers can use systems to convey meaning, and how characters can find meaning within them.

Faculty

Mixed-Genre Craft

Craft—Fall

The American literary tradition begins with a sermon: a Puritan lawyer named John Winthrop, on the way over the water to the New World, stood up and delivered an address called A Model of Christian Charity. His invocation of "a city upon a hill" is still with us—and so is his speechifying impulse. Despite our fetish for individuality and personal freedom, American writers have always been trying to convince somebody, somewhere, of something. In this course, we'll focus on how to write public addresses of all kinds (including the related forms of the op-ed, editorial, and "open letter") from our perspective as literary artists—and also explore how the American oratorical tradition has made its way into fiction, poetry, and, perhaps especially, the essay.

We’ll pay close attention to the substance of various ideas, assertions, digressions, debates that have obsessed the writers we read. (It’s my sense that, craft aside, a deep awareness of these tussles and preoccupations can only be good nourishment for a writer.) We’ll also keep close to the page, observing the tactics of writers, thinkers, preachers, and politicians—with an intermittent focus on classical rhetorical devices—and engage in in-class and at-home writing exercises to see how these methods might work for us. Readings will include works by Aristotle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Abraham Lincoln, W.E.B. DuBois, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Ralph Ellison, Chris Rock, Cheryl A. Wall, and many others.

Faculty

No, Really, Where Do Ideas Come From?

Workshop—Fall

It’s not a stupid question, especially at a time when writing may seem harder than ever. We’ll spend the first two weeks of the semester engaging in writing exercises, thought experiments, intelligence gathering, and craft discussions designed to get your own ideas flowing and to provide seeds for new stories as well as approaches to deepen writing you may already be doing. The rest of the semester will be devoted to workshopping your stories, with the class coming together to create a constructive community of readers with the kindness, toughness, honesty, and sensitivity that can make a workshop a unique and valuable writing tool. Ambition and risk-taking will be encouraged, as we address a slew of other not-stupid questions such as: What makes a plot strong? Does a character have to be likable? How much fact goes into fiction? Outside reading will be designed to take you in and out of your comfort zones, running the gamut from realism to fabulism and featuring a multitude of rulemakers and rule-breakers for you to admire and inspire, love and loathe—sometimes simultaneously. All flavors of fiction are welcome.

Faculty

Nonfiction Workshop

Workshop—Fall

This course is intended to help students settle into their voices and produce work that resonates with their experiences, interests, and insights. The prime focus will be personal essay and memoir. The course work 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. We will engage in a deepened practice of reading and learn to draw connections between writing and other creative fields, such as music and film.

Faculty

People, Places, and Things—Nonfiction Craft

Craft—Spring

“A noun is a person, place, or thing,” we were taught when we grew up; so this class might be said to focus on writing about nouns.

The class will be divided into three units. The first will concentrate on people. We will read published personal essays that illustrate the many different ways of creating characters on the page. For example, Jo Ann Beard’s “The Family Hour” defines characters solely through action, while Phillip Lopate’s “Willy” uses a variety of techniques to evoke personalities. The second unit will take on place—how place functions in personal essays to determine action and illuminate character. In James Baldwin’s “Equal in Paris,” for example, eight nights in a French jail forces the narrator to see that he can no longer get through life by playing the role that society has assigned him; instead, he has to figure out who he really is. The third and final unit will deal with things. The class will read braided essays whose authors juxtapose seemingly disparate topics—things—in forming coherent works. Melissa Febos’s “All of Me,” for instance, reveals how writing, singing, tattoos, and heroin addiction all relate to the need to deal with pain.

In each meeting, we will dissect two published essays and have in-class writing exercises based on the lessons from the assigned reading.

Faculty

Poetry Workshop

Workshop—Fall

In the space and time of the workshop I hope to guide everyone to new writing and engaging discussions of poetry. Each week's session will begin with a brief discussion of the work of a poet from a list to be included with the syllabus. It will be an international list, and one with some poets from earlier points in the twentieth century. I will also suggest readings of prose works about poetry. My hope is that you will be inspired to produce two new poems per week and select from them a portfolio of twenty poems for the final product of the semester. I will also offer prompts and suggestions for writing in forms.

