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 courses and Elective Seminars. Auditors are asked to commit to doing the preparatory work and required reading for each class attended.

Classes for the summer 2014 Residency (scheduled for July 11-20, 2014) will be posted in May.

For a list of representative course offerings from our winter 2014 residency, see below.

Place Within Place: Inside the Outside (Cross-Genre)

Faculty member: Anne-Marie Oomen                    

Sunday, January 5, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

What do you do when the place in your mind (and in the real world) is too large, unwieldy, or simply overwhelming to write about efficiently or with some sense of literary purpose?  How might you get to the essence of place through  “place within place”?  How does the smaller landscape (perhaps reflecting an inner landscape), echo how we understand a place on earth—be it field, stream, street, or subway? In this class, we will explore place writing that creates a sense of macrocosm through its contained microcosm. You’ll have a chance to discover your place within place.

Reading note: How might “place within place” make place more manageable? Symbolic? What are the craft elements of this strategy?

Required readings (Available as digital handouts or linked below): 

An American Map.  Anne-Marie Oomen.  Wayne State University Press 2010. Title essay, “American Map”  Poem at the End of Time and Other Poems. Noelle Kocot,  Wave Books, 2009. Title poem, “Poem of the End of Time” Middlesex. Jeffrey Eugenides.  Picador, 2002.  Chapter “An Immodest Proposal,”  scene of Sarnia burning, focus on the figs. A Good Man is Hard to Find.  Flannery O’Conner.   Focus: scene of the Red Tower restaurant. 


Is this a Story? Plot in Fiction and Nonfiction

Writer-in-Residence: M. Evelina Galang                           

Sunday, January 5, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

This class focuses on plot in short stories, essays, and memoir. No matter the genre, readers read to solve that conflict. Readers read to find out what happens next. Whether the story is linear or fragmented or traditional or not, you must still have a plot. You must begin in conflict. No conflict, no plot, no story. No tension, no reason to read. 

Required: Please be prepared to discuss Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s “At the Café Lovely” ( ;  and Maxine Hong-Kingston’s “No Name Woman” (refer to books listed below).

Suggested reading: Woman Warrior (Maxine Hong-Kingston); The Black Notebooks (Toi Derricotte); Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri); and Sightseeing (Rattawut Lapcharoensap). 

In addition: please bring in a ten- to-fifteen-page draft of a story, essay, or memoir you have in progress.  

Reading notes: Ask as you read:  What is the conflict in this story?  What is the shape of this story?  Is it a story?

Saying Stuff Good: A Workshop about Strengthening Your Writing with the Effective Use of Voice

Guest faculty member: Mark Peter Hughes

Sunday, January 5, 3:30-5:30 p.m.                                 

Effective use of voice is one of the pillars of vibrant writing. But what exactly is voice, and how can writers use it to make their own stories shine brighter? In this hands-on workshop, Mark Peter Hughes shares some of the secrets to using voice as a way to pump up writing and bring characters to life. Using examples, he’ll walk participants through a handful of short exercises designed to help writers strengthen the voice in their own stories.

Suggested reading:

Renni Browne and Dave King, Self Editing for Fiction Writers

Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall, Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction

Additional suggestions provided in handout

Reading notes: What is a narrative ‘voice’ and how does the way a story is told affect the impact of the story on the reader?

Myth as Metaphor (Cross-Genre)

Faculty member: Kathleen Aguero             

Monday, January 6, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

The actual story lines of many myths are simple, yet these myths have been retold and refashioned in literature and art throughout the centuries. Why is it that myth continues to yield new perspectives, and how can we use the metaphors myth provides to structure and deepen our own writing? In exploring these questions, we will focus on poems and a story that treat the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and the epic of The Odyssey; we’ll also do an in-class writing exercise based on myth.

Required Reading: Familiarity with the stories of Orpheus and Eurydice and the basic episodes of The Odyssey are required. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology is a good source for brief versions of these texts. Also read the following poems & short story. A bibliography will be provided at the class. 

*Poems: (Available at PMC Online; *found in Orpheus and Company: Contemporary Poems on Greek Mythology,” ed. Deborah DeNicola)

“Eurydice in Darkness,” Peter Davison “Eurydice Comes Back after Twenty Years,” Helen Trubek Glenn “Orpheus Reconsidered,” William Pitt Root “In Hades, Orpheus,” Muriel Rukeyser “Circe,” Dian Blakely “Circe’s Power,” Louise Gluck “In the Land of the Lotus Eaters,” Tony Hoagland “Homecoming,” Martha Collins 

Fiction: “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty

Recommended Reading: “Sonny’s Blues,” James Baldwin

The Body: Characterization in Fiction and Nonfiction

Faculty member: Randall Kenan                                         

Monday, January 6, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

Once upon a time, writers reveled in physical descriptions of characters. But somewhere in the mid-20th Century (around WWII) writers, on a large scale, grew skeptical of “telling” the reader too much about a character’s appearance. Why? This class will explore the pros and cons of physical character description and will look at some strong techniques used by some of our more successful writers in describing the human body to great effect.

