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Classes for Audit

 

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. Each class is two hours long and costs $40.

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.

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Please read our class audit policy before you register online. Registration is currently closed.

Below are sample courses available for audit. 

WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?
Faculty member: David Yoo 
Saturday, Jan. 9, 3-5 p.m. 

This class will explore dialogue in a story. First, we’ll discuss the various wrong reasons writers use dialogue (e.g.: to insert clunky exposition; to further make the characters seem “real,” etc). Then we’ll talk about the real objective of dialogue in a good story, which I won’t disclose in this capsule description lest I ruin the payoff that’s coming nine minutes into the lecture.  

Required: 

  • Bring a scene of dialogue from one of your own works that you feel is your strongest sample of dialogue, or your worst. Handout to be provided during class. 

Question:  

  • What is the best example of dialogue you’ve read/heard/smelled (okay, scratch that last one) recently, or ever? And WHY is it so good, in your opinion?  

EKPHRASIS—A SIN OR A SKIN DISEASE: WRITING FROM ART FOR ALL GENRES 
Faculty member: Anne-Marie Oomen 
Saturday, Jan. 9, 3-5 p.m. 

Itchy and fun, forbidden and freeing, visually stimulating and simultaneously anchoring, ekphrastic writing is poetry, prose poems, short fiction, dialogue, vignettes, etc., inspired by other art forms. This craft talk will provide both traditional and less conventional ideas about how writers have approached this kind of writing and thinking, and offer models to help writers explore and understand the connection between an artist’s work, the writer, and the resulting new text. Using these models, this craft talk will offer opportunities for analytical discussion and creative/emulative exercises.  

Further background. Ekphrastic writing is not simply description of a piece of art but language in many genres that addresses the aesthetic and emotional experience of a piece of art in diverse ways. Ekphrasis occurs where visual image meets linguistic imagery; where writing is inspired, directly and indirectly, by other art forms. It is making written art from other art. That said, the process of ekphrastic writing at its best is a textual response that uses high levels of craft, exuberant invention, and aesthetic understanding to “enter” a piece—to not only describe, but also extend the ideas, shapes, characters, landscapes, and narratives of the art being viewed.  

Questions to consider:

  • How might I use the concept of ekphrasis in my writing?  
  • How might ekphrastic writing offer opportunities for imagistic texture, figurative language, and/or thematic ideas?  
  • How might ekphrasis instill compassion?   

Fiction:  

  • From Susan Vreeland’s short story collection Life Studies, “Winter of Abandon.“  

Poetry:  

    • If possible, it will be helpful to read end notes first since they will explain the “art” of the resurrection trade.   
  • Gautier D’Agoty’s Ecorches 
  • The Resurrection Trade 
  • Torso of a Woman Gone With Child, 1776 

Nonfiction:   

  • “Bills’ Clay Figures” by Fleda Brown, Georgia Review, Fall 2013 

Other resources to explore: 

Required Reading:  

  • Handout to be provided.  

To look at but not required: (In other words, if these are handy, take a look at them but I don’t expect you to have studied them)   

Poetry:   

  • The Resurrection Trade, Leslie Adrienne Miller, Graywolf Press 
  • The Miniature Room by Rebecca Dunham, Truman State University Press 

Nonfiction:  

  • My Franzika, Charlotte Salomon, and the Decision Not to Be: Suicide Before, During, and After the Holocaust (with paintings from Charlotte Salomon’s Life? Or Theater/ A play with Music) Georgia Review, winter, 2008. Editor Stephen Core, pgs, 691-724 

Suggested texts for advanced study:   

  • Third Mind: Creative Writing Through Visual Art by Tonya Foster and Kristin Prevallet 
  • The Finer Optic by Carol Christ 
  • Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, ed. by Edward Hirsch  

THE SONNET: SMALL SONG, BIG IMPACT 
Faculty member: Kathleen Aguero 
Sunday, Jan. 10, 3-5 p.m. 