Faculty

Poetry Workshop

Workshop—Fall

During our time together we will practice the craft of poetry. We will read a large and wide selection of published poems and study them to learn how to deepen our own poems. We will practice expanding our use of diction, syntax, sound, image, metaphor.  We will practice writing in organic forms and in received forms. Writers will keep a weekly journal of observations, read a book length group of poems each week, write a new poem each week, and meet in a thirty-minute poetry date with another writer in the class each week. In addition, each writer will meet with me every other week in a half hour conference. In conference with me each writer will choose mentor writers to read in depth; we will discuss both your reading and your writing in conference as well as in class. At the end of our semester each writer will collect revisions into a chapbook. My job is to teach you close reading and poetic techniques so that you can use them for your own work. My hope is that you will write poems that will teach you something you did not already know, poems that will astonish you and break your own heart open. Love and Rigor will guide us. Our class will be celebrative and encouraging. Come and be changed.

Faculty

Reading and Writing Fiction—Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

This class will be a semester-long exploration in both writing and reading fiction. We are going to try reading as writers, looking at how the thing is made, and how making creates and shapes meaning. We will look at elements of craft, working on exercises and experiments in form, character, narrative, stance, authority, dialogue, scene, tropes, and syntax. In addition to workshop, we will have weekly experiments with form, voice, and style. Revision is an essential part of this workshop.

Faculty

Short Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

This class is for students who are working on short fiction. We’ll approach the form by discussing a variety of published stories—how they set their own terms and what makes them work—and by addressing concepts like tension, subtext, time, and structure. Brief weekly writing assignments are designed to be generative; supplemental reading will include essays and interviews. The workshop of first or early story drafts will provide opportunities to talk about language, characters, conflict, and other elements of craft. While workshop will focus on short fiction, students who are also writing novels are welcome to submit excerpts for discussion during one-on-one conferences. In addition, the class will touch on a writer’s evolving relationship to their process: how to embrace uncertainty; where to look for one’s own most-compelling material (and what approaches might serve it best); how to navigate the world of fellowships, publishing, and awards while continuing to write; and much more.

Faculty

Social Poetics—Poetry Workshop

Workshop—Spring

For the purposes of this workshop, we will read one another’s poems, study a wide range of performances—primarily within the Black expressive tradition—and think collectively about what it means to consider the writing and recitation of poetry, in the first instance, as an occasion for gathering, conviviality, and the celebration of life itself. This is a workshop fundamentally concerned with kinship. With the ways that the written page, the pulpit, the concert stage, and the street-corner soapbox all open us up to new ways of knowing. In this workshop, we will study the history of workshops. We will study the poetics and pedagogy of, among others, Gwendolyn Brooks, June Jordan, and Toni Morrison. We will analyze their approaches to teaching poetry to children in Brooklyn, street organizations in Chicago, experimental performance collectives in Washington DC, and countless everyday people all across the world likewise interested in the transformative potential of the Word. We will also read a number of “minor poets” within this tradition and commit our time to a robust engagement with their thinking.

Faculty

Speculative Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

Every work of fiction is a fantasy; however, many fiction writers strive to portray reality. In this workshop, we will focus on fiction that embraces speculation. 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 we’ll contemplate what it means to write speculative fiction at a time when the general experience of reality has become diluted, fractured, and dispersed. We will also examine the precedents set by literature that lives in 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, Renee Gladman, Patrick Lofgren, Ken Liu, Karin Tidbeck, Cathy Park Hong, William Gibson, Paul LaFarge, Shelly Jackson, Ursula LeGuin, David Ohle, Yasunari Kawabata, 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

Storying the Self

Craft—Fall

How do we take the sprawl of life—with its many characters, events, timelines, memories—and distill the human experience to a cohesive and gripping story? How do we find the narrative electricity in the mundane? This class will focus on memoir, personal essay, and auto-fiction, with a particular emphasis on structure. We’ll study classic forms, episodic timelines, and experimental narratives, with an objective to chisel a dramatic arc from our lives. We’ll also discuss the terms on which one forges a relationship of trust between writer and audience—the compromises and the permissions that may or may not be granted by this foundation. We will use the architectures behind the assigned readings as a blueprint and gateway for our own writing exercises. This class will be as much about process as it is about the “finished” work.

