Creative Writing: Intermediate Nonfiction Prose
The essay is notoriously difficult to define. Peruse any volume of The Best American Essays series and you’ll quickly realize that while each featured piece clearly demonstrates literary achievement, an awareness of craft, and a forcefulness of thought, “it seems impossible to identify a few essential features that characterize the genre and encompass all its forms” (Atwan xiv, ix).
In this course we will focus on the essay as a genre of creative nonfiction writing in its myriad forms: lyric, micro, flash, personal, literary, narrative, list/outline, and epistolary, among others. What makes an essay successful, or not? Engaging, or dull? Nuanced, or trite? Robert Atwan, in his introduction to The Best American Essays 2015, argues that we should define essays by asking “not what essays are but what essayists do” (ix). Virginia Woolf describes the essayist thus: “Bashful, insolent; chaste, lustful; prating, silent; laborious, delicate; ingenious, heavy; melancholic, pleasant; lying, true; knowing, ignorant; liberal, covetous, and prodigal” (Atwan xi). Her definition speaks to a literary category that has trouble describing what it is doing, a shapeshifting genre that for many years the literary world did not take seriously.
For the next fifteen weeks you’ll be immersed in the world of the essay and will have the opportunity to not only read extensively in the genre, but, of course, write in it. You’ll compose three distinct pieces that we’ll work on workshopping, revising, and polishing for future publication. At the close of the semester you’ll have a tangible body of work—a portfolio—that will demonstrate your semester-long understanding of and dedication to the essay as form.