Creative Nonfiction

I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part.”  —Annie DillardTeaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

Course Goals
This course will explore the creative nonfiction genre in its many variations as we critically read the assigned essays to understand the form and the craft of the genre historically and contemporarily. We will also read to critique the writing of our peers to find ways to improve our writing. And as students of literary nonfiction, we will compose a personal essay or memoir, a travel essay, and an essay of literary journalism. Memory, observation, self-discovery, and research—these are the main tools of writing that will help us to investigate various traditional and non-traditional essay forms about people, places, and things. Through these writing exercises, we might find that we are better able to locate our own perspectives on the richness of our lived experiences.

We also see creative nonfiction as the subject that binds together the three disparate strands in most English departments: literature, creative writing, and composition. —The Fourth Genre

Course Outcomes
Below is a series of questions which will get you started at thinking about the process of creation, and how you approach the craft and art of creative nonfiction. Answer them as best as you can, then come back at the end of the course and see how your answers have changed.

  • What is your vision of the life of a writer? Pick an image, symbol, or metaphor of yourself as a writer, then write it down. Where are you? How do you spend your days? Where do you want to go? How and why is writing important to you. Does your image fit your ideal?
  • What is creativity? Describe the creative faculty, and discuss where that faculty is located (in your intellect, emotions, soul, etc.).
  • Are the processes of learning and creativity linked? If so, how are they linked? Discuss the value of discipline to creativity—are they connected? Does one feed the other? How? Are the activities of creativity and discipline important to your image of being a writer? How does discipline fit into your image or metaphor as writer?
  • Does looking at the world through the lens of “poetic” imagination change the way you see the world? How?
  • Is there a link between your creativity and your experiences? If so, what is that link, and how would you use it in your work as a writer? If not, from where does your creativity originate? How do you access it?
  • Does your experience with creativity value the fleeting, “beautiful” moments over the everlasting “truth”? Are either, or both, important aspects of your own creative vision?
  • How do you handle writer’s block? Do you think that writing about specific moments in time is easier than writing about more generalized thoughts or ideas? Which fits with your ideas of creative nonfiction the best?
  • When you face an unknown experience, do you do so with dread or excitement? Describe such an experience, and discuss how it fits into the way you approach writing creative nonfiction.
  • What is your right hand touching? Name it. Now erase the name and turn what you’re feeling into a process by describing what your hand is feeling.
  • How were you able to tell what your hand was feeling? Was it through an absolute level of knowledge like a “known” fact, or did your mind move down into your hand to feel what it was feeling? Or did your mind stay in your head while your hand told your brain what it felt?

I look forward to seeing you all in workshop. Let’s have fun!

…A person who is headstrong enough to open their eyes and their heart to the full depth and weight of the world is inviting in everything out there – both evil and good, both dark and light, and the sheer bravery of that openness enables them to gain profound insight into the human condition. It also fucks them up. It may even make them more prone to stick their head in an oven than to engage in self-promotional chitchat on Jay Leno. Patricia Pearson

Course Requirements
Attendance is required and necessary since this is a participation-oriented class. More than four absences are grounds for failure. There will be times in the semester when you really need the days off, so don’t miss class without good reason.

If you know you are going to miss a class, let me know. You are responsible for finding out what you missed and what assignments are due for the next class. If you miss a class, FIRST, ask your classmates, then feel free to ask me. Missed assignments will not be excused because of absences. Athletes: any special arrangements for athletes must be made with the professor at least two week prior to the event.

Do not come late to class. If you arrive more than 10 minutes late, for any reason, you will be marked as absent. Likewise for leaving class early. Also, three times tardy equals an absence. Late attendance and absences will affect your participation grade. If you miss more than four (two, TR) classes, you will not receive an “A” for your participation grade.

You are expected to be prepared for every meeting. This means completing all reading and writing assignments on time. Failure to do so will greatly affect your participation grade.