Faculty

The Art of the Novella—Mixed Genre Craft

Graduate Seminar—Spring

This hybrid class will take the shape of both a craft seminar and a workshop on the novella. The craft component, I hope, will be more than enough for most—as we’ll be reading a novella per week, discussing its form, and reverse-engineering approaches to its creation. Class discussions will avoid conventional literary criticism and, instead, look at traditional and experimental plotting methods, the use of compression, extension, constellation, mise en abyme, narrative conventions (and how we can stray from them), psychological, metaphorical, marginal, and linguistic framing, etc. By the end of the semester, you should be saturated with possibilities for your work. The workshop component will be limited to a few students, whereas weekly discussions will approach works in progress. If time allows, we’ll try to make it through your entire novella by the end of the semester. We’ll read and analyze:

Sweet Days of Discipline, by Fleur Jaeggy; Love, by Hanne Ørstavik; The Shutter of Snow, by Emily Holmes Coleman (This is out of print: you can get a used copy or I’ll provide a PDF.); The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt, by Christian Gailly; Dinner, by Cesar Aira; Pieter Emily (From The Village On Horseback) , by Jesse Ball; The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, by Michael Ondaatje; The African Shore, by Rodrigo Rey Rosa; Territory of Light, by Yuko Tsushima; Annotations, by John Keene; The Private Lives of Trees, by Alejandro Zambra; The Serpent of Stars, by Jean Giono; An Untouched House, by Willem Frederik Hermans; and Rain, by Kirsty Gunn.
Faculty

The Art of the Novella—Mixed Genre Workshop

Graduate Seminar—Spring

This hybrid class will take the shape of both a craft seminar and a workshop on the novella. The craft component, I hope, will be more than enough for most—as we’ll be reading a novella per week, discussing its form, and reverse-engineering approaches to its creation. Class discussions will avoid conventional literary criticism and, instead, look at traditional and experimental plotting methods, the use of compression, extension, constellation, mise en abyme, narrative conventions (and how we can stray from them), psychological, metaphorical, marginal, and linguistic framing, etc. By the end of the semester, you should be saturated with possibilities for your work. The workshop component will be limited to a few students, whereas weekly discussions will approach works in progress. If time allows, we’ll try to make it through your entire novella by the end of the semester. We’ll read and analyze:

Sweet Days of Discipline, by Fleur Jaeggy; Love, by Hanne Ørstavik; The Shutter of Snow, by Emily Holmes Coleman (This is out of print: you can get a used copy or I’ll provide a PDF.); The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt, by Christian Gailly; Dinner, by Cesar Aira; Pieter Emily (From The Village On Horseback) , by Jesse Ball; The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, by Michael Ondaatje; The African Shore, by Rodrigo Rey Rosa; Territory of Light, by Yuko Tsushima; Annotations, by John Keene; The Private Lives of Trees, by Alejandro Zambra; The Serpent of Stars, by Jean Giono; An Untouched House, by Willem Frederik Hermans; and Rain, by Kirsty Gunn.
Faculty

The Self, The Selves: A “Nonfiction” Memoir Workshop

Workshop—Spring

Our lived experiences—and our memories—are rarely understood through a tidy chronology. They seldom mirror a Western “hero’s journey.” In this generative workshop, we will experiment with splintered structures, alternate realities, hypothetical “What If’s?” and different versions of the Self as Narrator in order to find the truest version of our stories. We will focus on isolation and compression, on finding narrative “heat” and emotional potency in our memories, our selves, and all the selves we’ve been, discussing strategies that one uses to render work inspired by real people and the compromises and thrills that come with that responsibility. The scaffolding behind published works will serve as a blueprint for generative writing exercises, and we will workshop submissions (all genres welcome) with the writer leading the way. We will meet masked and socially distanced on campus if the current spike flattens by the beginning of the semester; otherwise, we will meet remotely on Zoom. We'll also reevaluate, week by week, and adjust accordingly with the utmost caution.

Faculty

The Short Story

Workshop—Fall

This workshop will focus on the short story. We will begin with Frank O’Connor’s claim, in his introduction to The Lonely Voice, that the short story is a form defined not by its length so much as by its subject matter—what he calls the lives of “submerged population groups,” individuals in their loneliness for whom a “normal society is the exception rather than the rule.” In other words: rebels, losers, the lonely, the lost, the marginalized, the dispossessed. In addition to workshopping student writing, we will examine relatively recent short story collections in the interest of thinking further about the form and its possibilities. Each week we will workshop up to two student manuscripts and discuss one short story collection. A familiarity with canonical short story collections—James Joyce’s Dubliners, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, and Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, et al.—is recommended. Depending upon the interests of the class, our readings may be drawn from the following list of titles: Alice Munro’s Open Secrets, Aleksandr Hemon’s The Question of Bruno, Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City, Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, Bryan Washington’s Lot, Junot Diaz’s Drown, Alistair MacLeod’s Island, Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians, Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart, George Saunders’ Pastoralia, Ottesa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World, James Kelman’s Translated Accounts, Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, Joan Silber’s Ideas of Heaven, Charles Baxter’s Believers, and Colin Barrett’s Young Skins.

