Section 01: The Poetic Essay
Creative nonfiction is often an occasion for memoir: the telling of events that seem to describe a life. However, creative nonfiction also contains great examples of the poetic essay, a form used to magnify and illuminate some writer's obsession in order to contemplate a greater question. This type of creative nonfiction may be illustrative, argumentative, comparative, meditative, associative, or didactic, but it is most often concise and intense. In its intensity it may describe something small, but it can create great repercussions in a reader, like the atom that ignites the atom bomb. If poetry doesn't scare you, if you have strange obsessions that haunt you, if you believe that one word will do where others might use eight, this may be the course for you. We will attempt to read and write brief, compressed essays with the power to transform the mundane into the sublime. Revision will be essential in this course. As models we may read Thomas a Kempis, Colette, Flannery O'Connor, Oliver Sacks, Fatima Mernissi, Eliot Weinberger, Werner Herzog, Marilynne Robinson, Patricia Hampl, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bishop, Anthony Hecht, Charles Simic, Denis Johnson, Elaine Scarry, Octavio Paz, Susan Sontag, M. F. K. Fisher, and others.
Section 02: The First Person: More Than "I"
What story do you need to tell? And how are you going to tell it? We’ll look at various techniques writers use to create first-person voices in their creative non-fiction, while also exploring the gray area of “I” in autobiographical novels, graphic novels, and film. Texts will include Jia Tolentino’s “The Personal-Essay Boom Is Over,” T Kira Madden, Marcel Proust, Pete Wells restaurant reviews, Agnes Varda and Chris Marker films, Maggie Nelson, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Morgan Parker, Elizabeth Hardwick, Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, and more. Along the way, you’ll write, workshop, and refine your own creative non-fiction, drawing from your life, or the lives of others, or the world.