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Syllabus for English 311: Creative Nonfiction

English 311: Writing Creative Nonfiction
Section 01, Course #1682, The College of Saint Rose
Fall 2012, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:30pm-4:12pm, Albertus Hall 112
Daniel Nester, Instructor
E-mail: daniel [dot] nester [at] strose [dot] edu
Phone: 518-454-2812
Website: http://danielnester.com
Teaching Blog: http://nestersteachingblog.com
Office: Dolan Hall, 442 Western Avenue, First Floor #1
Office hours: Tuesday and Thursdays 4:30pm-5:30pm and by appointment

Course Description: Creative Nonfiction

This course is a writing workshop in creative nonfiction.

What is creative nonfiction? We will begin with one definition from Lee Gutkind, founder of the journal Creative Nonfiction and “godfather” of the genre, and work from there. He defines creative nonfiction as “nonfiction that employs techniques like scene, dialogue, description, while allowing personal point of view and voice (reflection) rather than maintaining the sham of objectivity.”

What is a writing workshop? A writing workshop works from the premise that when a group of writers convene on a regular basis to present and help each other with their writing, the work will improve, and students will begin to see unexpected, surprising things show up along the way. Much like a traditional workshop in, say, poetry or fiction, we will present copies of our writing throughout the semester for written critique and discussion. The writing may be produced from open-ended assignments or from exercises and assignments given to you by your instructor.

We will have presentations and discussions on assigned readings. By the end of this course, you will have written some personal essay, memoir, and experimental forms, and have an idea of where in the literary landscape these pieces would be placed and published.

Course Goals

— to learn about and join the community and guild of practicing writers of creative nonfiction, and with it its traditions, influences, and histories;

— to enrich understanding of our writing by learning to place it in the various traditions and modes of other, published writing;

— to bring in 4- to 6-page pieces of writing each week—sometimes as a result of a prompt or exercise from the class, other times more open-ended—for a total of at least 40 pages of polished, publishable prose;

— to learn to offer constructive, helpful criticism of other students’ writing in the workshop as well as to work with critiques offered of one’s own work;

— to have a constructive discussion of classmates’ writing, and to encourage others’ craft of writing and revision;

— to learn to read as writers–as opposed to reading as scholars or general audiences–and discuss examples of published work that address issues of craft we encounter in our class;

— to learn about the markets, publications, and audiences for our writing, and how to submit work;

— to learn to revise work in multiple drafts over the course of a semester; and finally,

— my own personal goal, for the class to have fun as we work hard to learn about the art and craft of nonfiction writing, and in the process learn a little about ourselves.

Required Texts

González, Rigoberto. Red-Inked Retablos. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press, 2013. ISBN:

Moody, Rick. The Black Veil: A Memoir. New York: Back Bay, 2002.

Copies of writing and web links will be supplied by the instructor.

Course Requirements, Percentage of Your Final Grade

— 35% Participation: discussions, presentations, group work, group writing, critiques of student work, both written and in class;

— 35% Informal writing: writing assignments, in-class exercises;

— 30% Formal writing: evidence of reading exemplar and critical texts in written comments, revisions, conference (15%) Final Portfolio (15%)

I use a grading rubric for many of my assignments. The following apply on class-by-class basis, and should give you an idea of how I assess student performance.

Participation, Collegiality, and Conduct Rubric
Creative Writing Assignments Not for Workshop: An Evaluative Rubric
Student Reading and Writing Rubric

Syllabus Statements and Policies
We’ll go through these quickly in the first week of class. Please read through these.

Snapshot from My Grade Book
Writing Format
File Format and How to Name Your Files

Attendance Policy
Conferences and Drafts
Late Work
Participation: Writing Class
Required Materials and Skills
Recording Devices

Student-Led Discussion: Tasks of the Workshop Discussion Leader, Lead Critic
The “Rules” of a Creative Writing Workshop

Academic Integrity
Attending Readings, Frequency North, etc.
Attending a Reading, Performance, or Lecture for Make-Up or Extra Credit: The Procedure
Students with Disabilities
Writing Center Visits

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