Autumn 2017 Courses

Attendance on the first day is mandatory for all classes. Participation in creative writing courses may include attendance at events that take place outside of class time. Please note that workshops in which student produce and critique original work comprise a major component of all Creative Writing workshop courses.

  • To bid on Beginning and Core Creative Writing classes, simply go to my.UChicago and bid on them as you would for any other class.
  • For Advanced and Thesis/Major Projects Workshops, please submit a writing sample through our online submission form. Submissions should be 3-5 pages for fiction and nonfiction classes, and 3-5 pages of poems for poetry classes. The writing sample is a mandatory component of all workshop applications.
  • For Technical Seminars and Fundamentals in Creative Writing courses, please fill out the online application form. A writing sample is not required for applications to these courses.


Please note: All submissions should be double-spaced (except poetry) in Word documents using a 12-point standard font, accompanied by a brief (one-paragraph) statement of purpose. Include your name, class you are applying for, quarter/year, and indicate whether you are an undergrad, a MAPH student, or a PhD student (plus department) on the document. Please also indicate whether you are doing a CW minor or major.

NOTE: Students may apply for no more than 2 courses in each genre.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: September 8, 2017

The course instructor will contact you before the quarter begins to let you know whether you've been accepted.

Email the program manager with questions.

Arts Core Courses

CRWR 12124 Reading as a Writer: Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty

Critical and Creative Work in Fact-based Narrative Forms

In this core course, students will investigate the complicated relationship between truth and art, by reading, watching, and writing works adapted from an historical record or “based on a true story.” Weekly reading assignments will include fiction, poetry, memoir, and film, and students will write both critical essays and creative exercises that explore the overlaps and divergences between journalistic and artistic truth. Readings: Aristotle, Bechdel, Carson, Keats, Northup, and Zucker.

Instructor: Rachel DeWoskin

Day/Time: Wednesday, 10:30-1:20 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory. Course meets the General Education requirement in the Dramatical, Musical and Visual Arts.

CRWR 12126 Intro to Genres: Waste

What if we think of writing as waste management? “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now,” said Samuel Beckett then, famously, but: What does this mean? In this course, we will explore the many ways in which writers have tried to answer this question. Alongside our readings, students will be asked to keep a notebook, with the instruction to keep everything that is for them a signature of thought. In this way, a pinecone or a piece of garbage is as much “writing” as anything else. Together, we will create an archive for the quarter, of everything that is produced and/or consumed under this aegis of making. This class is designed to pose questions about form and the activity of writing, in turn, the modes and methods of production not only as writers, but as persons.

Instructor: Lynn Xu

Day/Time: Thursday, 2:00 pm - 4:50 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory. Course meets the General Education requirement in the Dramatical, Musical and Visual Arts.

CRWR 12127 Reading as a Writer: Hallucinations

In this course we ask: How is historical material made—figured/disfigured by loss, desire, violence, suffering, exhaustion, death; by restlessness and the unbearable, abyssal, vertigo of living inside time? Where is the aperture of experience? The apparitions, which partition night, its many voices, bodies which are forgotten, and then remembered, why? What is the time of writing, of reading? This course goes a little back and a little forward between the two world wars, hoping to track an itinerary of history material, its incandescence, between situations of mourning and mystical experience. Students will be asked to keep a reading notebook as well as to produce weekly creative responses for class discussion

Instructor: Lynn Xu

Day/Time: Tuesday, 10:30 am - 1:20pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory. Course meets the General Education requirement in the Dramatical, Musical and Visual Arts.

Beginning Workshop Courses

CRWR 10206/30206 Beginning Fiction Workshop, section 1

The Anxiety of Getting Started

“Every story is perfect until you write the first sentence — then it’s ruined forever.” So said prolific fiction writer J. Robert Lennon. This craft-focused course is geared towards those who don’t quite know how to begin, who might be afraid of writing, and who feel burdened by their own inhibitions and expectations. With creative exercises, readings, and workshops, we’ll find ways to warm up our writerly voices and use them as a guiding force in creating short fiction. We’ll learn how to mine the readings —  by an eclectic mix of authors including Miranda July, Noviolet Bulawayo, John Cheever — for specific techniques and skills to apply to our own work. We will workshop our writings throughout the term. By the end, we will have built up a modest but powerful portfolio.

