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(See also Clear Writing Program.)

Gloria Biamonte
John Sheehy
Bronwen Tate

Courses in this area treat writing more as an art than as a medium of explanation. These courses cultivate skills in a wide variety of literary forms, including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, memoir and personal essays. Students working in these courses should generally have passed the Clear Writing Requirement, as these courses are designed to explore varieties of form and literary style, not to correct, for instance, errors in syntax. Workshop courses may be repeated.

Although students interested in writing generally study literature as well, they may consider a much broader use of the curriculum; everything is grist for the writer’s mill. Quite apart from the subject matter of such courses as anthropology, art history, biology or philosophy, the trained skills of observing clearly and articulating both differences and similarities among things observed are useful to anyone who writes. Study of the other arts can help develop one’s sense of artistic and aesthetic disciplines. Writers must know words and language and what has been done with them before, but it certainly helps to know, as well, something of politics or economics or the stars or how to chop a mortise with a chisel.

Areas of Interest for Plan-Level Work:

Gloria Biamonte

  • Creative nonfiction writing
  • Various topics in literature and literary criticism


John Sheehy

  • Creative nonfiction writing
  • Various topics in literature, film and criticism


Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

An introduction to poetic form, both for those who wish to develop their own skills in formal verse, and for those who want to cultivate an analytical sensitivity to formal elements in poetry. Those in the first category will attempt poems in a variety of forms; those in the second will write short papers about poems in each form. We will explore various principles of rhythm in organizing lines—meter, syllable count, rhyme, free verse, refrains, prose—and a broad range of traditional and not-so-traditional stanza structures—sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, haiku, double-dactyls, nonce forms and so on. The aim is not to complete polished poems and papers, but to engage technical matters in poetry seriously through exercises and analysis. May be taken in conjunction with Poetry Workshop or independently. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 3

Based on the premise that one learns to write fiction by observing the techniques of other writers, this seminar covers 10 classic and contemporary novels with an eye to ascertaining how their authors handle problems of structure, narration, voice, character, style & narrative distance. Weekly plot summaries; occasional fiction exercises; exam. Books studied: Austen, Pride & Prejudice; Bronte, Jane Eyre; Dickens, Bleak House; James, Portrait of a Lady; Pym, Glass a Blessings; Swift, Waterland; Spark, Symposium; Ishiguro, Remains of the Day; Dexter, Paris Trout. Class is limited to 10 students. Prerequisite: Completion of the writing requirement & permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Have you ever found yourself drawn into a story of abduction and the return of the victim to society? The captivity narrative is a surprisingly flexible, durable and popular genre. At their core, these are gripping stories of survival that also challenge and create our culture and identity. Traditionally thought of as nonfictional accounts of the capture of a white person by Native Americans on the frontier, ending with their redemption, this class will examine many ways to write about and on captivity. The possibility and threat of border-crossing is central to these stories, and issues of race and gender are always present. Several early American captivity narratives will be read, but we will also examine more recent captivity narratives that center on alien abduction, a POW story, and more. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

How can non-specialists make sense of today’s revolutionary advances in technology, mobility, food production and more? In this class, we’ll examine how popular science writers such as Michael Pollan and Elizabeth Kolbert “translate” technical information into stories that anybody can understand and find
compelling. We’ll look at a variety of texts that repackage scientific knowledge into accessible, jargon-free narratives, practicing our own hand along the way. Our class is centered on the goal of clear communication driven by curiosity. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Most writing is nonfiction writing, and, “academic essays” aside, the category covers a huge range of genres: personal essays, memoirs, journalism, “new” journalism, reporting, nonfiction novels. . . the list could go on. In this course, we will both read and write in a variety of nonfiction modes: we’ll read essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Marilynne Robinson and James Baldwin, short and long journalistic pieces by Hunter Thompson, Malcolm Gladwell and others and books by Terry Tempest Williams and Truman Capote. And along the way, we'll write—essays, character studies, journalistic pieces and longer analyses. The goal, everywhere, will to do what all nonfiction writers do: to tell the truth, to tell it deeply, and to be interesting about it. This is a writing seminar, so expect a lot of reading and a lot of writing. Work with texts will alternate with work on revision, clarity and style. A good time will be had by all. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

The course begins with a review of basic grammatical principles. It continues with exercises designed to increase the students’ control of their prose. The second half of the semester is spent partly in revising existing papers, and partly in studying such stylistic niceties as parallel structure, rhythmic control, and felicitous presentation of research. May be a designated writing course (4 credits); otherwise, 3. NOTE: Open to students who have passed the writing requirement but desire to improve their writing for Plan. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 3

Class discussion of students’ stories. Each student produces work for the class and participates in analysis and discussion. Reading and assignments vary as appropriate (variable credits: 2-5); admission based on consideration of samples of students’ work. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Multi-Level | Credits: 2

Long weekly classes devoted to an analysis and discussion of poems written for the class. Students encouraged to experiment with forms and techniques. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor, based on writing samples     Multi-Level | Credits: Variable

Sample Tutorial Topics

Gloria Biamonte

  • Toni Morrison in Context
  • Contemporary Autobiography
  • Slave Narratives and Neo-Slave Narratives
  • History of the Popular Novel in America
  • Spiritual Autobiography
  • Lower East Side Stories
  • Stilling the Immutable Heart: Self-Suppression in Tony Kushner’s Drama
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction

John Sheehy

  • The Contemporary Literature of the American West
  • African American Literature
  • The Essays of James Baldwin
  • Readings in Native American Literature
  • Intermediate and Advanced Creative Nonfiction Writing
  • William Faulkner in Context
  • Reading the American South
  • Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy in Context
  • Topics in American Film and Film Criticism
  • Comics and the Comic Book Hero