Writing 121: Advanced Creative Nonfiction


Course Description and Overview

In this advanced creative nonfiction workshop, students will read a variety of nonfiction genres - from autobiographical narrative "fact pieces" that include material derived from research, to memoir and personal essay, to New Journalistic prose, to more "fringe" and experimental forms ... including some that fall in the gray area between literary genres, such as memoir-based prose poetry. For their final portfolio, students will write nonfictional prose modeling several of these forms. Additionally, students will read critical and metatextual pieces that discuss strategies for writing narrative generally, and creative nonfiction specifically, and we will discuss in class the ways in which writers can employ the techniques of fiction to cut across traditional genre boundaries and tell their own "true" stories (as in the introductory creative nonfiction course, we will continue to address the issue of truth in nonfiction writing).Our time in the classroom will be spent as a writing workshop. On a given day, students will distribute copies of their work, and the class (including myself) will respond by pointing out passages that work especially well, and perhaps by making suggestions for revision. All students will be expected to "workshop" their drafts at least once during the session.

Writing Requirements and Grading

You have draft material due each week, according to the attached Course Schedule. I expect all submitted work to be new. On the last day of the session you'll assemble and turn in a portfolio of all your work, polished and revised: a substantial body of creative prose that totals at least twelve pages (don't feel constrained by that number; if you write seven hundred pages, I'll read 'em almost happily). Your final course grade will be based equally on: (1) the autobiographical narrative Fact Piece; (2) a portfolio of creative nonfiction written subsequent to the Fact Piece (an admittedly subjective grade that assesses both quality and sheer volume); (3) class participation - that is, on how enthusiastically and energetically you participate in reading discussions and peer critiquing sessions: at the end of each class session I note that day's participation grade for every student in my little green book, and I average out all those grades at the end of the quarter; (4) journal responses that demonstrate engagement with the assigned texts and are turned in on time; and (5) a final exam written on the last day of class.

Presentations and In-Class Critiques

On assigned presentation days, each student is responsible for providing copies of the work (approximately five pages, or 2.5 pages single-spaced) to be read that session, so that every class member gets a copy. Please collate your copies and staple them together. If you'd like me to give you some feedback on a manuscript draft before the day of your presentation, please schedule an appointment at least two days before your reading day, to give yourself time to revise, or e-mail me your draft as a Microsoft Word attachment. Classmates responding to presented material should strive to give honest feedback-everyone can benefit from constructive criticism-but avoid brutalizing particular pieces; as always, I'm committed to creating a supportive literary community here, one in which ego and competitiveness rear their heads as infrequently as possible.

Revised 8/15/05 MP