The Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College hosts 10-day, on-campus residencies at the start of each semester. A select number of classes held during this time are open to serious writers who wish to audit graduate-level Craft, Criticism, & Theory courses.
Online classes available for audit represent courses for all genre concentrations in our program. Each class is two hours long and costs $45.
Auditors must complete preparatory work and required reading for each class attended. Please double-check the reading requirements when you sign up, as we don’t necessarily have handouts for all texts. Unless the description notes that handouts will be provided, auditors must seek out these items.
Registration for summer 2020 auditing closed June 25, 2020. Here are sample courses for audit.
WAYS OF SEEING: REVISION IN FICTION (young people’s focus, all writers welcome)
Faculty member: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Revision is often where we discover the heart of a story, where we might see it in unexpected ways. In this workshop, we will discuss specific strategies that we use in our own work, such as storyboarding and “relentless interrogation;” engage in a conversation on some of the challenges and solutions in the revision process; and leave time for participants to apply some of the strategies to their own stories. While this class has a children’s/YA focus, its concepts apply to all types of fiction.
Required: Bring a work-in-progress with you to class.
- Wired For Story. Using Brain Science To Hook Readers With Lisa Cron
- What KIND of story is it?
- Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling
- Real Revision: Creating the Tools We Need
- Countdown to Breakout: The Big Picture Revision Chart
- Dystopian Worldbuilding Worksheet Pt. 1
POINT OF VIEW IN FICTION
Faculty member: Sterling Watson
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, and 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; this is a craft book all fiction students should own!); handouts also to be provided in class.
- 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?
SEEING THE FOREST IN THE TREES: THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS OF SHAPING A BOOK OF ESSAYS OR A MEMOIR-IN-ESSAYS
Guest faculty member: Rebecca McClanahan
The nonfiction writer who creates a book from independent pieces encounters challenges that the writer of a single-arc narrative does not. Though each essay can stand alone, each should also relate to the other essays in significant ways to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, the writer (and, later, the reader) needs to see the forest, not just the separate trees. In this workshop, we’ll explore basic shaping principles such as finding the central focus or underlying pattern, deciding how to order the essays, dealing with multiple timelines, incorporating variation and rhythm, and revising individual essays so that they support the larger work. We’ll combine our discussion with brief in-class writing prompts and take-away exercises.
You are encouraged, though not required, to bring to the class:
- A list of your essays or drafts (in-process or completed) that you imagine could be part of a book of essays or a memoir-in-essays AND/OR
- Notes on essay collections or memoirs-in-essays that you admire, paying close attention to how the books are structured to create an effective whole.
Handouts will be provided.
THE POETICS OF SELF, PLACE, AND TIME
Guest faculty member: Shonda Buchanan
Poetry is the first language used to establish humankind’s sense of itself, to at once create the epic tale while establishing its legacy. Poetry is also synonymous with the expression of love, revolution, and testimony. How can we use poetry to develop a contemporary sense of self, place, and time? This class will explore these sensibilities with the help of celebrated poets, past and present. We will study selected poems in class; the emphasis will be on writing in response to discussion of poetry. Students will craft a transformative poem that establishes one’s heritage, traditions, legacy, and—ultimately—human agency. This is an advanced workshop in writing poetry that emphasizes learning through participation. Please bring the required book to class.
- Selections from I Am the Darker Brother: An Anthology of Modern Poems by African Americans by Arnold Adoff; Benny Andrews
- Handout to be provided during class: She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo
- 250 Poems: A Portable Anthology, 2nd ed. by Ridl, Schakel
- What is your definition of “self, place, and time” in poetry?
- How are these themes represented in the diction, syntax, metaphor, and imagery of our selected poems? This will be part of what we discuss based on the poems we read/explore in the texts and write in class.
EXPLORING SOCIAL ISSUES IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
Writer-in-Residence: Renée Watson
In this class, we will discuss strategies that authors use when writing about race, class, disability, and diversity in children’s literature. How do writers challenge readers to think about social issues without being didactic? How do writers create realistic situations without perpetuating stereotypes? From picture books to young adult—no issue is off-limits, but authors need to be mindful of creating balanced stories that uplift and educate while also keeping intact the fundamentals of what make a strong story.
Required Reading: (you do not need to bring books to class)
- My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best
- All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
- Knock, Knock by Daniel Beaty
- Bird by Zetta Elliott
- Chirp by Kate Messner
- What Momma Left Me by Renée Watson
- Cut by Patricia McCormick
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
- What strategies do the authors use to write past stereotypes and make complex, nuanced characters?
- Besides the content, what do you notice about the craft of the writing—how do metaphor, sensory detail, humor, and dialogue enhance the story?
- How do the authors balance reality with hope?
- What can we learn from the secondary characters in both stories in regard to empathy and ally-ship?
THE TRUER TELLING: REVISION IN MEMOIR
Faculty member: Anne-Marie Oomen
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?).
Required Reading (handouts provided prior to the class):
- 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 memoir, Mysteries of Love and Grief. An example of going deeper.
Recommended Reading (also available prior to the class):
- 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.
- 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?
BIOGRAPHY: AMONG OUR MOST COMPELLING NARRATIVES
Guest faculty member: Jeffrey S. Cramer
Biography is one of the oldest forms of historical practice. Identity and life history are among the most compelling narratives we have. It is a way of sharing and validating ethical and social practices as well as simply commemorating key individuals. What we’ll think about in this class: How do biographers handle chronology, integrate research (from popular and scholarly sources, from primary digging into journals and other documents), and evaluate the idiosyncrasies of memory along with truth versus truthiness? We’ll also discuss other issues of structure and content: Is an interview a legitimate form of biography? How does the biographer’s own ideology shape the subject; and how does it inform truth, factuality, objectivity, and subjectivity?
