March 2 assignments

Please remember we are not meeting on Friday, Feb. 23. We will meet the following Friday on March 2 and your assignments for that class are below.


In-class exercise: “Creating Shape in Scene: Image as Strategic Bookend” by Patricia Foster (Now Write, page 258)


Susan Orlean interview (The New New Journalism, handout)

• Nieman Storyboard, “Why Is This So Good?” Susan Orlean’s “The Orchid Thief.”

Orchid Fever by Susan Orlean

• interview with Ted Conover (The New New Journalism, handout)

• “Guarding Sing Sing” by Ted Conover

Critical response paper due in class.

We also will review your March 9 midterm and presentation criteria. Please read the assignment criteria in advance of class.

Dee, you will need to do your mid-term presentation in class on Friday, March 2 as discussed.


Assignments for February 16

Words for Thought:

“Belief is an offering that a reader makes to an author, what Coleridge famously called ‘That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.’ It is up to the writer to entertain and inform without disappointing the reader into a loss of that faith. In fiction or poetry, of course, believability may have nothing to do with realism or even plausibility. It has everything to do with those things in nonfiction… I think that the nonfiction writer’s fundamental job is to make what is true believable.” —Tracy Kidder, “Courting the Approval of the Dead” TriQuarterly 97, Fall 1996

In-class writing, “Breaking from ‘Fact’ in Essay Writing by Jenny Boully (Now Write, page 64)


You are responsible for bringing a response paper for each of the workshop manuscripts. These should be two to four pages long. Bring one copy for the writer; one for me. These are graded.

Your workshop response pieces should address the following SEVEN questions:

Please note, you can write your critiques addressing these issues in any way you like, or you can use these criteria in the form of a critique sheet, which can be downloaded here.

  1. What is the essay about on its surface and what deeper issues does it explore? Are there ways in which the writer could enhance the thematic elements of the essay?
  2. Does the author make use of sensory detail (provide specific examples). Are there areas that could be more enhanced?
  3. Does the author make use of the methods of direct characterization (appearance, thought, dialogue). Provide specific examples as well as suggestions for areas in which characterization could be enhanced. This should include both the narrator and other characters (i.e. people) in this piece.
  4. What observations can you offer regarding the language of the piece (use of metaphor, variety of sentences, formality or lack thereof in syntax)
  5. What is the structural basis for the piece and are there ways it might be shifted or enhanced?
  6. Are there other critical, literary or craft observations you can offer the writer?
  7. What is your personal response to this essay? Is it intellectually provocative, resonant emotionally?

Assignments for Feb. 9

Words for Thought:

“Each essay we read is as close as we can get to another mind. It is a simulation of the mind working its way through a problem. This is not to suggest that every essay is good, revelatory, successful, fruitful, interesting. But stepping into an essay is stepping into the writer’s mind. We are thrown into the labyrinth, a huge stone rolling behind us. It is a straight shot of the brain in all its immediacy, its variety, strands of half-remembered text, partly-thought-through ideas, images below the surface of memory. We are thrown into process: of thinking, which is like an algorithm, a machine for replicating or simulating thought…” —Ander Monson, “Essay as Hack”

In-class writing: “Words for Inspiration,” by Kathleen Spivak (Now Write, page 19). Read the exercise. I’ll bring the dictionaries to class.

Due in class: First group of internal/memoir essays. Must be complete original first drafts, five to 10 pages long. These essays can be memoir-based or can approach “internal” writing as a more philosophical inquiry as some of the essays we’ve read so far this semester.

To read for class:

Note: You do not have a critical essay due in class because you have your creative work due, but we will still discuss these readings, so come prepared to do so.

“Loitering” excerpt by Charles D’Ambrosio (handout)

Interview with D’Ambrosio: Instead of Sobbing, You Write Sentences by Leslie Jamison (New Yorker)

“On the Necessity of Turning Oneself into a Character” by Phillip Lopate (handout). Most of you should have read this in a previous nonfiction workshop. If you haven’t read it, read it now. If you don’t remember it well, read it again. Or read it again anyway! We will draw on it in our discussion.


Assignments for Feb. 2

In-class writing: “The Brain Map,” by S.L. Wisenberg (Now Write, page 33)

Readings: “Under the Influence”by Scott Sanders; “Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion. Also read  Eula Biss’ response to Joan Didion. Read interview with Scott Sanders from Inscape Journal.

Critical response paper due in class based on readings.

Coming up: First group of internal/memoir essays will be due on Feb. 9. Must be complete first drafts, five to 10 pages long.

We will workshop all the pieces in class on February 16, and will not have additional readings that day.

Assignments for January 27

Welcome to Advanced Creative Nonfiction workshop. As mentioned during the first day of class, our semester will include:

• generative work (writing exercises), along with pedagogical discussions.

• critical work (discussion and one-page critical responses to published essays)

• group workshop and critique of three major pieces of creative nonfiction.

Please read the following works for our next class, and please prepare critically.

Reading critically means: looking up unknown words or concepts; researching the authors; developing observations and questions regarding both the craft and the ideas of the assigned pieces.

In-class: We will have an in-class writing exercise from Now Write, “The Dying Goat,” (page 6). Please read Jack Kirk’s discussion of the exercise in advance so that we can discuss the idea behind this generative exercise. You will do the actual writing in class. Do not do the exercise beforehand.

Critical readings: Please read “Of a Monstrous Child” by Michel de Montaigne; “Me, Myself and I” (Jane Kramer, The New Yorker); “Going Out for a Walk” by Max Beerbohm; and “Meatless Days” by Sara Suleri (handout). Please also read this New Yorker profile of Beerbohm.

Your first critical paper is due in class and you should be prepared to discuss these essays and your critical thoughts on them during class.