Spring 2018 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 that Fundamentals seminars are only open to students who have declared the Creative Writing major.

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.

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

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: February 23, 2018

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

Reading As a Writer: Ecopoetics: Literature & Ecology (CRWR 12123)

This course will explore a range of literary responses to the anthropocene period, understood as the geological age in which the prevailing economic and social paradigms of humans have conditioned changes in climate and the environment. We will begin with foundational texts in environmental perception and activism (John Ruskin’s “Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century”) and modernist works engaging with urban landscapes (William Carlos Williams’s Paterson), opening onto a wide range of contemporary texts that engage the natural and constructed environment in crisis. We will encounter poetry by authors such as Cecilia Vicuña, Andrea Zanzotto, Robert Grenier, Ed Roberson, Kamau Brathwaite, Juliana Spahr, Marcella Durand, Rodrigo Toscano, and Evelyn Reilly; prose by Jonathan Skinner, Jed Rasula, David Buuck, and Dee Morris; and art by Robert Smithson, Andy Goldsworthy, and Mierle Ukeles, among others. Students will be asked, week by week, to produce short creative pieces in response to an environmental issue or debate that interests them.

Instructor: Jennifer Scappettone
Day/Time: Tuesday, 3:30-6:20

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory. Satisfies the College Arts/Music/Drama Core requirement.

Reading as a Writer: From Page to Film (CRWR 12125)

We often say of film adaptations: it’s not as good as the book.  But what can we, as readers and writers, learn from that unsuccessful transition to the screen?  And more intriguingly, what can we learn from the successful ones, the films that are just as good if not better than the original written work—or so vastly different that they become their own entity?  In this class, we will be reading works of short fiction and also “reading” their film adaptations, focusing on this relationship between storytelling on the page and storytelling on the screen and what is both lost and gained in that transition.  If filmmaking requires a different language than fiction writing, a different approach to things like character, plot, atmosphere, even thematic development, what can we learn from that approach that we can apply to our own fiction, even if we have no interest in making films?  We’ll investigate this question in the work of writers like Alice Munro, E. Annie Proulx, and Arthur Schnitzler, and filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Nicolas Roeg.

Instructor: Vu Tran
Day/Time: Tuesday, 2:00-4:50 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory. Satisfies the College Arts/Music/Drama Core requirement.

Intro to Genres: Waste (CRWR 12126)

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: Friday, 10:30-1:20 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory. Satisfies the College Arts/Music/Drama Core requirement.

Reading as a Writer: Hallucinations (CRWR 12127)

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: Monday, 10:30-1:20 pm

Open bid through my.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory. Satisfies the College Arts/Music/Drama Core requirement.


Beginning Workshops

Beginning Fiction Workshop (CRWR 10206/30206), Section 1

“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, 11:00 – 1:50 pm

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

Beginning Fiction Workshop (CRWR 10206/30206), Section 2

“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.” Through readings of published stories and workshops of students’ own fiction, this course will explore the parameters of the short story, its scope and ambitions, its limitations as well. We’ll read established masters like Edgar Allen Poe, Raymond Carver, and Alice Munro as well as many newer literary voices, 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 full-length 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, 12:30-3:20

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

Beginning Poetry Workshop (CRWR 10306/30306)

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, 2:00-4:50pm

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

Beginning Nonfiction Workshop (CRWR 10406/30406)

We'll examine creative nonfiction from all of its sides beginning with the rhetorical precision of Aristotle and moving through the rigorous interior self-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. We'll write our own personal essays, workshop, and revise them.

Instructor: David MacLean
Day/Time: Monday, 10:30-1:20 pm

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


Fundamentals & Technical Seminars

Fundamentals in Creative Writing: The Question of Perspective (CRWR 17002)

This fundamentals course will look at fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction to explore questions of perspective. We will examine questions of Point of View and Narrative Distance and how these affect a work and a reader’s experience of that work. We will tackle the question of (un)reliability in narrators and speakers and how it serves the work. We will also explore the larger question of perspective in a writer. What does it mean to have a point of view as a writer, and why is it important? Readings will include primary texts as well as critical and fundamentals texts in each genre. Students will complete weekly reading responses, as well as creative exercises. A paper focusing on a specific element of perspective will be due at the end of the course.  

Instructor: Augustus Rose
Day/Time:  Wednesday, 10:30-1:20

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory. This is class is restricted to students who have declared a major in Creative Writing.

