Classes for Audit

At the start of each semester, the Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College hosts a 10-day residency on our campus in Chestnut Hill, MA. A select number of classes are open to serious writers who wish to audit graduate-level Craft, Criticism, & Theory courses and Elective Seminars. Auditors are asked to commit to doing the preparatory work and required reading for each class attended.

Classes available for audit at our summer 2014 Residency, scheduled for July 11-20, 2014, are listed below. The audit fee is $40 per class for the general public. The deadline to register for a summer 2014 course is Friday, June 27. Please review our audit policy before registering; click here for a downloadable registration formPDF or APPLY ONLINE.

NOTE: Most CC&T class descriptions include a reading note or question based on the required/suggested reading.

Recognition & Reversal in Short Fiction

Faculty member: Steven Huff
Saturday, July 12, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

Aristotle codified the terms Recognition and Reversal as they relate to plot lines. Recognition occurs when a character transitions from a state of ignorance to understanding, or clarified vision. Reversal is the sudden change of plot direction, often occasioned by Recognition. There can be numerous such points in a novel. But in a short story there is usually only one primary occurrence of each, acting together pivotally, and most often near the end. In this class we will discuss how to get the most power out of such moments. Students should read “A Small Good Thing” by Raymond Carver and “The Lame Shall Enter First” by Flannery O’Connor. And we will view the final scenes of the film, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. The instructor will offer some writing prompts, so students should come prepared to write before the end of the class.

Required reading: “A Small Good Thing” by Raymond Carver and “The Lame Shall Enter First” by Flannery O’Connor.

Strongly suggested: Rent and view Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962, produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford) before the residency.

Act Your Age

Faculty member: Laura Williams McCaffrey

Monday, July 18, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

We’ve all read stories in which children speak like college-educated adults, 20-somethings have the perspective of 40-somethings in the throes of a midlife crisis, and older adults speak like Obe-Wan Kenobe. How can we avoid writing such clichéd and inauthentic characters? The purpose of this class is to closely examine ways writers depict characters of diverse ages. While the focus might particularly interest those writing for young people, we won’t restrict ourselves to discussing child characters. We’ll explore what “age” means in terms of a character’s chronological age and years of experience, as well as in terms of the eras that have informed his or her perspective. Indeed, perspective and point-of-view will be essential aspects of this exploration. Please come prepared for a presentation, discussion, and writing exercises.

Required Reading: An Na. A Step from Heaven; Strout, Elizabeth. “Pharmacy.” Olive Kitteridge.

Reading note: Consider two characters of different ages in the required reading. How have the authors portrayed the characters’ ages? How effective are the portrayals? Be prepared to discuss your answers with examples from the text.

Grown-Ups Ruin Everything…Don’t They?

Guest faculty member: Kekla Magoon
Wednesday, July 16, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

Writers for young people find myriad ways to kick adult characters out of our stories: death, disappearance, inexplicable-yet-convenient absences, and more. We want our child characters to have freedom and solve their own problems, and adults—especially caring, responsible ones—easily get in the way. But the reality for most children is a world populated with adults, so why should our characters’ lives be any different? Drawing on lessons from psychology and sociology, we will explore the dynamics of adult-child relationships and apply this knowledge to character development. Then we will discuss strategies for using adult characters effectively as allies and antagonists to influence plot and complicate the lives of our young characters.

Suggested Reading:

  • Sachar, Louis. Holes. New York: Yearling/Random House, 1998.
  • Sáenz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012.
  • King, A.S. Please Ignore Vera Dietz. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010.
  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008.

Reading Note: I particularly recommend taking a look at Holes. I will use a lot of examples from that book (including spoilers) to illustrate the concepts explored in class. Numerous examples arise within the first 50 pages, so even a partial familiarity with the book will be helpful.

Story and Argument in the Essay

Guest faculty member: Carlo Rotella
Wednesday, July 16, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

An essay moves forward in at least two senses: it often tells a story, and it's almost always driving toward a point. Whether you're writing memoir, journalism, history, meditation, or any other sort of nonfiction, striking the balance between telling a story and developing an argument is one of the main craft challenges you face.As we discuss a pair of exemplary short essays and do some writing exercises, we'll consider how the two different impulses can act as organizing principles in your work. The emphasis will be on the nuts and bolts of how to strike the balance between story and argument in portraying characters, offering anecdotes, explaining ideas, and presenting a point of view.

Required reading: Phillip Weiss, "How to Get Out of a Locked Car Trunk"; and Melissa Fay Greene, "Sandlot Summer". (

The Illusive Chameleon: Prose Poem or Prose?

Faculty member: Dzvinia Orlowsky
Wednesday, July 16, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

What differentiates Margaret Atwood’s “Making Poison” as prose poem from “Bread” as flash fiction? And why did Stephen Berg’s Shaving receive enthusiastic reviews as a remarkable collection of short creative nonfiction pieces while Jorie Graham on the same book’s cover jacket praised this collection for establishing Berg as “the master of the prose poem.”? Questions such as these will be discussed in depth as we attempt to make heads and tails of genres that often mimic each other in execution, imagery, and tone.  A brief overview of the development of the prose poem from Bertrand to present is included for the newcomer to this form.

This seminar incorporates an in-class writing exercise. Please bring a poem or a short piece (500 word max) of fiction or nonfiction to develop into a prose poem.

Hand-outs will be provided.

Recommended reading:  S. Friebert, D.Young, editors, Models of the Universe (Oberlin College Press, 1995); Stephen Berg, Shaving (Four Way Books, 1998)

The End…. Right? Right!

Faculty member: Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Thursday, July 17, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

There are countless ways to end poems, and yet the great majority of endings do one of two things: greatly contract the focus of the poem, or expand it wider than any first time reader could anticipate. By taking a close look at some poems we’ll discover how the use of imagery, line-breaks, focus, leaps, surprises and other “tricks” lead to their satisfactory conclusions. This will be an inter-active workshop: participation in the discussion is most welcome.

Required reading: handouts will be provided in class.

Flash Fiction in a Flash (a Cross-Genre Class!)

Guest faculty member: Katey Schultz
Thursday, July 17, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

What are the defining characteristics of flash fiction? How can writers in all genres benefit from studying this form? In this course we will read and discuss examples of traditional flash fiction, touch on a definition of the form, and try our hand at writing it ourselves. Whether you are working on a novel that needs stronger scenes, whether your short stories need stronger metaphor, or whether your poems need more efficient imagery, studying the masters of flash fiction and trying it yourself can impact your writing profoundly. From efficiency to escalation to those coveted frozen-in-time “ah-hah’s,” this form represents a microcosm of some of the most important craft skills a writer can master.

Required Reading: A flash fiction packet/handout will be provided in class.

Suggested Reading: Any flash fiction anthology available at your local public library is sufficient for thumbing through, and Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories is especially demonstrative. I also recommend Smokelong Quarterly.

Reading Note: If you choose to do the suggested reading, consider the ways in which each individual story conjures a distinct moment. What tools did the writer use to achieve this feeling of elation and completeness, of tension and resolve, or—in some cases—of sustained uncertainty?

The Truer Telling: Revision in Memoir

Faculty member: Anne-Marie Oomen
Thursday, July 17, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

"It might seem dismaying that you should see what your story is about only after you have written it. Try it; you’ll like it. Nothing is more exhilarating than the discovery that a complex pattern has lain in your mind ready to unfold." — Janet Burroway

Revision in memoir seems like the journey to a truth we didn’t know we knew. To complicate the process, many memoirists (and other prose writers as well) make this journey by first writing incidents, anecdotes, or uncontextualized history—those predicted but ultimately contradicted “self-truths.” We write the andthenandthenandthen version and grab at immediate meaning, only to discover it inadequate as we revise.
To complicate this even further, there’s the question of how much, in the process of crafting a truer truth, we can deliberately alter before we become unethical. We’ll talk about what we write in our first “tellings,” then how, through revision, we discover the “truer telling.” We’ll look at strategies of deep revision as a way to re-enter and rebuild the discovered “story” (the true-er lie?).