The sonnet originated in 13th century Sicily in the court of Frederick II and remains an important and surprisingly flexible poetic form. What makes the sonnet so appealing? What changes have occurred in the sonnet tradition over time and how far can we stretch the form and still call a poem a sonnet? Most important: as writers, what can we learn from this form? To explore these questions and attempt to arrive at the essence of the sonnet, we will briefly discuss the history of the sonnet then look closely at some examples of this form. Finally, we’ll try drafting a “sonnet-like” form of our own.  

Required Reading (provided after registration or links below): 

[NOTE: Although the poems are listed in alphabetical order by author, I suggest you read them chronologically i.e. Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Brooks, Rich, Nelson, Alvarez, Leithauser. Hayes.]  

Additional resources (provided after registration): 

  • Brief Annotated Bibliography on the Sonnet 
  • Levin. Phillis ed. “Appendix: The Architecture of a Sonnet.” The Penguin Book of the Sonnet. NY: Penguin Books, 2001. Four excerpts include: 
    • Glossary and Translation of Terms 
    • The French sonnet 
    • The Curtal sonnet 
    • Additional Sonnet forms 

Reading Question 

  • As you read these sonnets, note what aspects you are drawn to and what you see as THE essential element that makes a poem a sonnet. 

Suggested reading: 

  • Donne, John. “La Corona.” (Example of crown of sonnets) 
  • Hayes, Terrance. American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. 
  • Kearney, Meg. The Ice Storm (also a crown of sonnets) 
  • Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree.” (Example of sonnet sequence) 
  • Nelson, Marilyn. A Wreath for Emmett Till. (Crown of sonnets)  

PICTURE BOOK VOICE
Guest faculty: Anika Aldamuy Denise 
Sunday, Jan. 10, 3-5 p.m. 

In all forms of storytelling, voice is important. In picture books, it’s essential. Picture books with a compelling voice beg to be read aloud. They feel whole and satisfying to the reader. They are evergreens we return to again and again for the sheer delight of dipping into these deeply textured tales. In this class, we will identify elements of voice in text and illustrations. Through close readings, we’ll explore picture books with a narrative and visual voice that seamlessly suits the subject matter and powerfully engages readers. Much of the learnings will come from our mentor texts and discussion, but we’ll also do a series of “quick writes” to play with various approaches to voice, tone, style, and POV.  

Required Reading (these books can be found at your local library; we will have copies at the class, so no need to bring them): 

  • Bildner, Phil. Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans. Illustrated by John Parra. New York: Chronicle, 2015. 
  • Cummins, Lucy Ruth. A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016. 
  • Flett, Julie. Birdsong. Vancouver: Greystone, 2019. 
  • John, Jory. The Bad Seed. Illustrated by Pete Oswald. New York: HarperCollins, 2017. 
  • Martinez-Neal, Juana. Alma and How She Got Her Name. Somerville: Candlewick, 2018. 
  • Snyder, Laurel. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova. Illustrated by Julie Morstad. New York: Chronicle, 2015. 
  • Woodson, Jacqueline. The Day You Begin. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez. New York: Penguin, 2018. 

ALSO required:  

  • Bring a favorite picture book published within the past ten years that you feel demonstrates strong narrative and visual voice. Be prepared to talk about why you chose it.  

BEING THERE: USING LANDSCAPE & SETTING TO DEEPEN PROSE NARRATIVE (Cross-genre)
Guest faculty member: Tanya Whiton 
Sunday, Jan. 10, 3-5 p.m.  

Using the opening chapter of Russell Bank’s novel The Sweet Hereafter as a model, this course will examine the essential elements of writing landscape and setting in fiction (and creative nonfiction), including the ways that a well-developed sense of place can contribute to other key aspects of prose narrative, including character development, theme, and scene structure. 

Advance Prep: 

Participants should print and mark up the chapter from The Sweet Hereafter, taking note of where and how Banks introduces setting, and what his use of setting tells us about the characters and community. Make sure to have your marked-up copy with you for the class.  