Technical Seminar in Fiction: Auto Fiction, Essayism, Ecstatic Truth (CRWR 20201/40201)

This seminar looks primarily at fiction that blurs the line between imagination and experience. We’ll look at highly memoiristic “autofiction” by the likes of Rachel Cusk, Renata Adler, and Hitomi Kanehara. Authors who have addressed the same subjects in both works of fiction and nonfiction, including Kathryn Harrison and James Baldwin, will also be of interest to us. As will nonfiction novels and/or highly novelistic journalism by George Orwell, Ryzard Kapuchinski, and Katherine Boo. Finally, we’ll look at some radio and film works that deliberately and/or “ecstatically” smudge the truth, by Orson Welles, Banksy, and Werner Herzog. The focus of this course is very much on responding critically to each text and the larger question of genre. But there will also be opportunities for creative exercises. As such this course is particularly meant for Creative Writing majors in fiction but will appeal to any student interested in contemporary literature.

Instructor: Will Boast
Day/Time: Wednesday, 1:30-4:20

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Technical Seminar in Fiction: Research & World-Building (CRWR 20203/40203)

Writing fiction is in large part a matter of convincing world-building, no matter what genre you write in. And convincing world-building is about creating a seamless reality within the elements of that world: from character dynamics, to setting, to social systems, and even the story or novel’s conceptual conceit. And whether it be within a genre of realism, historical fiction, or science fiction, building a convincing world takes a good deal of research. So while we look closely at the tools and methods of successful world-building, we will also dig into the process of research. From how and where to mine the right details, to not just how to do research, but how research can make a fertile ground for harvesting ideas and even story. Students will read various works long and short fiction with an eye to its world-building, as well as critical and craft texts. They will write short weekly reading responses and some creative exercises as well. Each student will also be expected to make a brief presentation and turn in a final paper for the class.  

Instructor: Augustus Rose
Day/Time: Tuesday, 11:00-1:50 pm

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Technical Seminar in Poetry: Units of Composition (CRWR 20302/40302)

This course aims to investigate, through a range of readings and writing exercises, various units of composition and the ways that they interact with each other in poems. We will study and imitate traditional formal approaches, such as the poetic foot, meter, caesuras, sprung rhythm, rhymed stanzas, and refrains. We also will study and imitate modernist and contemporary “units,” such as the word (approached, for example, etymologically or connotatively), the free verse line, the variable foot, vers libre, serial form, the sentence (the “new” sentence, but also modulations of basic syntax), the paragraph, the page, and forms of call and response. This reading intensive course will draw from a selection of mostly modern and contemporary poetry, poetics, and criticism, most likely include major works by Keats, Dickinson, Hopkins, Stevens, Frost, Eliot, and Mallarmé, as well as Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette, and James Tate’s The Ghost Soldiers. Students will be expected to submit weekly technical exercises, complete several short critical responses, write a longer essay, and submit a final portfolio of revised material.

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

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.


Technical Seminar in Nonfiction: The Synecdoche (CRWR 20401/40401)

Every writer of personal nonfiction knows that ultimately the story isn’t about them: it’s about something larger, perhaps universal, and their personal story is merely a means to that end. The key to this paradox is the synecdoche, or the part that stands for the whole. The universe in a grain of sand, the one story that tells many people’s story. Anne Fadiman did it in The Spirit Catches You and Then You Fall Down, her book about a Hmong immigrant in the United States. So did Joan Didion, in Where I Was From; by telling the story of her family, she told the story of California, and by telling the story of California she told the story of the West and thus of America. Rian Malan did the same for South Africa in  My Traitor’s Heart: by telling the story of his family he told the story of Apartheid, and thus of our segregated world. We’ll look at how these and other writers locate the universal in their particulars, and discuss how to apply their example to your own writing.  

Instructor: Dan Raeburn
Day/Time: Wednesday, 9:30-12:30 am

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu. Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Advanced Workshops

Advanced Translation Workshop: Prose Style (CRWR 21500/41500)

Purple, lean, evocative, muscular, literary, exuberant, lucid, stilted, economical. These are all labels that critics and reviewers have used to characterize prose styles that call attention to themselves in distinct ways. Of course, what constitutes style not only changes over time, but also means different things in different literary traditions. How, then, do translators carry style over from one language and cultural milieu to another? And to what extent does style structure storytelling? We will explore these questions by reading a variety of modern and contemporary stylists who either write in English or translate into English, paying special attention to what stylistic devices are at work and what their implications are for narration, characterization, and world building. Further, we’ll examine the range of choices that each writer and translator makes when constituting and reconstituting style, on a lexical, tonal, and syntactic scale. By pairing readings with generative exercises in stylistics and constrained writing, we will build toward the translation of a short work of contemporary fiction into English. To participate in this workshop, students should be able to comfortably read a literary text in a foreign language. 

