English 290NF - Spring, 2015

Seminar in Creative Writing of Non-Fiction

Class Information

Instructor: Houston, Pam
Time: W 12:10-3:00
Location: 120 Voorhies


    I’ve always been a little suspicious of things that are named with a negative, and that is only one of the reasons I am suspicious of this thing we call nonfiction. The others? The failure of memory. The failure of language to mean. The failure of courage. Just to name three. Nevertheless, things have never been better for the writers of nonfiction and memoir than they are right now, so we will see, this quarter if we can write some.
    We will explore which events in our lives deserve to be written about, and when and in what ways it is okay to write about the lives of others. We will talk about several subgenres that exist within the extremely broad and misguidedly named category: the lyric essay, the memoir, and political and environmental journalism in particular. We will talk about whether or not language can mean, definitively, and whether, if so, its meaning can be expected to stand still. We will talk about how to make a beautiful essay as opposed to, say, a beautiful story or poem, and how we decide what material should take which form. We will ponder whether or not there is such a thing as the truth of an essay, and how that might differ from what we might call: how it really happened.
    As in any class in artistic writing, there will be a great deal of focus on metaphor, lyricism, style, form and structure. We will discuss artistic choices available to the essayist such as point of view, tense, narrative stance, tone, scene versus summary, dialogue, beginnings and endings, and voice.
    Each student will be expected to turn in three new essays or sections of a memoir-in-progress during the course of the quarter, two to the whole class, according to the schedule we will make on the first night, and one new piece to me at the end of the quarter. I will also ask for a revision of one or the other of the first two pieces. There will be reading assignments throughout the quarter and weekly writing exercises early on that will give way to workshop after a few weeks.


    Students will be graded on the quality of the writing assignments and the revision they turn in, as well as on their participation in class discussion of both student work and the assigned reading material.


    The White Album, Joan Didion
    Bluets, Maggie Nelson
    Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay
    Fire Shut Up In My Bones, Charles M Blow
    Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov