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, Massachusetts. A select number of classes are open to serious writers who wish to audit graduate-level Craft, Criticism, & Theory (CC&T) courses. Auditors are asked to commit to doing the preparatory work and required reading for each class attended. Each class is two-hours long and costs $45.

The deadline for registering to audit classes during our summer 2018 residency, scheduled for July 6 - 15, 2018, is Friday, June 22, 2018. Please read our class audit policy before you register online. http://www.pmc.edu/class-audit-policy Please note: Once you sign up for courses, the Solstice MFA office will send you the available reading materials (noted on class descriptions as being on "moodle") and the rest of reading material you will need to find online or at your local library or bookstore. 

You can see the bios of our faculty and guests here: http://www.pmc.edu/mfa-faculty--staff and http://www.pmc.edu/upcoming-special-guests


Faculty member: Anne-Marie Oomen Class type: CC&T

Saturday, July 7 from 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room 

The travel essay, often dismissed as a charming catalogue of sights and sounds, as an essay of information or description rather than experience, has evolved toward a thrilling invitation to explore the interior. Those of us who have been moved by new places—by the experiential qualities of a new space—know there’s more to these essays than reportage. By studying the travel essay as an essay of experience (from quiet reflection to high adventure) in which the landscape (urban or rural, wild, or constructed) may offer emotional insight, and the journey a fresh understanding, even a spiritual awakening, we can become literary pilgrims, journeying not just literally to new “lands” but figuratively in the landscape of the self. We might even explore ways to remake the genre.

BRING WITH YOU: A one page, double-spaced description of a place that you visited for the first time, and which was essentially unfamiliar to you.

Required readings: Better Than Fiction: True Travel Tales..., ed., Don George. Read two chapters (on Moodle): “A Kind of Blue,” Sophie Cunningham, “The Huaxi Watermill,” Arnold Zable

Plus: Plainwater: Essays and Poetry, Anne Carson. Read “An Essay on the Road to Compostela” (Please find this essay on your own; if we are able to obtain a copy, we’ll let students know.)

Suggested reading: selections from An American Map, Anne-Marie Oomen, just to get my take on the travel essay.

Notes/Questions: In the literature of travel and place, what practices and innovations do writers exercise to move beyond the conventions of the genre? In your travels or explorations of place, how has the experience of being the “stranger in a strange land” become transformative, inspirational, and insightful for you as a writer?


Guest faculty member: Stephen Kuusisto Class type: CC&T

Sunday, July 8 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room

The Lyric Essay may be understood as a prose narrative characterized by subjectivity and deep feeling. In contemporary nonfiction, the term “lyric essay” has been applied to writing that follows many of the impulses of lyric poetry. The essayist is concerned with urgency, music, personal or cultural anguish—or, to put it another way, cultural mystery. Lyric prose is driven by the writer’s pleasure in language and not by fidelity to narrative conventions. This class will offer students the opportunity to color outside the lines, as we’ll write lyrical prose that uses hybrid forms and techniques.

Required reading: Lyric essay quotes and selections from Seneca Review—provided as two handouts on Moodle. Please read these in advance and bring them to class.


Faculty: Josh Neufeld Class type: CC&T

Sunday, July 8 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in Haldan 139

In his seminal work Understanding Comics, cartoonist Scott McCloud writes: “The different ways in which words and pictures can combine in comics is virtually unlimited. . . .The mixing of words and pictures is more alchemy than science.” This class will explore the dynamic realm of sequential art, and the ways that comics can produce powerful moments of frisson between words and images. In the first hour, we will familiarize ourselves with the language of comics and discuss the parameters of the form. We’ll explore the skills necessary for being a graphic novelist — scriptwriting, visual thinking (showing vs. telling,), encapsulation, layouts and thumb-nailing; and of course drawing. I’ll also discuss the tools of the trade, from analog to digital drawing materials. In the second hour, we’ll collaborate on a spontaneous narrative exercise — creating self-contained minicomics that embrace the whimsical and the unexpected. You’ll leave the class with a batch of new comics, as well as an appreciation for and enthusiasm about the “invisible art.”

Required Reading: Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Chapter 6: “Show and Tell” (On PMC Moodle)

Suggested Reading:

  • Will Eisner, Comics & Sequential Art, particularly Chapter 4: “The Frame,” and Chapter 6: “Writing & Sequential Art”
  • Jessica Abel & Matt Madden, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures

WRITING EMOTION (cross-genre)

Faculty member: Laura Williams McCaffrey Class type: CC&T

Sunday, July 8 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in Haldan 136

Readers discuss the emotional lives of characters at length, as their own emotions are affirmed, challenged, or in some way provoked by those of characters. And yet, while crafting characters, we can’t simply write, she feels, she feels, she feels. Even if the redundancy didn’t threaten to ruin our stories, this constant telling sometimes makes us, the authors, too present in our tales: we are explaining what should be evident from what is said, done, thought, seen, or otherwise perceived by our characters. Feelings in prose must seem experienced—springing from within our characters rather than draped over them by us, for the purposes of our ideas or our plots. So, how do we create such representations of emotion? Discovering the answers to this question will be the goal of our session, which will include a presentation, a discussion, and a writing exercise. While our reading will focus on a YA speculative fiction novel, the class is intended for all prose writers, those working on fiction and creative nonfiction, as well as genre and literary works.

Required Reading: Ruby, Laura. Bone Gap.

Ballenger, Bruce. “A Narrative Logic of the Personal Essay.” The Writer’s Chronicle, vol. 50, no. 5, March/April 2018, pp. 22-29. While this essay is about logic and structure, it has interesting things to say about the balance between narration and reflection that will be relevant to our discussion. (On Moodle.)

