Scott Sanders

PREREQUISITE: Requires permission of the instructor.

4:00p-5:15p TR (15 students) 3 cr.

This is a workshop in writing personal essays, personal forms of documentary or reportage, and memoir. You will be expected to approach this writing as a way of making discoveries about your own life, about subjects or ideas that fascinate you, and about human existence. You might deal with travels, nature, or science, with falling in or out of love, with growing up or growing old, with any subject under the sun or beyond the sun; but, whatever the subject, you must be willing to draw primarily on your own experience, reflection, and observation—as well as research, when appropriate— and to make your discoveries accessible to strangers. Therefore the workshop will not address such worthy but impersonal modes as scholarship and conventional journalism, nor such private modes as the diary, nor the freely invented modes of fiction.

We will spend the first third of the semester reading and talking about short works of nonfiction, and writing brief exercises in light of that reading. For texts, we will probably use Sam Cohen, ed., 50 Essays (2004), along with Susan Orlean, ed., The Best American Essays 2005 (2005) and a couple of single-author works. We will spend the rest of the semester discussing manuscripts produced by members of the workshop. You will be expected to write, in addition to the brief exercises, roughly 30 pages of finished work. You will be expected to read with care the manuscripts handed in by others, and to write for each longer manuscript a short critique (one paragraph to one page), a copy of which will be turned in to me. And you will be expected to give a brief oral report on a book-length work of nonfiction of your own choosing. Grades will be based primarily on the quality of your writing, including revisions, and secondarily on the quality of your responses to work presented by your classmates.

I do not expect you to have any considerable experience of writing personal nonfiction, but I do expect you to be able to write good prose. The workshop provides you with a group of informed, alert, and sympathetic readers. While it should also supply ideas and provocations for new writing—through class discussion, assigned readings, and exercises—the workshop is not designed to provide you with either the desire or the commitment to write. Those qualities you must bring with you.

By permission of the instructor: Leave a note in my mailbox (English Department office, Ballantine Hall 442), briefly describing your previous experiences in writing workshops and your reasons for wishing to take this course, along with a sample of your writing (5- 15 pages). Please include your telephone number, mailing address, and e-mail address. I will respond as soon as possible, to let you know whether you have been admitted to the workshop.