MFA in Creative Writing Course Descriptions
English 261: Craft Seminar in Fiction
Instructor: Wesley Gibson Thursday 4:30-7:30
This course focuses on issues that influence the writing of fiction. Some seminars may focus on issues of craft or aesthetics – narrative structure in the novel, point of view, or dialogue – and others may be thematic in nature – historical fiction, realism or the postmodern ethos. Readings may include a wide range of fiction from diverse backgrounds and historical periods as well as the students’ own works-in-progress.
English 264: Literary Journalism
English 262: Craft Seminar in Poetry : The New American Poetry
Instructor: Matthew Zapruder Tuesday 4:30-7:30
In 1960, Donald Allen and Grove Press published The New American Poetry 1945-1960. It included many poets (Ashbery, Creeley, Ginsberg, Guest, Jones, Koch, O'Hara, Schuyler, Spicer, etc.) of great future influence, and sorted the poets into categories (Black Mountain, Beats, San Francisco Renaissance, New York School) familiar to us to this day. Reading the anthology today, we can see how what is thought of as "new" in American poetry has (for better and worse) been profoundly influenced by this book, and beneath a surface idea of the "experimental," a deeper metabolizing of the innovations and values, both traditional and revolutionary, of the previous 150 years. In the first half of this course we will read the anthology, as well as separate full books by some of the poets (Guest, Ashbery, O'Hara, Creeley, Spicer, Wieners, and Creeley) along with supplementary material, in order to think about the "new" in American poetry, and how those ideas have influenced our understanding and practice of poetry. In the second half of the course students will choose and present work they feel has, or will, or should, determine what we think of as the new American poetry of the 21st century: what has mattered, what seems to matter now, and what will matter to poets and readers in the future.
English 264: Craft Seminar in Nonfiction:THE CHARACTER OF CHARACTER
Instructor: Marilyn Abildskov T/Th 2:50 p.m. to 4:20 p.m.
Many of the most acclaimed novels in the history of literature focus on and are named after a single character: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dallaway, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. We read with focus, then, as we come to know the texture of Anna’s troubles, the quality of Clarissa’s mind, the futility of Emma Bovary’s aspirations. Much of what we think of as modern realist fiction probably centers on character. And so, in discussing the writing of fiction, it’s natural to discuss the flesh-and-blood reality of characters we encounter on the page, how to build characters, how to make them appear more believable and as complex as we know real people to be.
But what of character in nonfiction? How does the writer of memoir and essay bring to life people on the page who already exist or existed in real life, characters who do not need to be built so much as revealed? This course will look at a range of work from the autobiographical novel to the fragmented memoir to long-form literary journalism with an eye toward studying the nature of characterization: how writers bring to life people on the page: through glimpses, sketches, full-length scenes that rely on gestures, descriptions, dialogues, and monologues, and double portraits arranged through memories, questions, and riffs of imagination). We will ask ourselves in what way first-person narrators—those who recede into the background and those who take center stage—are crafted (often through a distinctive voice) to become essential characters. We will also ask, to what effect? For what purpose do these characters exist on the page? As windows into another culture? As a way of examining—and arguing—political ideas? As the canvas on which an elegy is composed? And what particular issues regarding character do nonfiction writers face? Do readers expect to “like” a narrator in nonfiction in ways they do not when reading fiction? Do we yearn to know a narrator will be OK at the end of a memoir in a way that we do not when reading a novel? We will pose these questions and many more by delving into the character of characters (whether these are people, places, or ideas) in each text.
Sylvia by Leonard Michaels
Long Ago in France by MFK Fisher
Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas
Michael Martone by Michael Martone
“Undertaker, Please Drive Slow” by Jo Ann Beard
An Exclusive Love by Johanna Adorján
English 264: The Craft of Nonfiction
Time & Memory
English 262: Prosody and Poetic Form
Instructor: Brenda Hillman Thursday, 4:45pm-8:00 pm
Some say our hearts beat in iambic rhythm; whether this is true or not, there is a deep correspondence between seasonal and bodily rhythms and poetic form. In this course, you will learn the basics of scansion, prosody, received forms of metrical verse, and procedural forms of poetry. This nuts-and-bolts background is useful for the student of poetry, especially in light of the fact that free verse has been the most common choice for poets in the twentieth century. We will start the semester learning the basic techniques of scansion and will proceed to study principles of some received forms—the sonnet, the villanelle, the sestina, accentual-syllabic verse, syllabic poetry, concrete poems, prose poetry—as well as techniques of free verse poetry. The student will be asked to annotate poetry and to write weekly versions, imitations and variations of these received forms. We will study variants of the singlet, the couplet, the triplet and other stanzaic structures. Though this class is primarily a graduate seminar, it is open to undergraduates with permission of instructor, if space permits.
Annie Finch, A Poet’s Craft
Mary Kinzie, A Poet’s Guide to Poetry
Weekly poems and critical annotations of the readings; full participation in every class discussion; weekly attendance; and final project.
English 261: Beyond Setting: Locating Character in Time and Place
Instructor: Rosemary Graham Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:00pm-4:35pm
“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners
This course will give you the opportunity to focus on two of the three parts of O’Connor’s “peculiar crossroads.” Weekly readings will guide weekly experiments encouraging you to take your fiction into unexplored territory: other decades, other continents as well as the here and now.
Eudora Welty, Mystery and Manners (excerpts)
Frank O’Connor, The Best of Frank O’Connor
Margot Livesey, The House on Fortune Street
Ellen Sussman, The Paradise Guest House
Peter Behrens, The O’Briens
Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
Joan Silber, The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long As It Takes
Requirements: Weekly informal written responses to the reading and weekly 2 pp. experiments, one of which to be expanded into a 15-20-page story or novel excerpt. Attendance, active participation in lively class discussion.
Official Learning Outcomes for English 261, Craft of Fiction
In this course, students will:
- read fiction with attention to the techniques writers use to locate characters in place and move them through time
- create original fiction using these and other techniques to locate characters in place and move them through time
- relate the content of the course to their own fiction and to the practice of writing fiction in our time.
English 231: First Fiction
English 261: Graduate Craft Seminar
Narrative Strategies in Fiction