Instructor: Anne Janusch
Day/Time: Monday, 1:30-4:20pm

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu (include writing sample). Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Advanced Fiction Workshop: Constructing A Full-Length Novel (CRWR 22118/42118)

In this advanced fiction workshop, students will work on novel-length projects, completing two polished chapters and an outline of a full novel. We will explore how to structure a book that is both propulsive and character-driven, and how to create a compelling, unique narrative voice. Work by James Baldwin, Edith Wharton, Ha Jin, Vladimir Nabokov, and Akhil Sharma will help us consider the crucial relationship between characters and their contexts. 

Instructor: Rachel DeWoskin
Day/Time: Thursday, 11:00-1:50 pm

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu (include writing sample). Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Advanced Fiction Workshop: Surfacing the Unseen (CRWR 22125/42125)

This course is for students with works-in-progress, whether a story collection or a novel, who feel stuck in their manuscripts. In weekly workshop sessions, we’ll re-examine what’s actually at stake in the narrative draft. We’ll help each other dive deeper in our writing, to rediscover submerged aspects of the narrative that can be further explored — and what to do once we’ve uncovered them. With accompanying readings of novel excerpts and stories, we’ll also examine how to incorporate next-level techniques such as re-sequencing the plot, imposing metaphorical value, and thematic layering of storylines.

Instructor: Ling Ma
Day/Time: Thursday, 11:00-1:50 pm

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu (include writing sample). Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Advanced Fiction Workshop: Writing Without Ego (CRWR 22126/42126)

In this advanced writing workshop students will write two short stories and revise one. The workshop will focus on traditional aspects of craft while the short writing and reading assignments will focus on various writing processes.  We will learn through practice how different writing approaches utilize or ameliorate the vital power of the ego. “Ego” is self: ourselves and our own experiences are vital for writing fiction with authenticity. But ego can also get in the way of creation and foment fear and pretension. Reading modern short stories by Alice Walker, Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami and Lan Samantha Chang among others, we will look at “ego” as a function of characterization and the self in fiction. We’ll read essays by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung on “Active Imagination,” theories of automatic writing by Beat poets, and ideas of writing pedagogy by Peter Elbow and will question how and why calibrating ego is essential for authors and characters, and when ego can detract from the power of the imaginary world and “first thoughts.”

Instructor: Thea Goodman
Day/Time: Tuesday, 9:30 – 12:20 pm

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu (include writing sample). Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Advanced Poetry Workshop: The Public Poem (CRWR 23118/43118)

“It is difficult / to get the news from poems,” Williams wrote in 1955, yet American poetry has demonstrated since its inception a fascination with public events and how poetry itself might respond to, even intervene in, those events.  This course will explore the genre of the “public” poem, a poem shaped by—registering, responding to, remonstrating against—public phenomena, and one which locates the poetic “self” within a wider social newsscape.  On the premise that creative work is socially produced, and that the best training for a writer, therefore, is to read extensively, we will examine an eclectic range of contemporary “public” poetry—Peter Balakian, Quan Barry, Joshua Clover, Martha Collins, Tyehimba Jess, Jill McDonaugh, Gregory Pardlo, Anne Winters—and engage pressing questions in historical and contemporary poetics.  We will also, of course, produce, share, and workshop a significant body of our own “public” poetry.  What, we will ask, makes a poem of its moment but not momentary?  How is “public” poetry different from “political” poetry?  Incorporating basic and advanced issues in poetic craft—open form, braided narratives, the ethics of witness—as well as attendance at poetry readings and some critical writing, the course will ultimately help us find and sharpen those techniques necessary to write our keenest, most urgent poetry.  We will write, then, not only about public history, but into it.

Instructor: Chris Kempf
Day/Time: Thursday, 9:30 – 12:20 pm

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu (include writing sample). Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Advanced Poetry Workshop: Poetry Of & Off the Page (CRWR 23119/43119)

Is there a place for poetry in a society in which reading has been declared dead—where at the very least, reading threatens to be eclipsed by scanning? In this workshop/laboratory, we will explore material whose response is a delirious yes—poetry that revels in charging the confines of the page and book. Exposure to an archive of modernist and contemporary visual and sound poetry, artists' books, contemporary installation and performance works, and relevant theories of media dislodgment will help us compose our own answers to the (old) question: what forms are poems obliged or inspired to take as language goes viral, in the face of total information, digitization, and post-literary culture?  Readings and viewings in 20th- and 21st-century poetry and poetics, visits to local writing-arts collections, and class visits by local artists will help us generate our own works.  Students will complete weekly assignments across media, and engage with the writing of their peers formally, while working toward a culminating piece in a medium of their choice: this final piece can take the form of a chapbook, performance, installation, or other pertinent channel. Works studied may include the envelope poems of Emily Dickinson, a range of mid-century concrete poems, DICTEE (by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha), Spit Temple: The Selected Performances of Cecilia Vicuña, the “total translations” of Jerome Rothenberg, Drift (by Caroline Bergvall), the art of Etel Adnan and Barbara Kruger, performances, texts, and graphic work by Edwin Torres, The Jew’s Daughter (by Judd Morrissey), the instagram feeds of Shelley Jackson, and more.