Question: How do we discover the “truth” we are telling in memoir, and how, through revision, do we invite our reader to share in that understanding?

Required Reading:

  • Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, Chapter 3 “Memoirs,” pgs. 47-65. Read as a powerful introduction on how to approach memoir writing.
  • Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz. Writing True, the Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction. Chapter 7, pgs. 106-128. Focus on list of revision strategies.
  • Sandra Scofield, two versions of a section of her forthcoming memoir. An example of going deeper.

Recommended Reading:

  • Vivian Gornick. The Situation and the Story, pgs. 13-26. Read as an introduction to the shaped narrator.
  • Robert Root: The Nonfictionist’s Guide, On Reading and Writing Creative Nonfiction, Chapter 11, “Truth,” pgs. 177-195.
  • Natalie Goldberg. Old Friend from Far Away. “Structure,” pgs. 286-296.

Point of View in Fiction

Faculty member: Sterling Watson
Thursday, July 17, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

This lecture/discussion class will center on problems and possibilities in the use of fictional point-of-view. We will cover the relationship between point-of-view and “voice,” some common misconceptions about point-of-view, common errors in its use, what seems to be standard practice in today’s literary world (along with some risky but interesting techniques). Concepts will be illustrated with examples. Q&A at the end as time permits.

Required reading: Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway (two chapters on point-of-view: see 6th edition); handouts also to be provided in class.

Question: After reading the two chapters on point-of-view in Burroway think about how she uses the word, “distance” to describe point-of-view. In how many ways does the concept, or the metaphor, of distance apply to fictional point-of-view? How can distance, effectively managed, enhance fiction? How might distance, poorly managed, make fiction difficult to understand or otherwise ineffective?

The Dance of Character and Plot in Picture Books

Guest faculty member: Miriam Glassman
Friday, July 18, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

“Plot is Character Revealed by Action.” Even in picture books, Aristotle’s guiding principle holds true. This class will focus on exploring the interaction of character and plot in picture books. Through a close reading of character-centric texts, students will examine the traits that create endearing and enduring picture book characters, analyze how plot arises organically from these characters, and discuss how character and plot are expressed both visually and through text. Using their own characters, students will generate several possible plots as an exercise in honing their character and finding the heartbeat of their story.

In addition, we will also examine four basic plots commonly found in picture books as well as the pattern these plots often follow. Through storyboarding, students will learn how employing a pattern helps to create a satisfying picture book narrative.

Required Reading:

· Allard, Harry, Miss Nelson Is Missing!
· Bemelmans, Ludwig, Madeline
· Burton, Virginia Lee, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
· Falconer, Ian, Olivia
· Henkes, Kevin, Julius, The Baby of the World
· Hoban, Russell Bread and Jam for Frances
· Keats, Ezra Jack, The Snowy Day
· Leaf, Munro, The Story of Ferdinand the Bull
· Sendak, Maurice, Where The Wild Things Are
· Steig, William, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
· Watt, Melanie Scaredy Squirrel
· Willems, Mo, Knuffle Bunny

Reading Note: Bring the title of a picture book (no need for the actual book) featuring a favorite character of yours. What are the traits, both positive and/or troublesome, that make the character appealing to you? What are the elements that make the narrative satisfying? Can you identify the heartbeat of the story?

Also, come to class with an original picture book character in mind. Think about their traits and how they might influence your narrative.

Suggested Reading:

· Marcus, Leonard. Show Me A Story: Why Picture Books Matter. Candlewick Press, 2012.
· Paul, Ann Whitford. Writing Picture Books. Writer’s Digest Books, 2009.
· Shulevitz, Uri, Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books. Watson-Guptill Publications, 1985.

The Flow of Meaning in the Novel (and Memoir)

Faculty member: Sandra Scofield
Friday, July 18, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

“Virginia Woolf once said that novelists write not in sentences but in chapters. Novelistic form is, in some ways, the achievement of this deep, patient rhythm. Much contemporary fiction, like much contemporary life, has a restless flamboyance that preempts such wise shapeliness.” from a review by James Wood in The New Yorker, May 08, 2013.