DIALOGUE AND THE ETHICS OF CREATIVE NONFICTION 
Faculty member: Amy Hoffman 
Monday, Jan. 11, 3-5 p.m. 

From 1974 – 1995, the artist Stan Mack had a weekly cartoon in the Village Voice called “Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies,” which pictured people interacting on the streets of New York City. It was subtitled, “All dialogue guaranteed verbatim,” or “All dialogue guaranteed overheard.” I always think of Mack’s “guarantees” when I write dialogue in creative nonfiction: very rarely could I make the same promise (although occasionally I have recorded a line that I swear I remember word for word, and I’ve been tempted to footnote it “guaranteed verbatim”—perhaps I should highlight it, like those bibles in which the words spoken by Jesus are printed in red.) Several years ago, the writer Vivian Gornick found herself at the center of a writerly squall because she noted, during a workshop at Skidmore College, that she had “composed” some of the dialogue between her and her mother in her memoir Fierce Attachments (1987). Commenting further in Salon.com, she wrote,   

A memoir is a tale taken from life—that is, from actual, not imagined, occurrences—related by a first-person narrator who is undeniably the writer. Beyond these bare requirements, it has the same responsibility as the novel or the short story—to shape a piece of experience so that it moves from a tale of private interest to one with meaning for the disinterested reader. What actually happened is only the raw material; what the writer makes of what happened is all that matters. As V.S. Pritchett said of the genre, “It’s all in the art; you get no credit for living.” 

Unlike other kinds of writing found in memoir—exposition, description, character portraits, internal dialogue, etc.—dialogue purports to be recorded from life, without the narrator’s mediation: it is in quotation marks. But, even from the most artful and admired memoirists (like Gornick), this cannot, on the face of it, be true. Gornick couldn’t possibly have remembered conversations between her and her mother exactly, years or even decades after they had taken place. Some writers of creative nonfiction even write scenes, including dialogue, at which they themselves were not present—with no tape recorder running or court reporter taking notes in the background. 

A couple of questions, which we will discuss during class:  

  • What purpose does such dialogue serve? 
  • Is Gornick correct that memoir has “the same responsibility as the novel or the short story”? 
  • Is it ethical to put words in people’s mouths? If not, how else should they be characterized? If so, are there limits to how or how much a writer may invent?  

A common writing prompt is to have students write a scene in which two people who haven’t seen each other in a long time meet by accident. We will contemplate and write this kind of scene with, and without, dialogue.  

Required Reading: 

FROM THE PLANETARY TO THE PERSONAL: IMAGISTIC LEAPS (Cross-Genre) 
Writer-in-residence member: Dzvinia Orlowsky 
Tuesday, Jan. 12, 3-5 p.m. 

Imagistic leaps push writers deeper into exploring various aspects of the human condition through the unexpected associations language can evoke. Considering poems by Kim Addonizio, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Gray Jacobik, Jeff Friedman, Ross Gay, Dorianne Laux, Heather McHugh, Li-Young Lee, as well as short creative nonfiction and fiction pieces by Jane Brox and Margaret Atwood, this class will analyze how vivid imagery, extended metaphor, and syntactical twists and wordplay negotiate fact and fiction (as well as seemingly disparate facts) to create an intellectually challenging yet emotionally resonant poem or work of prose. The format of the class emphasizes learning through participation in class discussion as well as an in-class writing exercise.  

Required Reading:   

  • Handout to be provided and read before class. 
  • Also: bring a stubborn, static short poem (one or two stanzas) or a short prose piece (approximately 100 words) to work on in class!   

Question:   

  • How do we mediate the world and our place in it through the filter of sensory perceptions? 

BACK UP! LET ME BE ME: GIVING CHARACTER VOICE SPACE TO GROW (In Fiction for MG, YA, and Adults)
Guest faculty member: Leah Henderson 
Wednesday, Jan. 13, 3-5 p.m. 

