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.

The deadline for registering for our winter 2017 residency, scheduled for December 30, 2016-January 8, 2017, is Monday, December 19, 2016. Please read our class audit policy before you register online. 

GRAPHIC NARRATIVE STORYTELLING - Faculty member: Josh Neufeld 

Monday, January 2 from 1:15–3:15 p.m. in Presidential Dining Room

This class will delve into the realm of comics storytelling. We’ll discuss the constraints of the form—and the almost limitless narrative possibilities inherent within those restraints. In the majority of graphic narratives, scenes are the building blocks of storytelling, and we’ll discuss structuring comics that focus on action and dialogue (as opposed to narrative captions) to move forward. We’ll explore showing vs. telling vs. implying, encapsulation, and Scott McCloud’s theories of word/picture combinations and panel choices. We’ll also get into the rhythm of comics, how the size (and shape) of panels on a page affect readers’ experiences, and their sense of time. Finally, we’ll explore the development of an actual comics script and the journey from script to layouts to finished art.

Required reading: Scott McCloud, Making Comics, chapter 6: “Writing with Pictures,” pp. 8–53, Jessica Abel & Matt Madden, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, chapter 11.1: “Panel Design” (pp. 150–159), Ivan Brunetti, Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, pp. 45–52 (the “democratic grid” and the “hierarchical grid”)

Suggested reading: Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, chapter 6: “Show and Tell,” pp. 152–161, Will Eisner, Comics & Sequential Art, particularly Chapter 4: “The Frame,” and Chapter 6: “Writing & Sequential Art”

Reading question: What do you think of McCloud’s theory of panel types and storytelling choices? How do your own creative processes fit into those models?

THE SONNET: SMALL SONG, BIG IMPACT - Faculty member: Kathi Aguero

Monday, January 2 from 1:15-3:15 p.m. in Halden Hall Room 139

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: “The Sonnet in Summary.” The Making of a Sonnet: A Norton Anthology. Eds. Edward Hirsch and Eavan Boland. New York: W.W. Norton & Company: 2008. 49; “Ten Questions for a Sonnet Workshop.” Eds. Hirsch and Boland. New. 49; Alvarez, Julia. “Let’s Make a Modern Primer for Our Kids.”; Brooks, Gwendolyn. “To a Winter Squirrel.”; Hopkins, Gerard Manley Hopkins. “Pied Beauty.” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/44399; Leithauser, Brad. “Post-Coitum Tristesse.”; Milton, John. “On His Deceased Wife.” https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/his-deceased-wife; Nelson, Marilyn. “Balance”; Rich, Adrienne. “The Insusceptibles.’; Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 130.” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45090; Wordsworth, William. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45514

NOTE: Although the poems are listed alphabetically by author, read them chronologically; i.e., Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Brooks, Rich, Nelson, Leithauser.

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); Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree.” (Example of sonnet sequence)

MAKING OF SELF IN CREATIVE NONFICTION - Faculty member: Sandra Scofield

Tuesday, January 3 from 1:15-3:15 p.m. in Halden Hall Room 136

Writers of nonfiction narrative are engaged in creating identity. What "comes up" may seem obvious: the stuff of the past, with all its memories, feelings, and interpretations. But as in all writing, the narrative is a surface with depths (or you risk narcissism). In the effort to create coherence and meaning from experience, we construct myths about ourselves. The more we understand that we have agency in defining that myth, the greater our ability to convey the stories we have made with our lives. In this class, we will endeavor to use the concepts of identity and myth in talking about life writing. You will have an opportunity to express aspects of your story in fresh, possibly provocative ways, and you will leave with a new framework for understanding who you really are.

Required reading: McAdams, Dan P. The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self. NY: Guilford Press, 1993. Please read Chapters 1-5 and Chapter 10.

(This is a pricey book, but I checked Amazon; there are lots of used copies. It is a life-changing book for CNF writers for anyone seeking understanding and maturity.)

Required preparation: Please bring these written exercises to class. They do not need to be masterpieces of writing; the work is in the thinking.

1. Write a paragraph that states your interest in life writing: what do you hope to accomplish? Why do you want to tell your life? What special challenge do you perceive in this kind of writing? Think of it as a "declaration of purpose."

2. (see McAdams, chapter 5) Identify a person in your life who has been significant, and who has also been a source of conflict. Describe that person as "a character in a narrative." What history helped shape him/her? What did she/he expect/demand of others (you). Try to take a long view.

3. Review McAdams, chapter 10 and the concept of the "nuclear episode." Identify a nuclear episode in your own life, and write a paragraph that describes what happened and what the outcome or consequence was for you.

Recommended reading: Eakin, Paul John. Living Autobiographically: How We Create Identity in Narrative. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.


FROM THE PLANETARY TO THE PERSONAL: IMAGISTIC LEAPS (X-Genre) - Faculty member: Dzvinia Orlowsky

Wednesday, January 4 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. in Halden Hall Room 139

Imagistic leaps push writers deeper into exploring various aspects of the human condition through the unexpected associations language can evoke. Looking closely at poems by Ross Gay, Dorianne Laux, Heather McHugh, and Jeff Friedman, as well as short creative nonfiction and fiction pieces by Friedman and Jane Brox, 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

Suggested reading: Hinge & Sign, Heather McHugh; The Book of Men, Dorianne Laux; The Pretenders, Jeff Friedman; Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay; Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and its Family, Jane Brox

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

HOW COMICS WORK - Guest faculty: Paul Karasik

Wednesday, January 4 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. in Presidential Dining Room

This class is a magic trick because it is hard to believe that pretty much everything that you need to know about how comics work is hidden in a single comic strip from 1958. In this lesson, you will extract dozens of essential rules through a guided, deep reading of this strip. It seems like magic. But it’s true.

