Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Story-Telling in Fiction and Nonfiction

ENGL 410.641
Thursday 5:30-8:20 pm

This graduate seminar will focus on how to write a good story whether it’s “true” or not. First, you will write a non-fiction article that lets your readers immerse themselves in a “real” place where you participate and study for two to three hours every week—a place that’s active and that matters to you. Perhaps it will be a pre-school, a boatyard, a domestic violence shelter, a start up, or a soup kitchen, where you observe and report on actual efforts by the people involved. For this first part of the semester, you’ll write weekly reports for the class that culminate in an article about the place. During the second half of the course, you will follow a trail of sorts into a fictional world. Here, in your own imagination, you’ll find and follow a different story, one perhaps connected only by a thread, or a dream about the “true” story. What is “the truth”? What kind of truth are you looking to find or to tell in fiction and in nonfiction? What is visible? What matters that is invisible? What is most important to you and why?

In the process of researching, writing and revising these stories, you’ll not only fine tune your powers of observation, but you’ll also fine tune your ability to tap into the landscape of your own imagination through visualization and meditation. With both pieces, you will see the value of research and revision—as well as the importance of close, detailed description and dialogue. At the same time, we’ll examine what we read and write within a larger cultural and literary context. We’ll read selections from James Baldwin, Ruth Prawer-Jhabvala, Julie Otuska, T. C. Boyle, John Edgar Wideman, Donald Barthelme, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Audre Lorde, and others. Students will turn in observations, short pieces and reading responses every week, and free-write ten minutes a day.

fulfills requirements