Faculty

The Uses of Speculative Poetry—Poetry Craft

Craft—Spring

What are the functions of science fiction, mythology, fairy tales, utopias, dystopias, horror, fabulism, and magic in poems? Is this even possible in a genre that eludes narrative and traditional story structures? How does poetry expand the possibilities of speculation? In this class, we will look at many poetry collections with tropes imagining “another world”—playing with tropes that are at once both familiar and strange, whether that is the world of fables or imagined futures. We will examine poets (and poetics) such as Kim Hyesoon, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Lucille Clifton, Terrance Hayes, and Etel Adnan, among others. In addition to reading poets, we might also read Octavia Butler’s stories, read essays on sci-fi world-building and craft, watch films or TV, and do some exercises in summoning and communing with our poetic ghosts in an attempt to achieve cosmic intertextual poetry projects.

Faculty

Visual Storytelling: Writing for the Screen

Craft—Fall

A solid screenplay is the foundation of any great film, television or web series . Though filmmaking is a collaborative medium, the script is the blueprint for what happens on screen. It all begins with the writer and an idea. In this graduate craft class / workshop, students will learn the fundamentals of writing for the screen - story structure, character development, dialogue, outlining, and formatting. Weekly writing assignments will be given, then read and discussed in class. In addition, students will read several feature-length and short form screenplays, as a way to strengthen their script analysis skills. For the final project, students may work on short or feature-length screenplays, webisodes or full television episodes. Overall, the writer will build a screenwriter’s tool kit, useful for any future opportunities that may emerge in writing for the screen. ​

Faculty

Words and Pictures—Nonfiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

This workshop will give the nonfiction writer an introduction to using images alongside text, both as direct and oblique captions, and as an efficient means of replacing text. Since the invention of photography, our image literacy has continued to evolve. Our ability to communicate, both publicly and privately, with smartphone photos and videos has made visual storytelling both more widespread and more sophisticated. This workshop will focus on experiments in nonverbal communication. We will discuss and utilize, through in-class exercises and assignments, the history and possibilities of image-based media. The class will develop short, image-based essays to workshop each week, as well as discuss and analyze readings, catalogs, yearbooks, magazines, fliers, postcards, photo books, graphic novels, social media, film, and artist editions—including work by Taryn Simon, Teju Cole, Hans-Peter Feldman, Robert Fusco, Aby Warburg, and Adam Curtis. As we will likely be remote, we will sometimes use a closed circuit of private Instagram accounts to share images and text. While this workshop will be geared toward the nonfiction student, poetry and fiction students are also welcome. Conference time may cover any form of work that the student would like to discuss. By the end of the semester, I hope students might possess a general level of comfort, confidence, and creativity with using words and pictures together.

Faculty

“What Do You Know?”: A Narrative Laboratory

Graduate Seminar—Fall

“Write what you know” is simultaneously one of the most shopworn maxims of the writing program and one of the fuzziest. It would seem to have little to say about the achievements of novelists as innovative as Octavia Butler or Samuel Beckett - or even those of the farthest-ranging writers of nonfiction, from Hunter S. Thompson to Joan Didion. And what does it mean to “know” something, anyway? What can we postmoderns really claim to “know”? Still, as the recent vogue for “autofiction” suggests, some strange power inheres in first-hand experience, and its transmutation, whether slight or radical, seems to lie at the shadowy heart much of the best imaginative writing.

The purpose of this course is twofold. First, we will interrogate and attempt to shed light on the range of things “knowing” can mean in fiction and nonfiction – where it can enliven and where it can kill. And second, we will try to help each other access the most powerful kinds of “knowing” in our own experiences, and to practice transforming them in writing. Our experiments will encompass readings from a range of fiction and nonfiction writers, likely including Renata Adler, Amit Chaudhuri, John D’Agata, Peter Ho Davies, Mavis Gallant, Sheila Heti, Edward P. Jones, Porochista Khakpour, Ben Lerner, Jonathan Lethem, Grace Paley, Zadie Smith, and Clare Vaye Watkins. And lab participants will be expected to complete short writing assignments and submit a piece for a culminating workshop.

Faculty

Note: Courses are subject to change and not all will necessarily be offered every academic year.