Required reading: "Loss of Face," Charles Baxter.  The Believer. Vol. 1, No. 8. November 2003 (; “Parker's Back,” Flannery O'Connor (Available at PMC Online and in The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor); “Memento Mori,” by Jonathan Nolan (at PMC Online); plus handouts provided by instructor in class.

Suggested reading: Beloved, Toni Morrison; All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren;

Up in the Old Hotel, Joseph Mitchell; Herzog, Saul Bellow; Great Expectations, Charles Dickens; The Widow’s Children, Paula Fox; The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy; Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor

Reading notes:  How would these stories (and others in your current reading) be different without physical descriptions of these characters/people? What would be lost? What would be gained?

The Intriguing Beginning

Faculty Member: Robert Lopez                  

Tuesday, January 7, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

How stories begin is always a critical element of short fiction, perhaps the most critical. In this class we’ll examine various entry points into a story, finding the unexpected way in, through a back or side door. The beginning of a story makes certain promises and sets expectations. We’ll discuss various beginnings and find strategies to fulfill these expectations and confound them by what we’ve established in the opening. We’ll likely do an exercise and write two or three beginnings based on the readings.

Required Reading (Available at PMC Online):

  • Nelly Reifler,”Baby” from See Through
  • Sam Ligon, “Cleavage” Drift and Swerve
  • Dana Kooperman, “get off here” Sleepingfish 0.875
  • Justin Torres, “Little Plastic Flags” Sleepingfish 0.875
  • Sam Lipsyte, “I’m Slavering” Venus Drive

Suggested Reading:

Raymond Carver, Mary Robison, Barry Hannah, Grace Paley: any of their stories.

Introduction to Prosody

Guest faculty member: Jeffrey Harrison               

Wednesday, January 8, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Are you intimidated by meter and scansion in poetry? Just curious? Or are you looking for some metrical techniques for your poetic tool kit? This class will cover the fundamentals of poetic meter in English, demystifying a topic often made needlessly arcane. We’ll go over all the basic meters, then look at poems in each of them and scan them together, paying attention to nuances and variations. Then you’ll be able to try them out yourselves—and on one another—with some in-class exercises.

Required reading: A handout will be distributed in class.

Reading notes: In what ways can writing in meter and form be confining, and in what ways liberating? Can the artfulness of meter co-exist with a naturalness of tone and expression?

The Flow of Meaning in the Novel (and Memoir)

Faculty member:  Sandra Scofield  

Thursday, January 9, 1:15-3:15 p.m.        

“Virginia Woolf once said that novelists write not in sentences but in chapters. Novelistic form is, in some ways, the achievement of this deep, patient rhythm. Much contemporary fiction, like much contemporary life, has a restless flamboyance that preempts such wise shapeliness.” from a review by James Wood in The New Yorker, May 08, 2013.

The novelist’s need to develop coherent, linked chapters underlies an important perspective on both writing and (especially) revising a novel, and is essentially what informs this class. However well written each chapter is, it serves the novel only in its relationship to all the others. Chapters must “add up;” must build not only a plot sequence but an emotional momentum. Furthermore, just as sentences “add up” in a paragraph because they have a focus (thesis, topic sentence, etc.), chapters illuminate the protagonist's psychological journey through events. You may read a novel for plot, but you remember it for character.

You know about plot because it is the front burner in thinking about mainstream novels: action, turns, crises, etc. But how are events tied emotionally? How is plot driven by desire and regret? How does the text explore the deep waters of character and relationships? How do you develop “deep, patient rhythm?”

We will discuss a novel in order to understand its composition: proportion, shape. Our analysis focuses on thematic threads that create rhythm and bind plot with deep meaning. (In memoir, analagously, one considers situation—what happened—and story—meaning—a la Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story. Edwidge Danticat’s novel (the required reading for this class) draws on her childhood and is instructive for fiction and memoir writers.

Required text:  Danticat, Edwidge. Breath, Eyes, Memory: A Novel. (pb)  NY: Vintage Contemporaries, 1998.

Recommended, especially for CNF: Gornick, Vivien. The Situation and the Story. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

Recommended Follow-up Reading: Baxter, Charles. The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2007.