Instructor: Ling Ma

Day/Time: Tuesday, 12:30-3:20 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 10206/30206 Beginning Fiction Workshop, section 2

Writing the Short Story: “The novel is exhaustive by nature,” Steven Millhauser once wrote. “The short story by contrast is inherently selective. By excluding almost everything, it can give perfect shape to what remains.” This course will consider the particular spaces that short fiction occupies in the literary landscape as a means to giving students a clearer understanding of how to compose brief and high-functioning narratives. Through readings of published stories and workshops of students’ own fiction, we’ll explore the parameters of the short story, its scope and ambitions, its limitations as well. We’ll read established masters like Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, and Joy Williams as well as newer voices such as Wells Tower and Anthony Doerr, breaking down their stories, not simply as examples of meaningful fiction, but as roadmaps toward a greater awareness of what makes a short story operate. Over the course of the quarter, students will submit stories for consideration in workshop, as well as other experimental efforts in short-short and micro fiction. Discussion will revolve around basic elements of story craft—point of view, pacing, language, etc.—in an effort to define the ways in which a narrative can be conveyed with economy, precision, and ultimately, power.

Instructor: Baird Harper

Day/Time: Thursday, 12:30 pm - 3:20 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 10206/30206 Beginning Fiction Workshop, section 3

This course will be roughly one-third lecture/discussion and two-thirds workshopping of student work. We'll read and analyze primarily contemporary short fiction, by writers like Edward P. Jones, Mary Gaitskill, Ben Fountain, Z.Z. Packer, George Saunders, and Sherman Alexie. Discussions will tend to be focused around one particular subject each week: setting, dialogue, character, perspective, etc. We'll also address more subtle concepts like psychic distance, free-indirect style, and movement through time. Students will present their own work to the group for critique and discussion. We'll seek to both hone our skills as attentive readers and to further develop as writers of clear, sophisticated prose.

Instructor: Will Boast

Day/Time: Monday, 10:30 am -1:20 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 10306/30306  Beginning Poetry Workshop, section 1

The Line

The focus of this beginning course will be on one of the most conspicuous elements of poetry: the line. If for no other reason, we often identify a poem as a poem because it is written lines. Why? What is it that makes the line such a distinguishing aspect of poetry? This class will deliberately practice various forms of line making, ranging from traditional metrical lines to modern “free verse,” with forays into the wilderness of prose itself. We will read work that conceives of lines in radically different ways --for example, as a rhythmic unit, as a container, as a vehicle of exploration, as ideological marker, or as an intertextual allusion. Furthermore, we will attempt to trace the ways that the intersections of lines and syntax affect a poem’s sense of voice. Readings will include a range of poems and essays by contemporary and canonical writers.

Instructor: Nathan Hoks

Day/Time: Thursday, 2:00 pm - 4:50 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 10306/30306 Beginning Poetry Workshop, section 2

This course addresses a range of techniques for writing poetry, making use of various compelling models drawn primarily from international modernisms on which to base our own writing. (Our textbook is Poems for the Millennium, edited by Rothenberg & Joris.) In this sense, the course will constitute an apprenticeship to modern poetry. We will consider the breadth of approaches currently available to poets, as well as the value of reading as a means of developing an understanding of how to write poetry. Each week students will bring poems for discussion, developing a portfolio of revised work by the quarter’s end. Additionally, students will keep detailed notebooks, as well as developing critical skills for understanding poetry in the form of classroom discussion.

Instructor: Peter O'Leary

Day/TIme: Tuesday, 2:00 pm - 4:50 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 10406/30406 Beginning Nonfiction Workshop, section 1

We'll examine creative nonfiction from all of its sides beginning with the rhetorical precision of Aristotle and moving through the rigorous interiorself-mapping of Montaigne, the looping denials of DeQuincey, and then into the modern modes courtesy of Audre Lorde, Virginia Woolf, David Foster Wallace, Arundhati Roy, and others.

Instructor: David MacLean

Day/Time: Monday, 10:30 am - 1:20 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 10406/30406 Beginning Nonfiction Workshop, section 2

In this classyou can write about anything you want, as long as you adhere to the truth. What that truth is, only you can say; our job is to help you find it, as well as the best form for conveying it. Nonfiction is inherently interdisciplinary and this class reflects that: I welcome essays, lyric essays, criticism, memoir, travelogues, oral histories, and profiles, as well as reported and journalistic features. Also rants, radio stories, and graphic nonfiction, i.e., comics. Whatever your form or format, the process is the same: you submit your work in progress and your classmates edit and critique it. These critiques aren’t for the faint of heart; they require meticulous line editing, rigorous reflection, and total honesty.They require you to put as much effort into your classmates’ work as you do into your own. We’ll start by reading foundational theoretical texts, including Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and The Story and Phillip Lopate’s To Show and To Tell. After that I’ll choose published examples that demonstratesolutions to the specific narrative problems we’ve found in last week’s student work. You’ll leave this class with the writing sample and skills you’ll need for admission to advanced workshops.