Also required: Bring your copy of texts with you to class, or bring substantial notes so you can discuss your reflections with specific quotations or paraphrasing of the text.

Questions: How do you know what primary characters feel moment-to-moment in the scenes? How do you know primary characters’ acknowledged and unacknowledged drives/yearnings?

What do you see as the similarities and differences between depicting emotion for teen readers and adult readers? What do you see as the similarities and differences between depicting emotion in a creative nonfiction piece and a fiction piece?


Guest faculty: Sharon Dolin Class Type: CC&T

Monday, July 9 from 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. in Haldan 139

How can we re-enter and re-vision our stuck poems? Focusing on syntax, we will discuss procedures and strategies for revising poems, first reading and discussing strong poetic models before we do at least one in-class revision exercise. This class is an invitation to play and radically re-visit poems-in-progress.

Required reading: handout to be provided.

Also required: Bring in two copies of a poem from 10 to 30 lines that you are open to revising.

Question: Do you find yourself using the same syntactic pattern in many of your poems? What revision strategies, particularly related to syntax, have worked for you? Choose a current favorite poem. What do you notice about its syntax? This will be part of what we discuss based on the poems I’ll share in class.


Guest faculty member: Sophie Goldstein Class type: CC&T

Tuesday, July 10 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in Haldan 139

The best fictional universes are compelling because they are based on an iron structure of internal logic that not only feels as real as the laws of our own universe but also helps fuel the engine of the story. Through the examination of several fictional universes we will see how other artists and storytellers construct compelling narratives and use these frameworks to examine contemporary social and moral issues.

Required Reading and Viewing:

  • Chiang, Ted. “Hell Is the Absence of God,” from Stories of Your Life and Others (on Moodle)
  • “White Christmas,” from Black Mirror (an episode from the TV series Black Mirror, available on Netflix streaming: season 2, episode 4, Channel 4, 16 Dec. 2014. Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/watch/80073158
  • Goldstein, Sophie. The Oven, AdHouse Books 2015 (on Moodle).

Suggested Reading and Viewing:

  • Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Bloomsbury, 2004.
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dir. by Michel Gondry, Focus Features, 2004.
  • Looper, Directed by Rian Johnson, TriStar Pictures, 2012.
  • Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife, MacAdam/Cage 2003.


Faculty Member: Renée Watson Class type: CC&T

Wednesday, July 11 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. in Haldan 136 

How do you balance stories of hardship with joy? In this workshop, we will discuss how writers tackle serious topics for young readers without traumatizing the reader or playing it too safe. We will examine how the juxtaposition of light and darkness, the use of humor, and ending in a hopeful (not completely resolved) place all work together to build a strong emotional arc.

Required Reading: Graff, Lisa. Umbrella Summer. New York: Harper Collins, 2011. (No need to bring a copy to class. 

Reading Questions:

What devices—creative and practical—does Lisa Graff use to tell a story about grief?

How do the title and the use of metaphor (about umbrellas) drive home a message of hope without being too “preachy?”


Faculty member: Laure-Anne Bosselaar Class type: CC&T

Wednesday, July 11 from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room

To create tone in our poems, we make continuous choices with syntax, vocabulary, sounds, rhythm, imagery, and form, to name but a few. In this interactive class, we’ll study the many ways in which tone is established, defined, refined, varied, or radically changed. We’ll address personification, pathetic fallacy, irony, and many other poetic devices or aspects of craft that can help us establish a distinct and convincing point of view in our work.

Required reading: a handout will be provided in class.


Faculty member: Sterling Watson Course type: CC&T

Thursday, July 12 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room

What makes a good ending? How have theories about endings developed and changed through literary history? Is a “taxonomy of endings” possible? Is an “open-ended ending” a good thing? How much ambiguity at the end is too much? Where is the line between mystery (good) and confusion (bad)? Come to this session and find out. We will discuss styles and techniques for ending a work of fiction.

Required reading: “The Dead” and “Araby,” short stories by James Joyce. These should be easy to locate online.

Reading Note: These two famous stories provide examples of the type of ending favored by Joyce, the first writer to apply the theological term “epiphany” to fiction.

Also required: Your assignment is to bring to the session an *example of a good ending (20 copies) and an idea about what makes it good. *Your example should be no more than 300 words long.

Additional Note: We will use your contributions only after the instructor runs out of brains and ideas, and we will have time for only some of them. “So we beat on, boats against the current…”


Guest faculty member: Lulu Delacre Class type: CC&T

Thursday, July 12 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. in Haldan 136

As writers we paint words on paper that allow the illustrator to complement, expand, and take our picture books to new levels. It is a remarkable art. In this session, we will examine picture books that successfully convey story with economy of words. We'll analyze examples of effective character development and the use of voice and language to achieve a writer's goal. We will also look at narrative arcs with multi-layered meaning. Students will cement their newfound knowledge through discussion and writing exercises.

Reading Questions: How can voice and language inspire the illustrator in fiction and nonfiction picture books? What should be said and sometimes, more important, left unsaid?

Required Reading: Most books can be found at the public library.

Carole Boston Weatherford, Freedom in Congo Square

Matt de la Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

Margarita Engle, Drum Dream Girl

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

Mo Williams, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Jacqueline Woodson, The Other Side

Jane Yolen, Owl Moon

Suggested Reading:

Eric Carle, The Very Busy Spider

Norton Juster, The Hello, Goodbye Window.

Bill Martin, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Gary Soto, Chato’s Kitchen.