D'Erasmo, Stacy. The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf             Press, 2013.                                                                           

Outstanding resource for materials about writing by women of color:

Preparation & Reading Notes:

Breath, Eyes, Memory  is an “easy” novel to read. It is short; there is one point of view (though the stories of women of three generations are told); the diction is syntactically simple; and the major narrative strategy is the use of scenes. But it is thematically complex; several “threads” of meaning are developed and intertwined as the story unfolds.  I hope you will have time to read it twice—once as a reader, and then again as a writer. You will want to experience the novel's “flow,” but in a second reading you can be attentive to its structure, and enjoy even more the amazing imagery.

Consider Danticat’s use of four parts to the novel, not only for the economy of the strategy, but for the effect of the ellipses. In other words, what “happens” in each jump, and what “happens” in what isn’t written?

For each of the four parts, write a very short summary of the action. Bring these to class. Each section has a sequence of events that add up to “what happened.” In class we will focus on what those events mean for the protagonist, Sophie.

Enjoy this wonderful novel.

Food for thought: When you write, it's like braiding your hair. Taking a handful of coarse unruly strands and attempting to bring them to unity . . . Some of the braids are long, others are short. Some are thick, others are thin. Some are heavy. Others are light.

                                                                                                —Edwidge Danticat


The Work and Play of the Imagination in Speculative Fiction

Guest faculty member: Sarah Micklem                                                      

Thursday, January 9, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Whenever the science fiction writer Harlan Ellison is asked where he gets his ideas, he answers that they come from a mail order place in Schenectady. In this class visit to Schenectady, we’ll examine the mysterious workings of the imagination. We’ll use writing exercises to peer at our individual ways of imagining characters and scenes, and ask What if? and What else? to push beyond overused tropes and make good ideas better. We’ll look at fantasy and science fiction as fields of play for the imagination, where we get to make the rules — and we’ll try to catch a glimpse of unconscious assumptions that limit our thinking.

Required Reading:

Wilson, Timothy D. and Bar-Anan, Y. (2008). “The Unseen Mind.” Science 321, 1046-1047. Web. <> “Mary Sue Test.” Web. 6 Oct. 2013. <

Reading notes: “The Unseen Mind” provides research on how little we are aware of our own confabulations. “Mary Sue Test:” take the test! Inoculate yourself against creating a Mary Sue character.

Further Reading: a bibliography will be distributed in class on the craft of speculative fiction, including essays where authors describe the work and play of their own imaginations.

Hybrid Texts (Cross-Genre)

Faculty member: Nicole Terez Dutton                               

Thursday, January 9, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

In this class we’ll consider what constitutes a hybrid text and how integrating techniques of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and essays can invigorate your work with new dynamics and possibilities. We’ll look at work by Eula Biss, John D’Agata, Claudia Rankine, Carole Maso, Maggie Nelson, and Mary Ruefle as examples of hybrid texts, and discuss ways in which hybridity may be used to expand subject matter, augment language, and provide new resources for further experimentation in your own work.

Required reading (available at PMC Online): 69 Hidebound Opinions, Propositions, and Several Asides from a Manila Folder Concerning the Stuff of Poetry by C.D. Wright; and I Remember, I Remember: On the Handsome Roofers, Attentive Cows, and Sudden Tears of Youth, by Mary Ruefle. Please read these selections in advance and bring your copies with you to the class.

The Character’s Plot

Faculty member: Laura Williams McCaffrey        

Friday, January 10, 1:15-3:15 p.m.

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; 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:

·       Paterson, Katherine. The Great Gilly Hopkins.

·       Percy, Benjamin. "Refresh, Refresh" ( 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 notes: What is the character's central, motivating desire? 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?

Unpacking the Picture Book

Guest faculty member: Jacqueline Davies             

Friday, January 10, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

For those of us who are picture book authors (rather than author/illustrators), it might seem that our responsibilities end with the final period on the page. After all, that’s when we hand off the manuscript to the illustrator—and hope for the best. But to be successful as a picture-book author, you need to understand on a deep, internal level what pictures bring to a story in order to write a manuscript that begs to be illustrated. Even if you shy away from doodling, can’t draw a nose to save your life, and don’t know the difference between tempera and gouache, you need to develop your writing so that it anticipates the illustrations that will come later. In this class, we will read and dissect a variety of picture books, from wordless to word-filled, considering both well-known texts and outliers to figure out what makes the words and pictures work together. We’ll discuss the ways in which authors can (and need to) think visually during the writing process, as well as techniques for bringing the illustrator’s (critical) eye to the revision process. We will be writing, making dummies, and—yes—drawing. And if that idea fills you with heart-stopping, mind-numbing, paralysis-inducing fear, then this is the essential workshop for you.

Materials: If you have a picture-book manuscript that you’d like to “mess around with,” by all means bring it along. If not, no worries. We’ll have plenty of texts to share.