The novelist’s need to develop coherent, linked chapters underlies an important perspective on both writing and (especially) revising a novel, and is essentially what informs this class. However well written each chapter is, it serves the novel only in its relationship to all the others. Chapters must “add up;” must build not only a plot sequence but an emotional momentum. Furthermore, just as sentences “add up” in a paragraph because they have a focus (thesis, topic sentence, etc.), chapters illuminate the protagonist's psychological journey through events. You may read a novel for plot, but you remember it for character.

You know about plot because it is the front burner in thinking about mainstream novels: action, turns, crises, etc. But how are events tied emotionally? How is plot driven by desire and regret? How does the text explore the deep waters of character and relationships? How do you develop “deep, patient rhythm?”

We will discuss a novel in order to understand its composition: proportion, shape. Our analysis focuses on thematic threads that create rhythm and bind plot with deep meaning. (In memoir, analagously, one considers situation—what happened—and story—meaning—a la Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story. Edwidge Danticat’s novel (the required reading for this class) draws on her childhood and is instructive for fiction and memoir writers.

Required text: Danticat, Edwidge. Breath, Eyes, Memory: A Novel. (pb) NY: Vintage Contemporaries, 1998.

Recommended, especially for CNF: Gornick, Vivien. The Situation and the Story. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

Recommended Follow-up Reading: Baxter, Charles. The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2007.
D'Erasmo, Stacy. The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2013.

Additional resources:
· body link

Preparation & Reading Notes:
Breath, Eyes, Memory is an “easy” novel to read. It is short; there is one point of view (though the stories of women of three generations are told); the diction is syntactically simple; and the major narrative strategy is the use of scenes. But it is thematically complex; several “threads” of meaning are developed and intertwined as the story unfolds. I hope you will have time to read it twice—once as a reader, and then again as a writer. You will want to experience the novel's “flow,” but in a second reading you can be attentive to its structure, and enjoy even more the amazing imagery.

Consider Danticat’s use of four parts to the novel, not only for the economy of the strategy, but for the effect of the ellipses. In other words, what “happens” in each jump, and what “happens” in what isn’t written?

For each of the four parts, write a very short summary of the action. Bring these to class. Each section has a sequence of events that add up to “what happened.” In class we will focus on what those events mean for the protagonist, Sophie.

Enjoy this wonderful novel.

"Food for thought: When you write, it's like braiding your hair. Taking a handful of coarse unruly strands and attempting to bring them to unity . . . Some of the braids are long, others are short. Some are thick, others are thin. Some are heavy. Others are light."
—Edwidge Danticat

Lessons from Music: Approaches to Uncomfortable Truths & Honesty from Lyricists

Faculty member: Dwayne Betts

Friday, July 18, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

In this class, we’ll explore the work of several contemporary artists, including the MCs Kendrick Lamar, Killer Mike, and Schoolboy Q. Listening closely to some of the best contemporary hip hop songs raises troubling questions for the nonfiction writer: where they are bold, we are often bland. Where they are self-reflective, we are often veiled. Where they are often brutally honest, we are often pandering. But more important for us, this all flows out of an MC’s use of rhetorical devices. Through listening, we will begin to consider the way craft helps the artist create a complicated work capable of existing on several different registers at once. Writing prompts will be given that encourage students to consider how these principles play out at the level of the sentence, paragraph, and entire work. This will include a “mixtape” of sorts that will allow you to have a playlist of music, essays, and fiction to serve as examples of the techniques that will be discussed.

Required reading: George Orwell, “Shooting an Elephant”; D. Watkins, “Too Poor for Pop Culture” (

Music to be introduced & played in class:

  • Kendrick Lamar, “Dying of Thirst”
  • Killer Mike, “Reagan” and “Willie Burke Sherwood”
  • Schoolboy Q, “Hoover Street”