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. 

During our residences, available CC&T classes for audit include courses for all genre concentrations in our program. Each class is two hours long and costs $45. Auditors must complete for preparatory work and required reading for each class attended.

The deadline for registering to audit classes is Thursday, June 25, 2020. Please read our class audit policy before you register online.

You can see the bios of our faculty and check out our upcoming guests on our website. 

Here are samples courses available for audit:


Faculty member: Kathleen Aguero        
Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020: 1:15-3:15 p.m.    Location: Haldan 136

From Pamela by Richardson (1740) to Alice Walker’s use of letters in The Color Purple, from the poetry of Horace to that of Richard Hugo, epistolary writing has a long lineage in fiction and poetry. The epistle can feel as intimate as reading someone else’s mail or as formal and public as reading a sermon. The tone can range from satirical to tender. The letter may be addressed to an actual person or to a fictional character, and the speaker may appear to be identified with the author or a created persona. But for whom is the literary epistle really written—for the person to whom it is addressed or for the reader? And how does the speaker provide necessary context for this private/public letter without burdening the poem or story with awkward details or exposition? Epistolary writing, though flexible, places considerable demands on a writer’s craft. In this seminar, we will examine examples of epistolary writing to see how authors create tone and handle the complexities of the form. In addition, we will try some epistolary writing of our own.

Required reading (we will send to you ahead of time):  PLEASE BRING THESE READINGS WITH YOU TO CLASS.

  • Bernstein, Charles. “Dear Mr. Fanelli.”
  • Carruth, Hayden. “Letter to Denise.”
  • Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster, 1999. 2-21. (excerpt)
  • Duhamel, Denise. “Delta Flight 659.”
  • Esteves, Sandra Maria. “Open Memo to the Congressional Appropriations Committee and the Military Department of Defense.”
  • Horace. “Epistle 1: To Florus.”
  • Hugo, Richard. “Letter to Haislip from Hot Springs.”
  • Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. Trans. Stephen Mitchell. New York: Vintage Books, Random House, 1984. (*Read letters 1 and 2).
  • Shockley, Evie. from The Lost Letters of Frederick Douglass.

Reading note: What is the tone of the piece, and how is it created? How does the author manage to characterize both the speaker and the recipient and present their relationship? How is necessary information inserted in the piece? How might you use this strategy in your own writing?

Faculty member:  Brendan Kiely            
Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020: 3:30-5:30 p.m.        Location: Haldan 136

“How can you plot a novel if you don’t know the ending first?” John Irving once remarked. He has suggested that he writes his novels by writing them in reverse—writing the last chapter first and outlining his way back to the beginning. While Irving’s system may or may not work for you, if you are writing a novel, keeping your plot organized can help you finish your first draft more efficiently and edit successive drafts more effectively. This class will provide students of any genre or category with models to help them construct their own personalized system for organizing the plot of their novels.

Required Reading: When writing a novel, it is helpful to study other novels that might be considered a comparison title (e.g. though they are different in both form and content, my and Jason Reynolds’s All American Boys is often offered as a comparison title to Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give). Before coming to class, choose one book you hope would be a comparison title to the novel you are currently writing. Read or reread the novel, and keep a chapter-by-chapter journal answering these three questions at the end of each chapter:

  1. What happens in the chapter? Be as clear and concise about the action that happens in a chapter (or, if it is a novel without much action, describe the engine that propels the reader through the chapter).
  2. What are the main characters’ motivations in the chapter? Characters may make their motivations clear, or may obscure them, or may not know their motivations entirely, but what does the reader know about the main characters’ motivations in each chapter?
  3. What is at stake in each chapter? What did you learn about the characters and/or action in this chapter that makes you want to know more? What questions/problems have been posed in this chapter that you hope to see resolved, or at least addressed further as the story continues?

Also Required: There will be time in class for you to share what you learned or what frustrated you while working on this chapter-by-chapter journal, so please bring it with you to class.

Class Note: Though they are certainly not required reading, the class will use specific examples of the organizational systems I used to write The Gospel of Winter and The Last True Love Story, in addition to a novel in progress. 


Faculty member: Sandra Scofield 

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020: 3:30-5:30 p.m. Location: Presidents Dining Room

Note: Geared toward CNF; pertinent to fiction writers.

Writers of nonfiction narrative are engaged in creating identity. (And aren't fiction writers doing the same?) 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. (So do characters in stories.) The more we understand that we have agency in defining our myth, the greater is 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. (If you took this class before: It will be a fresh experience.)

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, 4, 5 and 10.

(I checked Amazon; there are lots of used copies. It is a life-changing book for CNF writers; for fiction writers trying to find a fresh way into characters; for anyone seeking self-understanding.)

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." Write this before you read the assigned text. Then review what you wrote, and consider whether you want to amend it in any way. This will serve as your introduction to the group.

2. Read & reflect (in writing) on pp. 102-113. A prominent theme will be "connection."

3. (See McAdams, chapter 5) Identify a person in your life who has been significant, and who has also been a source of conflict. Think of 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. Write a paragraph about that person.

4. 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. Write a title for this paragraph.