Partly an exercise on visual literacy and partly an exercise on effective critiquing skills, this lesson activates several areas of the brain. One thing is for certain, this craft class will nip any potential bad comics habits in the bud and get you off on the right foot as a cartoonist. In addition to the in-depth examination, there will be a related exercise and group critique. You’ll never see comics or make comics the same again.

Required reading: provided in class

About our guest: Paul Karasik is an internationally recognized cartoonist and teacher who served as Associate Editor of Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s RAW magazine. Paul co-created (with David Mazzuchelli), City of Glass, the graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster’s book. It was named by The Comics Journal as one of the “Best Comics of the 20th Century” and has been translated in more than 20 editions worldwide. His anthology celebrating forgotten comics visionary Fletcher Hanks received an Eisner Award, the highest honor in the field. Paul’s cartoons often appear in The New Yorker.


THE TRUER TELLING: REVISION IN MEMOIR - Faculty member: Anne-Marie Oomen

Wednesday, January 4 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. in Meditation Room 

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?).

Question: 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?

Required Reading: 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: 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.


Thursday, January 5 from 1:15-3:15 p.m. in Halden Hall Room 136

What are some of the ways a writer gains entry to a story she needs to tell? Through a series of exercises and writing prompts, participants are invited to begin the first draft of a picture book using succinct language generated through sensory, kinesthetic, and associative memory in combination with focused imagination. Areas of exploration will include setting, character, and dramatic action.

Required reading: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Crow Call by Lois Lowry, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems

Reading question: Which elements in the texts above do you respond to most-- setting, story, character, etc.? Be prepared to cite one striking example within a particular text.

Request: Participants, please come prepared to write with something OTHER THAN a laptop.


WHY DO RESEARCH? (X-Genre) - Guest faculty member: Michael White

Thursday, January 5 from 1:15-3:15 p.m in the Presidential Dining Room

Writers use research most obviously in writing historical fiction, but they also use it in writing fiction set in contemporary times, in writing nonfiction, and even in writing poetry. Research is usually cited in terms of a reader accepting the “truth” of a book; that is, as a way to help a book’s credibility and verisimilitude, or to lend “background” to the novel. However, research plays a much more important role for the writer. It can establish the “fictional landscape,” and can open up windows into character, situation, plot, and setting, and even help to establish a writer’s voice; it gives the writer a sense of mastery over his or her fictional landscape. As Hemingway said, a writer should know enough about his subject so that he's comfortable enough to leave stuff out. In fiction, characters are developed by what they do or say, by what vocations and avocations they have; research can help to establish those details. This class will discuss when to research, what to research, how to use research in your work to establish credibility, and when to know enough is enough. The session will allow time for Q&A and a short writing exercise based on the students’ own writing projects.

Required reading: Frazier, Charles. Cold Mountain

Suggested readingDidion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking

Reading question: How does research help Frazier to develop his characters?


Thursday January 5 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. in Halden 139

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: My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari BestAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

Suggested Reading:

 Picture Books - Knock, Knock by Daniel Beaty, Bird by Zetta Elliott, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renée Watson

Middle Grade - House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung, As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds, The Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

 Young Adult - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Cut by Patricia McCormick, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Reading Questions

  1. What strategies do the authors use to write past stereotypes and make complex, nuanced characters?
  2. Besides the content, what do you notice about the craft of the writing—how do metaphor, sensory detail, humor, and dialogue enhance the story?
  3. How do the authors balance reality with hope?
  4. What can we learn from the secondary characters in both stories in regard to empathy and allyship?

THE CHARACTER’S PLOT - Faculty member: Laura Williams McCaffrey

Friday, January 6 from 1:15-3:15 p.m. in the Presidential Dining Room

We often discuss character and plot as two separate entities. We need to develop both, and we need to fit one into the other—either fit a character into a plot, or fit a plot into the life of a character. However, there is another way to look at the relationship between plot and character. We might say a plot is, fundamentally, a story of a character—a story that grows because of a character's desire and her attempts to fulfill that desire. Sometimes she understands and acknowledges this, and sometimes she acts without truly comprehending her motivations. In many cases, she has both acknowledged and unacknowledged desires she strives to fulfill. The plot isn't a separate entity the author imposes on the character; it is a fundamental part of the character and comprised of the actions she takes. In this class, we'll examine how plot might grow from character; and how it can be developed from who the character is, what she wants, and how she takes action to get what she wants. As part of our examination, we'll discuss obstacles characters struggle to overcome, another fundamental aspect of plot. The class will include presentation, discussion of texts, and writing exercises. Attendees should also come prepared to discuss plotting problems specific to works-in-progress.

Required Reading: Jamieson, Victoria. Roller Girl, Percy, Benjamin. "Refresh, Refresh" (http://www.theparisreview.org/fiction/5585/refresh-refresh-benjamin-percy). Note: "Refresh, Refresh" has also been adapted to a graphic novel. You can read this as well, but we will be discussing the short story in class.

Suggested Reading: McKee, Robert. Story. 

Reading questions:

What is the character's central, motivating desire at the story’s start? How is this made clear in the text?

What is the obstacle that the character takes action to overcome?

How do the character and the obstacle alter over the course of the story?

How do the events in the story’s middle relate to the character’s desire at the start of the story?

How do the events in the story’s end relate to the character’s desire at the end of the story?