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 two-hour 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. Handouts will be made available where applicable.

Classes available for audit at our winter 2015 Residency, scheduled for January 2-11, 2015, are listed below. The audit fee is $40 per class for the general public. Please review our audit policy before registering; click here for a downloadable registration form or register online.

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

Food & Identity

Guest faculty member: Suzanne Cope
Sunday, January 4 from 1:15–3:15 p.m.

There is no doubt that food memoirs, essays, and blogs have been increasingly popular in the past few years, but is this writing only about the meal on the plate?This course will look at examples of creative nonfiction writing about food and its greater implications on the writer’s identity as well as the cultural context of using food in one’s writing. Using samples of food writing from literature as well as representations of food in social media, blogs, and pop culture, this we will practice craft techniques for making food a visceral presence in one’s writing, as well as discuss using food writing as a larger metaphor for personal and cultural truths.

Required Reading:

  • “The First Oyster” by M.F.K. Fisher (from The Gastronomical Me)
  • “Chapter 1: How to Boil Water” by Tamar Adler (from An Everlasting Meal)
  • “What Do We Write About When We Write About Food?” by Adam Gopnik (from The Table Comes First)
  • Recent blog entries from Orangette (http://orangette.blogspot.com/); Chocolate and Zucchini (http://chocolateandzucchini.com/); Thug Kitchen (http://thugkitchen.com/); David Lebovitz (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/), or other food-focused blogs. Please bring in some favorite entries to share.

Reading Questions: How does the author of these readings reflect their worldview through the act of sourcing, preparing, and eating food? How does the reader relate to these acts as an “observer” versus participant?

Who’s Speaking, Please? Shaping Voice in Creative Nonfiction: The Basics

Faculty member: Anne-Marie Oomen
Monday, January 5 from 1:15–3:15 p.m.

When we read nonfiction, particularly memoir, we come to understand the narrator not simply through the action and arc of the story, but also through the voice speaking to us. We like (or dislike) a narrator based on an almost visceral response to the “personality” communicated through that voice. But how do we know who is speaking to us? How is persona (character?) created in nonfiction? What is inferred about her through her voice? Finally, how might close observations reveal to us the secrets of managing voice as a purposefully shaped element instead of what “just happens” in our writing? And then one more thing: what happens when you make the sometimes shocking realization that the persona on the page does not sound like you? Or not exactly.

It’s done with voice. In this class, we’ll grapple with two concepts: voice as the author's style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique; and voice as the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. We’ll start by discussing readings that demonstrate dramatically different voices and we’ll observe the resulting narrator's persona. In light of those models, we’ll examine the basics from the simplest elements like sentence syntax, sentence length, and paragraph flow all the way to diction, tone, and the resulting balance of dialogue to description, and action to reflection. Then we'll look at the inner workings of these authors’ stylistic choices, and from that, observe how this results in a persona on the page. We might begin to shape a new “persona,” exploring a voice we didn’t know we had. We might even explore the idea that there may be more than one voice that speaks from our pages.

Required reading: I encourage participants to read the following essays from The Best American Essays, 2014, but barring that, read at least the first three to four pages of each.

  • “The Man at the River,” Dave Eggers
  • “Slickheads,” Laurence Jackson
  • “Dear Friend…” Yiyun Li
  • “Little X,” Elizabeth Talent
  • “Legend: Willem de Kooning,” Baron Wormser

Reading notes/questions: What key strategies for building voice are used by these authors? What techniques might we borrow from these essays that will help us shape our own persona on the page?

Getting Weird in Fiction

Faculty member: Jedediah Berry
Tuesday, January 6 from 2:30–4:30 p.m.

Like an undercurrent running below the more popular forms of fantasy and horror, the weird tale has passed through boundaries of language and culture to feed the stranger side of the imagination for centuries. Loosely defined, the weird tale contains some element of supernatural or gothic fiction, but none of the familiar trappings of ghosts or vampires. In this class, we’ll talk about how weird tales make us feel, well, weird. Then, by examining three such stories, we’ll examine the tools of the trade—the uncanny, the monstrous, and what Italo Calvino called “the revolt of the unconscious”—and discuss techniques for putting those tools to use in our own fiction.

Required reading:

  • “Sanitarium at the Sign of the Hourglass,” Bruno Schulz
  • “The Ice Man,” Haruki Murakami
  • “A Mother’s Farewell,” Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Reading question: What techniques do each of these writers use to destabilize our sense of the real?

