Advanced Nonfiction Workshop

“Why bother conducting an experiment at all if you know what results it will yield? Maybe every essay automatically is in some way experimental–not an outline traveling toward a foregone conclusion but an unmapped quest that has sprung from the word question. I don’t know where the journey ends; otherwise, why call this action journey?”

—John D’Agata


“To think with any seriousness is to doubt. Thought is indistinguishable from doubt. To be alive is to be uncertain. I'll take doubt. The essayist argues with himself, and the essayist argues with the reader. The essay enacts doubt; it embodies it as a genre. The very purpose of the genre is to provide a vehicle for essaying.”

—David Foster Wallace

As the capstone in nonfiction writing, this advanced-level course emphasizes a more sophisticated, rigorous approach to writing and revising creative nonfiction—herein known as the essay—which is in itself something of an indefinable genre, an inherently hybrid form whose lofty goal is to weave truth (nonfiction) and beauty (creativity). This course will function as an innately critical writing workshop, designed for students who are serious about their writing and serious, too, in their pursuit of refining and polishing both their skills and their work. As this course is particularly designed for juniors and seniors with prior experience writing and reading nonfiction, I expect all participants to dedicate ample time reading, writing, and thoroughly revising—‘reseeing’ the work, as it were. This is not, in short, a ‘blow-off’ course, though you can expect ample freedom in both the content you create and the schedule you keep for yourself. With the exception of our first assignment, you will, in fact, establish largely your own parameters in terms of content and length of the work you produce. The nature of our small class means you’ll be producing work and revising regularly, but the content and length of this work is wholly up to you. Although I’m happy to recommend supplemental reading, provide you with writing exercises and prompts, and even suggest innovative forms that might question your idea of nonfiction and further engage your creative and essayistic mind, I expect each of you to come to this class with ideas, interests, and goals you hope to explore on the page.

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