Creative Nonfiction

Core faculty for Creative Nonfiction is the award-winning writer, Marilyn Abildskov. Students also study with Visiting Writers and Editors. 

The SMC MFA program welcomes all writers and genres of writing. We embrace aesthetic diversity and believe our program is made stronger by its inclusion of all peoples. If you are applying from outside of the United States, visit our International Writers page. 

Courses and Sample Syllabi: 

Writing Workshop

This course gives students the opportunity to explore material in various areas of nonfiction, such as memoir, personal essay, or travel writing. The course addresses issues of voice, scene, point of view, and theme, as well as any other elements of nonfiction writing that will emerge from individual manuscripts.  By the end of the course, students should develop the terminology and the critical skills for revising nonfiction, and should develop a good understanding about issues and trends in the genre.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • produce a significant amount of original work;

  • learn through the practice of reading, annotating, and discussing the work of their peers;

  • develop the vocabulary and critical skills necessary for revising creative nonfiction.



Students will meet over the course of the semester at mutually agreed upon times with the instructor of the workshop for individual sessions to review strengths and areas for revision of manuscripts. The instructor will suggest additional reading, ideas for revision, writing exercises, and specific areas where a student might improve his or her craft.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • move toward a sophisticated knowledge of revision and the craft of creative nonfiction applicable to the participation in workshop;

  • gain a greater understanding of their own strengths and areas for improvement;

  • receive advice and instruction on the professional aspects of publishing the work and/or selections from it.


Contemporary Creative Nonfiction

This course is a literary survey of contemporary nonfiction, including the personal essay and narrative nonfiction.  Students will investigate the relationship between art and culture, between the writer and his or her society. The course will place special emphasis on formal analysis of themes and patterns in contemporary writing. Course will include a library visit and assignment that includes a research component. Writers likely to be included are Jo Ann Beard, Joan Didion, Dave Eggers, Lucy Grealy, Pico Iyer, Mary Karr, Philip Lopate, Richard Rodriguez, Terry Tempest Williams, and Tobias Wolff.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • read contemporary creative nonfiction as writers, analyzing the variety of movements,  aesthetic trends, and techniques important to creative nonfiction in recent decades;

  • study the historical and cultural context of the creative nonfiction at hand;

  • connect contemporary trends with earlier texts, particularly the literature of the modern period;

  • relate contemporary creative nonfiction to its professional context, attending to publishing markets and other trends in the field;

  • learn research strategies in order to conduct their own investigations for either an analytical paper or a creative project.


Craft Courses

These courses focus on issues that influence the writing of nonfiction. Some seminars may focus on issues of craft of aesthetics—narrative structure, point of view, or dialogue—and others may be thematic in nature or explore a subgenre of nonfiction—personal essay, memoir, nature writing, travel writing, humor, the review essay, the lyric essay, literary reportage, biography, etc. Readings may include a wide range of nonfiction from diverse backgrounds and historical periods as well as the students' own works-in-progress.

Learning Outcomes

Students will: 

  • read creative nonfiction with attention to the particular craft in question;

  • create original creative nonfiction within the described parameters of the seminar, using the seminar’s theme as a means for practice and experimentation;

  • relate the particular theme/craft of the seminar to their own work and to the practice of writing creative nonfiction in our time.

Students may:

  • read secondary texts or texts outside of the genre (e.g., texts in poetry, literary theory, history, or philosophy);
  • workshop and/or share original work in class.