Additional recommended reading: Deena Metzger. Writing for Your Life. Part Two: On Story. This is not required, just highly recommended.

Faculty member: Amy Hoffman            
Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020: 3:45-5:45 p.m.        Location: Haldan 205

What is a memoir—and how does this form differ from autobiography, autobiographical fiction, autofiction, or fiction? Or, does it? Why do people write memoirs? Who is the audience for these works? What if your mother hates your memoir, and your friends claim that the incidents in it never happened? In this class, we will consider an array of disparate memoirs and think about what elements are common to all, if any. How do various writers handle chronology; the integration of research (from popular and scholarly sources, from interviews, from primary digging into journals and other documents); the idiosyncrasies of memory; truth and truthiness; dialogue; composite characters; and other issues of structure and content? We will struggle with these questions together, using the required reading, handouts provided in class, our own reading, and our writing. Since this is a foundational course, auditors may attend but will need to allow the enrolled students to do most of the struggling.

Required reading (we will send to you ahead of time): 

  • DuBois, W.E.B. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” 
  • Excerpt from Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
  • Excerpts from The Cambridge Companion to Autobiography

Strongly Suggested Reading 

  • “Why I Write” essays by Terry Tempest Williams, Joan Didion, and George Orwell

For further reading:

  • Eggers, Dave. What Is The What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2006. Hardcover.
  • Isherwood, Christopher. Christopher and His Kind. New York: Avon Books, 1976. Paperback.
  • Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. New York: Vintage International, 1989. Paperback.
  • Levi, Primo. The Periodic Table. Trans. Raymond Rosenthal. New York: Schocken Books, 1984. Paperback.
  • Lorde, Audre. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Watertown, MA: Persephone Press, 1982. Paperback.
  • Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995, 2004. Paperback.
  • Pamuk, Orhan. Istanbul: Memories and the City. New York: Vintage International, 2004. Paperback.
  • Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. Vol. I, My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon, 1986. Hardcover.
  • Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. Vol. II, And Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon, 1986. Hardcover.

Faculty member:  Randall Kenan                
Monday, Jan. 6, 2020: 1:15-3:15 p.m.        Location: Presidents Dining Room

Epiphany. Closure. Discovery. Resolution. Denouement. Where and how do you end a story? This class will explore ideas about ending stories in both fiction and nonfiction. We will look at some ideas from writers about craft and look at individual stories and essays — at their endings in particular — for clues and ideas that should prove helpful in revising stories with pesky endings.

Required: Please bring the last page of a story/essay you are in the process of revising but with which you have a problem ending.

Required reading (we will send to you ahead of time): 

Fiction, from Best Short Stories of the Century (ed. Updike)

  • “The Killers,” Ernest Hemingway
  • “Christmas Gift,” Robert Penn Warren
  • “Soon,” Pam Durban

Nonfiction, from Best Essays of the Century (ed. Oates)

  • “Perfect Past,” Vladimir Nabokov
  • “A Drugstore in Winter,” Cynthia Ozick
  • “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” John McPhee

Question: Why did the author end the story this way?

Faculty member: Anne-Marie Oomen    
Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020: 1:15-3:15 p.m.    Location: Presidents Dining Room

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.

The readings: Selected excerpts from essays, each of which uses voice differently, are in ONE handout. These will be of interest for comparing styles and the shaped personas.

Required reading (we will send to you head of time): Please read the excerpts in the handout, which contains the passages on which we will focus. Below are the original sources for those passages, available online should be interested in reading the entire piece. Only the handout excerpts are required. 

  • From A Book of Hours, by Donald Culross Peattie, Trinity Univ. Pres, 2013 (1937)
  • From Sick of Nature by David Gessner, University Press of New England, 2004
  •  “Names” by Paul Crenshaw, Hobart, Nov. 2, 2015
  • “BAJADAS” by F r a n c i sc o C a n t ú, Ploughshares, winter 2015-16
  • “Dear Friend…” by Yiyun Li, A Public Space
  • “Little X” by Elizabeth Talent, Three Penny Review

Also Recommended: Prologue to Soldier, A Poet’s Childhood, June Jordan

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?


Faculty member: Nicole Terez Dutton        
Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020: 1:15-3:15 p.m.        Location: Haldan 136

This class considers creative processes undertaken by a selection of filmmakers, visual artists, and musicians. We’ll look at the tools and approaches utilized by artists in a variety of disciplines and consider how these might inform and expand our own writing practices. By focusing on improvisation, collage, radical revision, and homolinguistic translation to generate and manipulate text, this class is designed to provide strategies to bring a failed (or, perhaps, “stalled”) poem into new, unexpected iteration.

Required: Students should bring their favorite “broken” or otherwise unfinishable poems to class.

Required reading: none.


