Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Advanced Non-Fiction Writing cancelled

ENGL 145.302

Too often, what passes for “creative non-fiction” is neither as creative as it could be, nor truly non-fictional. The goal of this class is to explore many different forms of creative non-fiction writing and, through your individual work and intense group workshopping, broaden and deepen your knowledge of both the form and yourself as a writer and a reader. The course will use a different magazine or periodical each week, along with your own writing, as its primary reading material. And it will feature some of the intense peer editing and support my students have helped me develop at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where I’ve taught the magazine writing workshop for the past eight years.

It is not, necessarily, a class only for those interested in non-fiction writing or journalism as a career, and students will be selected based on the quality and ambition of their writing samples, not whether the pieces were ever published. That said, I do expect that some students will produce work in the class that is publishable—or, at the very least, would open doors for you at publications. But, everyone will learn how to write, report, think and communicate more concisely, emotionally and entertainingly; how to draw out characters and narratives; and how to share your knowledge and enthusiasm for a subject, and your deepening understanding of it, with readers. You’ll also learn how to constructively criticize the work of others, and to accept and embrace critiques of your own work.

You will be writing pretty much every week in this class. We’ll begin with short pieces (500+ words) that will be tied to what we’re reading that week, and a theme: first-person memoir, reported memoir (amazing how memoir changes when you ask someone else how they remember it), observed scene, scene recreated from reporting, extended dialogue, historical recreation, procedural how-to, profile of a person and biography of an idea. For the final assignment you’ll expand your favorite piece (with my approval) into a full-length story.

If it sounds like a lot of work, I suspect it will be. (For me, too.) This isn’t a class for tourists. It’s an immersion experience in non-fiction writing, reporting, thinking and editing for students who think they might want to do this for a living—or, at the very least, expect to be superior communicators.

Please send one or two samples of your best work and a cover letter expressing your interest in the course to Also include your full name, last four digits of SS#, undergraduate class, and telephone number where you can be reached. *Permit is required by the instructor.*

fulfills requirements