Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

Prerequisite: One 200-level course in creative writing or permission of instructor

01  TTH6   CAC   06735  BLANEY  MU-001

02   M3 HYBRID   CAC    08059   MILLER    MU-003

03  TF2   CAC   12785   HOEN  MU-003


01-Writing about People, Place and Performance

The course will be roughly divided into three sections:

i) Writing about People;
ii) Writing about Place/Travel; and
iii) Writing about Performance (Art).

In each case, we’ll discuss techniques and conventions, look at published examples, draft our own attempts, exchange criticism, and revise. There will be multiple exercises and short directed writing assignments both in and out of class.

02-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.

03 - Lying Responsibly - Turning Memory into Narrative

In this course we’ll investigate the range of possibilities and styles in contemporary memoir by reading the work of some of the most vital living writers of “creative nonfiction.” We’ll discuss the issues of ethics, perception, and authenticity that arise when a writer uses memory (theirs or someone else’s) as the source material for their work, and we’ll study a number of devices to employ (or avoid) when rendering narrative from “real life” events. For example: When is it okay to make composite characters (blending multiple people into one) or compress time for the sake of storytelling? How do memoirists account for what they can't remember, or when they don't trust their own memories? Is there any such thing as an objectivity when it comes to a person's interpretation of an emotional experience? Central to class will be a writing workshop for which students will turn in memoirs and essays of their own and will engage in discourse on their peers’ writing. Ideally, through ongoing discussion and revision, each student will come away an enhanced knowledge of nonfiction writing and several polished drafts of their own creative work.   

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Statue of "Willie the Silent"