A World for Us All: Writing Diverse Speculative Fiction

Guest faculty member: Zetta Elliott
Wednesday, January 7 from 1:15–3:15 p.m.

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term that includes many genres: dystopian, horror, paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, time travel, and alternate history. Many of us love to lose ourselves in fantastic worlds but find that such stories merely reproduce the stereotypes and marginalization we already face in contemporary society. Does fantasy fiction really invent “new” worlds, or does it merely reflect the author’s biases around race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability? What happens when writers who have been pushed to the margins dream about the past, present, or future? Scholar Ramón Saldívar argues that a new generation of authors can “reverse the usual course of fantasy, turning it away from...daydream, delusion, and denial” in order to “redeem, or perhaps even create, a new moral and social order.” In this class we will explore the process of creating diverse speculative fiction, starting with a consideration of historical fantasy and concluding with an exercise in Afrofuturism.

Required Reading :

  • Elliott, Zetta. “The Trouble with Magic: Conjuring the Past in New York City Parks.” Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures (Winter 2014).
  • Fox, Rose and Daniel Jose Older. Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. Framingham, MA: Crossed Genres Publications, 2014. Read at least “The Dance of the White Demons.”
    Reading note: Select one story and describe how the author uses a fantastic element to create an alternate representation of history and identity.

Narrative Arrival: A Craft Class for All Prose Genres

Faculty member: Sandra Scofield
Wednesday, January 7 from 3:30–5:30 p.m.

Regardless of genre, when you incorporate narrative in creative discourse, you are taking the reader toward the pleasure, perhaps the surprise, of arrival. Everything that came before comes together in a way that gives the reader satisfaction and insight. It is a “place” one could get to no other way. Regardless of your narrative strategy (chronology, POV, balance of scene and summary, etc.), the story accrues meaning as it is told—and read. We will look at two texts (one fiction, one memoir) with a particular interest in their structures and their use of details—two important elements of narrative. As you read the assigned texts, consider the “smallness” and specificity of details and how they accrue meaning as the story is developed; consider, too, how the structure “contains” the details to create form. We will do a close reading and discussion of the texts.

Required: Please identify a story you want to tell, one that you have not already written, and bring this statement (completed): I would like to write about......(the time that/how something happened/the way that/the person who/etc.). We will do an exercise based on our discussion and your prompt.

Required reading:

  • “The Limit” by Christian Wiman, in The Three Penny Review; found here: http://www.threepennyreview.com/samples/wiman_f01.html
  • Ota Pavel, “Carp for the Wermacht,” from Narrative Magazine.

Reading note/questions: In each text: What image or combination of images not only defined the person, place, or thing in question, but also caused the subject to accumulate meaning through the rendering? Limit yourself to a paragraph or stanza. Do you see a pattern? Were there places where you were surprised?

The Experimental Essay: A Class for All Genres

Faculty member: Robert Lopez
Thursday, January 8 from 1:15–3:15 p.m.

The experimental essay trespasses on poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. It evolves from its trials, impulses, longings, and risks—often culminating in a form that is both surprising and inventive. We will examine a few experimental essays, paying close attention to form as well as content, and see how we can steal from these works. Students will bring in essay drafts, five to ten pages in length on any personal or academic subject, or combinations thereof, and we’ll discuss where the work can go next. Students are encouraged to risk language and form, be playful, daring, but "innovation" is not a requirement —only engagement is necessary.

Required reading: [All found in The Next American Essay, edited by John D'Agata, Graywolf Press, 2003.]

  • David Antin, “The Theory and Practice of Postmodernism: A Manifesto.”
  • Anne Carson, “Kinds of Water.”
  • David Shields, “Life Stories.”

Reading note/question: How can we “make it new?”

The Grammar of Metaphor: Not for Poets Only

Guest faculty member: Sean Thomas Dougherty
Thursday, January 8 from 3:30–5:30 p.m.

Poets and prose writers often talk about the “poetic.” He writes poetic sentences. She is a “poet’s poet.” What they often mean by that specifically is the use of figurative language (and syntax). As a writing teacher, I honestly think most things can be taught. Except metaphors. Metaphors are what arise from the collision of our individual ontology and experience with language. This workshop will attempt then to do the impossible. It will examine the actual structure of how metaphors exist in English grammar as a strategy for invention, and particularly for revision. You will learn how to embed metaphors, and to recognize contextual meaning making and the possible points for metaphorical creation. Metaphors are language constructs. You will learn the seven major forms of metaphor, and write sentences, a character sketch, or a poem using these forms.