 We’ve all heard it. Voice is the soul of story. The element that almost magically pulls us in, often with only a few lines. Agents, editors, and readers want it — that undeniable, unputdownable voice. And as writers, we want nothing more than to execute it. By looking at the delicate dance between the relationship of an author’s voice and a character’s voice, we will explore how elements like rhythm, life experience, and word choice play into letting a character’s voice grow into that undeniable, unputdownable soul of story. Through the use of exercises and examples, we will discuss ways in which we as writers can enliven our own character’s voice. 

NOTE: This course is capped at 10 auditors.  

HOW CAN BEOWULF HELP US POETS?
Guest faculty member: Cammy Thomas 
Thursday, Jan. 14, 3-5 p.m. 

Hwæt! We Gardena      in geardagum  

þeodcyninga      þrym gefrunon. 

These are the opening lines of Beowulf, the oldest adventure story in English, dating from about a thousand years ago. Though this long poem is written in an English that looks only a little like our own, Old English connects, by way of alliteration and rhythm, to much contemporary poetry.  We’ll learn easily how to pronounce and write OE, and how to begin to read Beowulf. A prompt will help participants discover which techniques of this anonymous poet they can adopt or adapt for their own craft. After briefly visiting 19th-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, we’ll end with some examples of spoken word.  

Required Reading:  

  • A handout will be distributed during class. 

Request: At least 48 hours ahead of time, any interested students should please email mfa@pmc.edu an example of a favorite contemporary song or poem with lots of alliteration and a strong beat. If it’s music, please include a copy of the lyrics. (Your email will be forwarded to Cammy.) 

HOW PAST LIVES IN THE PRESENT: EXAMINING THE USE OF BACKSTORY AND FLASHBACKS IN FICTION
Faculty member:  Brendan Kiely 
Saturday, Jan. 16, 3-5 p.m.

“Our history lives in our present,” we often remark when speaking about how the realities of our history have deep and resonating effects on our contemporary political and social landscape. Likewise the line is similarly instructive for writers grappling with how backstory informs character motivation, subtext, tone, and plot in a story. Put simply, backstory is whatever happened prior to the action of the story—and though it is foundational to what happens and why in a story, a writer has to choose whether to explicitly or implicitly express the necessary information from the backstory or chose not to express it at all. It is information that might be communicated in only a subtle glance, or a line of narrative exposition, or information that requires the robust scenic work of an entire flashback. By examining the craft choices three different writers make when negotiating the relationship of backstory to forward narrative drive, this course will provide writers with a critical framework for deciding how and when to involve backstory and flashbacks in their own work.  

Required Reading 

We will examine the contrasting craft choices made in three very different short stories (PDFs of each of the stories to come, but if you can find them on your own in the meanwhile, great): 

  • “Tehran Calling” by Nam Le 
  • “Seven” by Edwidge Danticat 
  • “Chicxulub” by T. C. Boyle 

Reading Note:  

  • Please pay close attention to how the authors inform us about what happened before the present action of each story and how past events/emotions/ psychology affect that present action. Class discussion will include a close reading analysis of particular sections from each of the stories as well as broader questions about how backstory and the use of flashbacks impact thematic concerns and character arcs. 

LISTFUL & WISTFUL: INVENTORIES & SPECULATION IN HYBRID FORMS (Poetry & CNF)
Faculty member: José Angel Araguz 
Saturday, Jan. 16, 3-5 p.m. 

Through a series of prompts and readings of poetry and short prose, this workshop focuses on discussing and identifying ways lists occur organically in writing and can also be used intentionally to generate new work and modulate in revision. We’ll also cover forms of speculation that allow us to speculate even in the factual space of creative nonfiction.  

Required Reading: none. 

Prep Note 

  • As you come into the class, consider the ways in which different forms of writing work as spaces to catalogue and hold experiences, emotions, and the details of everyday life. 

 

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