- Read the first two pages of two biographies—any biographies. These can be ones you’ve read before or want to start reading now, and they can be (but don’t need to be) about the same person.
- In what ways does the writer pull you in and give you a sense of the direction you’ll be following?
- Does the biographer offer a new entry-way to the subject—particularly relevant for persons about whom there are multiple biographies?
FOR FICTION WRITERS: IN MEDIAS RES
Faculty member: Steven Huff
The Roman poet Horace recommended beginning a story In medias res, or “in the midst of things.” What did he mean? In today’s parlance it means beginning a story near the top of the arc, where things are already happening, or where tension is already present and the result of something that occurred earlier. It means not starting the story “out of the egg,” with nothing afoot, or with your main character yawning and deciding what to do. In this class, we’ll discuss how this principle can be used to add tension and energy to almost any work in progress.
- In preparation for the class: read “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe or “Whoever Was Using This Bed” by Raymond Carver.
- Bring a story or novel in progress and a notebook to class.
THE END…. RIGHT? RIGHT!
Faculty member: Laure-Anne Bosselaar
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 interactive workshop: participation in the discussion is most welcome.
Handouts will be provided.
Faculty member: David Yoo
Characters inspire and drive stories (and sometimes sink them, but we’re talking about good stories today), and to write them well you have to make them real. In this class, we will explore all the facets of a real character. We will discuss the differences between round and flat characters; showing versus telling; adding specificity to your portrayal; identifying characters’ desires and getting them across subtly; considering changes undergone throughout the course of the story, etc. Of course, creating fully fleshed-out characters in your mind is only the first step; the real challenge is then somehow figuring out how to get them down on the page. Therefore, we’ll also be discussing in depth just how we go about revealing characters on the page.
- Pick three of the most memorable (and realistic) characters you’ve come across in your reading over the years, and pinpoint specific moments, descriptions, short passages, or conversations where elements each of those “characters’ character” is revealed.
- Do the same thing with one character from one of your own stories as well.
- Write down these discoveries and bring them to the class, along with the source texts, which you’ll read aloud from to support your arguments.
Required Reading (provided before class):
- Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, “Nobody’s Business,” from her collection The Interpreter of Maladies.
Reading Questions (Be prepared to discuss these questions in class):
- What makes the character in Lahiri’s story feel real?
- How does the author go about revealing the character?
(RE-)THINKING PLOT IN MEMOIR
Faculty member: Randall Horton
Plot in memoir often focuses on the protagonist, or narrator. This class will examine how the memoirist’s plot produces subplot. What is subplot, and how does it guide the memoir? We will discuss how identifying chaos will lead you to plot as well as examine the overall arc of memoir as it relates to plot and subplot. What are some transitional techniques used to bridge plot and subplot? We will ask and answer these questions and more.
- Brothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman
- Yellow Black: The First Twenty-One Years of a Poet’s Life by Haki Madhubuti
WORLDS IN SMALL SPACES: SPECULATIVE SHORT STORIES FOR ADULTS & YOUNG ADULTS
Faculty member: Laura Williams McCaffrey
One of the true joys of writing speculative fiction is creating imagined worlds, whether they be wholly invented or merely a tiny bit skewed. Yet when crafting speculative fiction short stories—intended for either children or adults—authors have very little space in which to offer imagined worlds, while they simultaneously invite readers into characters’ lives and stories. In this class, we’ll explore how to create vibrant speculative worlds, characters, and stories in the small space of the short story.
To prepare for class, please consider the following questions for each reading and take notes for discussion:
- What do you learn about the world? How do you learn about it?
- How do you learn about the central character and his or her central yearning? How do the character’s personality and central yearnings relate to the world?
- How do you learn about the antagonistic force and his or her central yearning? How do the antagonistic force’s personality and yearnings relate to the world? If the antagonistic force isn’t a character, how is its power or influence conveyed?
- What relationship does the ending have to the story’s beginning and middle?
- As you read, at what point did you realize these stories are about more than what-happens-next? How does the author convey this to you?
The class will also be a working session, so please bring a story in progress or a story idea to work on. You don’t have to have written any speculative fiction short stories before entering the class, but come prepared to try. If you’re an experienced writer of speculative fiction short stories, come prepared to hone your current skills as well as complement them with new ones.
- Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children.” This is widely available. For an online pdf:
- Picchi, Aimee. “Death Comes for the Microbot.”
- Saunders, George. “The Semplica Girl Diaries.” (You can also read an expanded version of this story in his collection The Tenth of December.)
PERSONA IN GRAPHIC NONFICTION
Guest faculty member: Jennifer Murvin
This class will explore the facets of persona as described by Vivian Gornick from her work The Situation and the Story through examples from graphic memoirists Art Spiegelman, Roz Chast, Lynda Barry, and Ben Passmore. Writers will learn a variety of techniques to create persona(s) which may allow for more effective writing into complicated and traumatic subjects. We will examine how tools in persona are especially accessible in graphic nonfiction (which includes a visual aspect of persona) and how persona is essential to all memoir writing, both in comics and traditional prose.
Required Readings (provided before class):
- “Prisoner From the Hell Planet” by Art Spiegelman
- “Two Questions” by Lynda Barry
- “Your Black Friend” by Ben Passmore
- What persona is appropriate for your particular essay topic, and how do you access that persona through techniques in style and approach to subject matter?