Required reading: handout to be provided includes excerpts from The Poetics of Space Gaston Bachelard; Lynda Hull’s “Jackson Hotel;” and poems by Frank Stanford, Pablo Neruda, Eugene Ruggles, Martin Espada, McKeel McBride, Mary Ruefle, and an excerpt from Ann Michael’s novel Fugitive Pieces.

Note: Please bring a poem or a few paragraphs of a story/essay you have written that does not contain metaphors, or in which you don’t feel the metaphors are strong or original. Could metaphors be worked into this piece of writing? How would this choice affect the work as a whole?

Seeing Anew: What Prose Writers Can Discover From Graphic Novelists about Crafting Stories

Faculty member: Laura Williams McCaffrey
Thursday, January 8 from 3:30–5:30 p.m.

As we try to understand storytelling, we use a variety of concepts like the “journey” and the “dream.” These metaphors help us conceptualize the elements we need to tell our stories effectively. They might also provide us a lens through which we can look with an editorial eye. They help us see what dominates our stories and what our stories lack, while offering us words with which we can articulate craft options for revising our work. At the most superficial glance, sequential art and prose might seem profoundly different mediums. However, like prose storytellers, graphic novelists use style to create the tone or mood of their work. They must choose from a variety of points-of-view, and they use their choice to render a central story. They must understand how to select scenes that will form this central story, and how to create pacing in their chosen scenes. They must decide what to depict within each scene sequence and what to leave out. They use all these elements to form coherent and compelling narratives. Writers of graphic novels use the same metaphors prose writers do to create and edit their stories, but they also have a visual vocabulary with which to conceptualize what they do and how it works. The goal of this class is to begin to familiarize ourselves with the graphic novelist’s visual vocabulary, and to use it as a lens through which we might look anew at our prose.

Our session will include presentation and close-reading discussion. Participants should also bring a scene or chapter of their current work-in-progress with them. No art skills are necessary, but a willingness to experiment is essential.

Required Reading:

  • McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.
  • Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese.

Reading notes/questions: As you read Understanding Comics, what aspects of storytelling did you see in a new ways? How might you apply your new understanding to your own storytelling?

What storytelling technique in Gene Luen Lang’s American Born Chinese most interested you as a prose writer and why?

The Pacing of a Picture book

Writer-in-Residence: Grace Lin
Friday, January 9 from 1:15–3:15 p.m.

The picture book is, really, its own art form. From the endpapers to the page turns, each decision affects the impact of story on the reader. Like a movie, a picture book must be paced well to create a memorable experience for the reader. After carefully studying the art of pacing for picture books, we will “pace” our own stories over a 32 pg. dummy—revealing the stories’ strengths and weaknesses.

Note: bring your own picture book in progress or choose a story listed under “required reading” (bring this story with you).

Required Reading (should be available in PMC’s and/or your local library):

  • Elisa Kleven, The Lion and the Little Red Bird
  • Gene Zion, Harry the Dirty Dog
  • Candace Fleming, Gabriella’s Song
  • Grace Lin, Dim Sum for Everyone!
  • Jon Stone, Monster at the End of the Book (Golden Book)
  • Demi, The Empty Pot
  • Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day

Reading note/question: How does the turning of the page affect the telling of the story?

Consider the Line Break

Faculty member: Steven Huff
Friday, January 9 from 3:30–5:30 p.m.

Often the poet pays too little attention to line breaks, failing to fully consider the subtle nuances and emphases of meaning that may be conveyed through breaks. While there are no actual rules for line (or stanza) breaks in free verse, this class will cover an array of effects that the poet may consider—the weight of images, the rhythms and small silences effected or emphasized—by well-considered breaks. We will examine some powerful poems for the effectiveness of their breaks. For an exercise, we will look at an unpublished poem that has been reorganized into paragraph structure, discuss its subjects, theme and rhythms, and then see how it can be changed or strengthened by reworking it into lines and stanzas, making our breaks while reaching for the effects of image, inflection, and silence.

Required reading: handouts to be provided.