Instructor: Dan Raeburn

Day/Time: Wednesday, 9:30 am - 12:20 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 10500/30500 Fundamentals in Playwriting

This workshop will explore the underlying mechanics that have made plays tick for the last 2,500 odd years, fromEuripedes to Shakespeare to Büchner to Caryl Churchill, Susan Lori-Parks, and Annie Baker, etc. Students will be askedto shamelessly steal those playwrights' tricks and techniques (if they're found useful), and employ them in the creation of their own piece. Designed for playwrights at any level (beginning or advanced), the workshop's primary goals will be todevelop a personal sense of what "works" on stage within the context of what's worked in the past, and to generate a one act play, start to finish.

Instructor: Mickle Maher

Day/Time: Friday, 12:30 pm - 2:20 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Fundamentals in Creative Writing

CRWR 17001 Fundamentals in Creative Writing: Testimony

To give testimony is to bear witness and to provide evidence. To give testimony is also to draw the reader or listener into an individual point of view. In this course, we will study the first-person voice in various forms of personal testimony. Drawing from a mix of memoirs, personal essays, letters, fiction and other first-person narratives, we will analyze the techniques and rhetorical devices used by writers, standup comedians, memoirists in transporting the listener or reader into unknowable, unfamiliar experiences. Expect to engage with texts by authors such as Franz Kafka, Patricia Lockwood, Richard Pryor, and William Maxwell. We will compose our own personal writings through creative exercises. A critical paper is also due.

Instructor: Ling Ma

Day/Time: Thursday, 12:30 pm - 3:20 pm

Instructor consent required. Submit an application via creativewriting.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Technical Seminars

CRWR 20200/40200 Technical Seminar in Fiction: Characterization

This reading and writing seminar will acquaint students with one of the essential tools of fiction writers: characterization. We will read primary texts by authors including Baldwin, Flaubert, Munro, and Wharton, as well as critical work by Danticat, Forester, and Vargas Llosa, toward exploring how some of literature’s most famous characters are rendered. How do writers of fiction create contexts in which characters must struggle, and how does each character’s conflicts reveal his or her nature? Students will complete both creative and analytical writing exercises, reading responses, and a paper that focuses on characterization in a work of fiction.

Instructor: Rachel DeWoskin

Day/Time: Thursday, 11:00 am - 1:50 pm

Instructor consent required. Submit an application via creativewriting.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 20301/40301 Technical Seminar in Poetry: Manifestos, Movements, Modes

This course is an introduction to the linked practices of reading and writing poetry. We will begin with major stylistic experiments of the last century—finding common ground in familiar idioms. We will discuss significant topics, movements ,and styles of the period while identifying formal strategies. As we practice these strategies in our writing, we will move backward in time, to less familiar terrain—expanding our sense of context while increasing our technical repertoire and defamiliarizing ourselves with our assumptions about what poetry is, what it should do, and how it should do it. Weekly reading and writing assignments will challenge students to expand their technical repertoire. And the historical breadth of the course will give students an opportunity to explore the expansive field of poetry as a historically dynamic phenomenon. But the true educational experience will come in uniting these activities, when the student begins to read as a writer and write as a reader. This creative relation to the world of symbols will open them to the world as such and the world as such to their writerly minds. Ultimately, this is a course in inventive perception.

Instructor: Edgar Garcia

Day/Time: Monday and Wednesday, 1:30-2:20 pm

Instructor consent required. Submit an application via creativewriting.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Advanced Workshops

CRWR 22117/42117 Advanced Fiction Workshop: Beginning a Novel

This class is for any student who has taken at least one other fiction workshop at the University and is interested in or already working on a novel. In the first few weeks of the course, we will read and discuss a selection of first chapters from some exemplary and diverse novels (like The Great Gatsby, Invisible Man, Beloved, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, The Age of Innocence, Lolita, and The Virgin Suicides) and discuss what a first chapter can—even should—do and the different ways that it can do these things. How do certain novels introduce its characters, its plot, its setting, its principle concerns and philosophies? How do they dive into the narrative in ways that intrigue or even challenge us? How do certain opening chapters teach us how to read the rest of the novel? These and other crucial questions will be addressed throughout the course, particularly during our workshops, where everyone will present the first chapter or two of their novel-in-progress. Along with the fundamentals of craft like language, characterization, plotting, and structure, etc., we will look at how we can adjust or rethink our opening chapters so that we can move forward more effectively with the larger project.