Faculty member: Josh Neufeld                        
Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020: 1-3 p.m.            Location: Haldan 136

The comics medium — with its alchemical combination of images and words — is ripe for adaptation. Almost every form of prose or poetry has been adapted into comics, and comics have been repeatedly adapted into films and television programs (not to mention appropriated for “high art”). Through examples such as Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story; Paul Auster, Paul Karasik, & David Mazzucchelli’s City of Glass; Harvey Pekar and the American Splendor movie; and others, we will investigate the ways in which comics can move across forms. Finally, we’ll explore some of these concepts in an in-class exercise.
Required Reading (we will send to you ahead of time):

  • “The Harvey Pekar Name Story,” by Harvey Pekar & Robert Crumb, in Bob & Harv’s Comics (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1996)
  • “Venus & Mars,” a section from FLASHed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose, edited by Josh Neufeld & Sari Wilson, pp. 22–30
  • “Mutable Architecture,” a section from FLASHed, pp. 110–119

Suggested Reading and Viewing:

  • Matt Madden, 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style
  • Paul Auster, Paul Karasik, and David Mazzucchelli, City of Glass: The Graphic Novel
  • American Splendor, directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

Guest faculty member:  Emma Otheguy    
Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020: 3:15-5:15 p.m.    Location: Presidents Dining Room

This workshop will explore narrative structure in picture books and middle-grade, with a particular emphasis on the intersection of structure and character development. We will examine picture books and passages of middle-grade books in pairs during the workshop time. We will analyze the most effective strategies for crafting narrative structures that reveal character growth and evolution. This will be a discussion-based workshop and include time to analyze text with a partner and examine the structure of your own work-in-progress.

Required reading: All required reading to be done in-class; picture books and handouts will be provided.

READING QUESTION: How do the events of the story demonstrate the character’s heart and growth?

ACT YOUR AGE (cross-genre)
Faculty member: Laura Williams McCaffrey        
Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020: 1:15-3:15 p.m.        Location: Haldan 136

We’ve all read stories in which children speak like college-educated adults, 20-somethings have the perspective of 40-somethings in the throes of a midlife crisis, and older adults speak like Obi-Wan Kenobi. How can we avoid writing such clichéd and inauthentic characters? The purpose of this class is to closely examine ways writers depict characters of diverse ages. While the focus might particularly interest those writing for young people, we won’t restrict ourselves to discussing child characters. We’ll explore what “age” means in terms of a character’s chronological age and years of experience, as well as in terms of the eras that have informed his or her perspective. Indeed, perspective and point-of-view will be essential aspects of this exploration. Please come prepared for a presentation, discussion, and writing exercises.

Required Reading: 
An Na. A Step from Heaven.
Strout, Elizabeth. “Pharmacy.” Olive Kitteridge. (We will send to you ahead of time.)

Reading notes: 

What is your largest challenge in portraying characters of varying ages? What strategies have you tried when crafting characters of differing ages? Which of these strategies have been successful, and which haven’t?

Consider two characters of different ages in the required reading. How have the authors portrayed the characters’ ages? What techniques have the authors used to craft characters who seem varying ages? Be prepared to discuss your answers with examples from the text.

Guest faculty: Yangsook Choi            
Friday, Jan. 10, 2020: 1-3 p.m.            Location: Haldan 136

What does it take to create a successful picture book for children? In picture books, there is a dynamic relationship between text and image as they work together to narrate a story. The more they complement each other, the more effective the story. This class will help the writers to envision their story and deepen their visions during the drafting process. It will offer practical ways on how to storyboard your picture book while maintaining the strength of your writing. The class will also cover when to use and how to format illustration notes effectively.

Participants are invited to bring their current manuscripts or new story ideas to work on in-class exercises and discussion.

Suggested Reading: 

  • This Is Not a Picture Book! by Sergio Ruzzier, Chronicle Books, 2016 
  • Angry Man by Gro Dahle, NorthSouth Books, 2019
  • Selma by Jute Bauer, Kane/Miller Book Pub, 2003
  • Sheep in Wolves' Clothing by Satoshi Kitamura, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996

Reading Questions/Requirement: Bring a picture book in which word and image are well harmonized. Be prepared to show the class an example from this book and share why you feel this to be true.

Required for Class: Participants, please bring a couple of pieces of blank paper and a pencil.

Faculty member: David Yoo            
Friday, Jan. 10, 2020: 1-3 p.m.            Location: Haldan 205

A good beginning woos the reader into a story, but it also very quickly establishes the protagonist, the setting, and the POV, thoroughly rooting the reader in the world of that particular story. The need to do so is ever more so crucial with YA novels. We will examine/discuss beginnings from increasingly macro lenses, starting with the opening sentence, then the opening paragraph, then the entire opening chapter itself. We will also be doing some writing exercises—not to sound melodramatic or like a snake oil salesman—the results of which may yield for you down the road the GREATEST YA NOVEL EVER WRITTEN.

Bring 4 things with you to class: 1) a YA short story or novel you've written (or at least started) that features, in your opinion, either your best beginning ever or worst, and we'll proceed to hack it to pieces, regardless whichever the case may be; and 2) your top three absolutely favorite opening lines (or paragraph, or chapter) from the YA world, to be read aloud in class. Please note: I WILL be reading/discussing openings from adult novels as well.

Suggested reading: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. King Dork, by Frank Portman. Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. I Am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier. The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin.

Question: Do you prefer beginnings that grab you by the lapels or ones that use a more subtle seduction? Consider this, and your reasons, as you prepare for this class.