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 (CC&T) 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 winter 2016 Residency, scheduled for January 1–10, 2016, are listed below. *The audit fee is $40 per class for the general public, the deadline for registering is Friday, December 18, 2015. Please review our audit policy before registering. *REGISTRATIONS ARE NOW CLOSED FOR WINTER 2015.

  • *Please note that Josh Neufeld's class, MORE ALCHEMY THAN SCIENCE: COMICS & GRAPHIC NARRATIVES, is FREE, but you will need to indicate your plans to attend.
  • If you would like a downloadable PDF form, click here

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


Writer-in-residence: Terrance Hayes
Sunday, January 3, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

How does a poet embrace (or surrender to) his/her obsessions while continuing to develop and experiment? We will discuss a poem from each of the late poet Lynda Hull’s three books in an effort to explore how a poet can remain both true to and challenged by his/her passions. The poems follow: “Hollywood Jazz” (from Ghost Money, 1986), “Lost Fugue for Chet” (from Star Ledger, 1991) and “Ornithology” (from The Only World, 1995).

Required reading: Handout to be provided.


Faculty member: Amy Hoffman
Sunday, January 3, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

The essayist and novelist Joan Didion said, “Writers are always selling somebody out”; the poet Muriel Rukeyser said, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.” Through writing and discussion, we will think about why we write what we do; for whom we write it; whether we have a moral obligation to write about certain things—or not to.

Required reading: “‘I Can’t Stand Your Books’: A Writer Goes Home,” by Mary Gordon. Please note that in our discussion we won’t be focusing on Gordon’s theories about Irish literature compared to black or Jewish literature but rather on her experience of writing about sex, religion, and other topics her family wishes she’d kept to herself. (Available on PMC community pages, and at:



Guest Faculty Member: Josh Neufeld
Monday, January 4, 1:15 –3:15 p.m.

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 . . . 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 comics-making process: visual thinking (showing vs. telling), encapsulation, scripting, layouts and thumb nailing; while touching on penciling, inking, and coloring. In the second hour, the class will focus on a spontaneous,collaborate narrative exercise — creating self-contained mini comics that embrace the whimsical and the unexpected. You’ll leave the workshop 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”


Faculty member: Nicole Terez Dutton
Tuesday, January 5, 1:15 – 3:15 p.m.

The miracle of some poems is the way they open themselves as a world for the reader to enter and inhabit. But how do these poems begin? Where and how is the reader first beckoned? How do these beginning notes map to the rest of the poem? In this class we’ll investigate how opening lines launch poems, giving particular attention to the mechanics and narrative strategies through which a reader is compelled, startled, or seduced into the heart of a poem. We will examine work by Betsy Sholl, Yusef Komunyakaa, Eugene Gloria, Brandon Som, and Cate Marvin.

Required reading: handout to be provided.


Suitable for YA and general fiction writers
Faculty member: Sandra Scofield
Wednesday, January 6, 1:15 – 3:15 p.m.

There are no rules for novels, save this: Engage the reader. From that flows all our considerations of subject and style, sufficiency, and shape. For “instruction” go first to novels themselves. The work of describing texts builds a repertoire of strategies for writing. Think next of process, map out possible routes. Consider the mountain you would climb. We will talk about the nature of the novel—how a writer creates a ‘world’. We will discuss concepts of premise, chronology, plot, character agency, and structure. Our “way in” is through discussion of a common text. Please read it with relish and close attention. Come prepared to say what you can about the strategy of the novel: how has the writer organized a story that holds your attention and moves you? Setting plays an important role in the assigned text; indeed, the story urgently rises from place and time. Note the use of scene and its balance with short passages of summary.

Required text: Julie Otsuka. When the Emperor was Divine.
I will refer to the 2003 Anchor Book paperback. The book is precise, delicate, and heartbreaking. It is also short. It has adult and child characters. It should be instructive and engaging for writers of both adult and YA novels. Indeed, memoir writers could learn from it, too.

Pre-class assignments:
The attachment, “Notes toward Analyzing a Novel” will be the guide to our general discussion. Please make notes and be prepared to contribute your ideas about the book.Furthermore, please identify three key scenes.

Write a brief summary of each. Everyone won’t choose the same scenes, but you should have a reason for your choice: Why does the novel “have to have” the scene? What does it do to move the action and illuminate the theme?

Be conscious of the sense of “perfect choice” of words, length of sentences, and composition of passages.