Instructor: Vu Tran

Day/Time: Tuesday: 2:00 pm - 4:50 pm

Instructor consent required. To apply, submit a writing sample. Once given consent, attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 22119/42119 Advanced Fiction Workshop: Music in Fiction and Improvised Composition

This advanced fiction workshop is for students who wish to continue to refine and develop their understanding of the art form. In our outside readings, we’ll consider fiction writers who’ve written about music and musicians, including James Baldwin, Geoff Dyer, Thomas Bernhard, and Dana Spiotta. And we’ll read works written by musicians, like Charles Mingus’  Beneath the Underdog and Rafi Zabor’s The Bear Comes Home. However, we won’t limit ourselves to music as subject matter. We’ll examine T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man as works profoundly influenced by jazz and improvisatory methods of composition, and we’ll look at stories like “Rondo,” by Susan Neville, which uses musical form as its structural principle. Finally, we’ll consider experiments in what we might call verbal music by James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Ben Marcus. In our workshops, you are absolutely not required to write about music. Rather, the course will allow us to consider new methods of composition, both on the narrative and sentence level.

 Instructor: Will Boast

Day/Time: Wednesday, 1:30 pm - 4:20 pm

Instructor consent required. To apply, submit a writing sample. Once given consent, attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 22122/42122 Advanced Fiction Workshop: Narrative Structure and Character Arc

Students will write and turn in two full-length stories or novel chapters for this workshop-based class. While we won’t ignore such fundamental elements of fiction writing as POV and narrative distance, characterization, setting, and dialogue, the class will pay special attention to the relationship between character arc and narrative structure, as well as the various kinds of conflict that act as engines for a story or novel. In addition to submitting and reading for workshop, expect to read and discuss at least one novel and a selection of short stories.

Instructor: Gus Rose

Day/Time: Wednesday, 10:30 am - 1:20 pm

Instructor consent required. To apply, submit a writing sample. Once given consent, attendance on the first day is mandatory.

CRWR 23117/43117 Advanced Poetry Workshop: Generative Genres

If, as claims the Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago, "the novel is not so much a literary genre, but a literary space, like a sea that is filled by many rivers," then how vast must be the space of poetry, which contains, after all, among its many streams, the verse novel? In this course we will explore some of the major and minor lyric tributaries that feed the sea of poetry, following such currents as the elegy, the ekphrastic poem, the dramatic monologue, and the eclogue, while considering the many branchings where they meet and overlap. We will read lists, letters, essays, and travelogues, and examine the endless ways generic conventions, in addition to formal ones, play a generative role in poetic innovation. Primary texts for this course will include weekly writing assignments alongside readings from a wide range of literary precursors.

Instructor: Suzanne Buffam

Day/Time: Wednesday, 9:30 am - 12:20 pm

Instructor consent required. To apply, submit a writing sample. Once given consent, attendance on the first day is mandatory.


CRWR 24004/44004 Advanced Nonfiction Workshop: Writing in Crisis

In this course, we’ll work to write about people and communities who are in crisis, on the verge of crisis, or looking back at crisis. We’ll discuss reporting, interviewing, oral history, historical research, working from photography and video, and the ethical situation of the writer. We’ll read works by writers such as Liu Xiaobo, Elena Poniatowska, Claudia Rankine, Rebecca Solnit, Edwidge Danticat, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Philip Gourevitch, Arundathi Roy, Leslie Marmon Silko, Rachel Carson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, on subjects including migration, exile, prison, totalitarian regimes, dissidence, questions of reparation and reconciliation after systematic violence, and environmental activism. Students will undertake significant research and produce a substantial essay to be workshopped in class.

Instructor: Rachel Cohen

Day/Time: Wednesday, 10:30 am - 1:20 pm

Instructor consent required. To apply, submit a writing sample. Once given consent, attendance on the first day is mandatory.