Instructor: Jennifer Scappettone
Day/Time: Tuesday, 3:00-5:50 pm

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu (include writing sample). Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Advanced Nonfiction Workshop: Aiming for Publication (CRWR 24001/44001)

This workshop is for students who want to leave the ivory tower with a realistic view of their strengths and limitations. A forewarning: I can’t get you an editor or an agent. The only way to do that is to have a forceful, beautiful manuscript. This class is about how to begin that manuscript. It’s a workshop, meaning that you’re responsible for generating the majority of our text and our discussions. You can write a personal essay, argument, memoir, character study or travelogue, as well as reportorial, researched, and investigative pieces. No matter what rubric your piece falls under, we’ll help you to distinguish between what Vivian Gornick has called The Situation—the plot or facts at hand—and The Story, which is the larger, more universal meaning that arises naturally from these facts. By developing these two strands and tying them more artfully together you’ll make your piece as appealing as it can be to editors and a discerning audience. We’ll also read and discuss successful published work every week that I’ve chosen to illustrate specific solutions to the problems we found in last week’s student work. That’s because the best way to become a better writer is to become a better reader. If you learn nothing else in this class, you’ll learn that.  

Instructor: Dan Raeburn
Day/Time: Friday, 9:30-12:20 pm

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu (include writing sample). Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Advanced Nonfiction Workshop: Writing About the Arts (CRWR 24002/44002; ARTH 24002/34002)

This is a course for students interested in developing their ability to write about the visual arts, as critics, appreciators, theorists, or memoirists, and, practically, for work in galleries, museums, journals, and magazines.  A theme of the course will be to explore ways that art and life may interact, both in the work made by a visual artist, and in the nonfiction that arises in response to a visual artist or their work.  Some students may be interested to write biographically about artists and their work, and we’ll talk about how to make biography illuminating and not reductive; other students may be interested to draw on their own life experiences as they try to shed light on works of art; still others may be curious to see how certain artists themselves have viewed the questions and practices of drawing from life.  We’ll use ideas about drawing, and especially drawing repeatedly, as a model and a metaphor for thinking about writing.  We’ll have some occasions to look at works on paper held at the Smart Museum, and we’ll visit some exhibitions and galleries, together and independently.  Readings will include works such as James Lord’s book A Giacometti Portrait, on being drawn by Giacometti, Maggie Nelson on the color blue in life and art from Bluets, John Berger on drawing, Rebecca Solnit on photographer Edweard Muybridge, Geoff Dyer on street photography from The Ongoing Moment, John Yau on Jasper Johns’s practice and on those of contemporary artists, Zbigniew Herbert on the way 17th century Dutch artists used the material of their own life, and Lori Waxman, art critic of the Chicago Tribune, on walking as a radical art form, from Keep Walking Intently.  Students will write a number of exercises in different forms (wall text, lyric meditation, portrait, interview) and will also write a more extended essay to be workshopped in class. 

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

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu (include writing sample). Attendance on the first day is mandatory.

Advanced Nonfiction Workshop: Long-Form Journalism (CRWR 24007/44007)

This workshop-based nonfiction course is suitable for any student who wants to work on long-form (1500 words and up) journalistic projects. To supplement our workshop submissions, we’ll look at a variety of texts touching on (and often combining) reporting on political, cultural, and environmental subjects. We’ll consider interviewing techniques and profile writing, as well works concerned with travel (of the non-touristic kind), sports, and the arts. We’ll read pieces by the likes of Katherine Boo, Eula Biss, George Orwell, Ryzard Kapuchinski, George Saunders, Geoff Dyer, Ted Conover, Maggie Nelson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The emphasis of the course will be on narrative journalism, but other approaches will be considered and welcomed. Ideally, students will come into the course with projects already in mind, but we will also work on developing stories and pitches.

Instructor: Will Boast
Day/Time: Tuesday, 2:00-4:50 pm

Instructor consent required. Apply via creativewriting.uchicago.edu (include writing sample). Attendance on the first day is mandatory.