Consider the Irish writer John McGahern’s assertion that a novel must possess “…that inner formality or calm, that all writing, no matter what it is attempting, must possess.” Consider, too, what Lydia Davis had to say about Flaubert after she translated Madame Bovary: [he was an author who] “held himself accountable to each word, that it be the right word, of which there could be only one.” A novel, as surely as a poem, is written word by word.

Pre-class questions to ponder & one more assignment:

Do you think Otsuka succeeds in her attempt? What do you take away from this novel that might influence your own writing?
How do you feel about talking this way, instead of about plot, character, setting, and theme?
Try analyzing something you have written in terms of the “Notes” attached.


Faculty Member: Robert Lopez
Wednesday, January 6, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

The ending of a short story has to seem inevitable yet surprising at the same time. A memorable ending also has to feel rather like an opening, as opposed to closing. Meaning the world we have created has to seem different, changed, but with myriad possibilities for our character(s) moving forward, even if our story ends in death. We will examine how writers manage to accomplish this in a few short pages.

Required Reading:
· Donald Barthelme, ”The School” from 60 Stories
· Grace Paley, “Wants” from The Collected Stories of Grace Paley
· Barry Hannah, “Water Liars” from Airships
· Tobias Wolff, “Bullet in the Brain” from The Night in Question
· Jamaica Kincaid, “Girl” from At the Bottom of the River


Guest faculty member: Dawn Potter
Wednesday, January 6, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Since antiquity, essay writers have been crossing subject, style, and even genre lines. Contemporary writers have begun labeling such pieces lyric essays—a way to emphasize that they are primarily works of exploration and transformation, a version of prose more akin to poetry than to journalism. In this workshop we'll consider some examples of the lyric essay, studying how the structure of language itself influences the writer’s thought process and learning to follow our own lyric impulses in prose. The workshop will include discussion, writing prompts, and exercises, and is open to writers with experience in any genre.

Bring to class: Bring writing materials, and a copy of Phillip Lopate's The Art of the Personal Essay to class.


Guest faculty member: Jeannine Atkins
Thursday, January 7, 1:15 – 3:15 p.m.

At the end of a picture book, a satisfied listener may demand, “Again,” and turn back the pages. Structure is crucial in a form that’s experienced in one sitting. One way to make sure that a book moves not just straight ahead but inward and around is to find details that may reveal more in each reading. For instance, at the beginning of some books, a button, mitten, toy, held hand, or falling leaf looks simple, but by the end suggests a theme. We’ll consider other examples and practice developing imagery to shape works in progress.

Required Reading:
Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon by Jeannine Atkins, illustrated by Michael Dooling
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Waiting by Kevin Henkes
City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems illustrated by Jon J. Muth


Faculty Member: Renée Watson
Thursday, January 7, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Narrative Voice is not only about what point of view our stories are told in, but also what our characters notice and how they describe what they notice. In this workshop, we will learn how to develop the narrative voice of teenaged characters by considering how gender, social economic status, ethnicity, educational background, culture, and experience all work together to shape the voice and tone of a story.

Required Reading: A handout will be distributed in class.


Faculty member: Laura Williams McCaffrey
Friday, January 8, 1:15 – 3:15 p.m.

Speculative worlds aren’t entirely built of figments–inventions, dreams, grey haze. They’re also built from realistic materials. Writers use a variety of techniques to blend the real and the unreal as they form unique worlds. Ged’s land in A Wizard of Earthsea is not the same as Frodo’s in The Lord of the Rings or as Keturah’s in Keturah and Lord Death, though all these worlds are partially constructed from medieval folklore and history. Despite their shared foundations, they are as distinctive as your home from your neighbor’s. What also makes each story’s blend of the real and the unreal unique is the ways in which writers reveal them to readers, ways that are fundamentally connected to POV. A world might appear differently to its youngest residents than to its oldest ones. It may even appear differently to an older sister and a younger brother, though both grow to adulthood in the same house, with the same parents, during the same years. Characters’ circumstances and personalities alter their perceptions of their worlds - the perceptions they offer to readers. So how do we, as writers, blend the real and unreal to form distinctive, intriguing speculative worlds? How do we reveal our blends through the idiosyncratic eyes of characters? In this class, we’ll explore answers to these questions. Please come prepared for lecture, discussion, and at least one writing exercise.

Required reading: Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races and Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.