Fiction Digital Lectures

  MIXING IT UP (Panel): Marianne Boruch, Karen Brennan, Jeremy Gavron, Robin Romm, Alan Shapiro, David Shields (January 2014)
MIXING IT UP (Panel): Marianne Boruch, Karen Brennan, Jeremy Gavron, Robin Romm, Alan Shapiro, David Shields (January 2014)
What prompts a poet to write fiction, or poets/fiction writers to undertake a memoir? Is the impulse toward “another genre” purely a formal choice, or is it made necessary by the material to be served? Are valuable lessons brought back to one’s “primary” genre? Or, will some of us spend our writing lives happily alternating among poems, novels, stories, essays, memoir and admixtures that defy taxonomy? Six faculty members report from own their experiences crossing the genre divide.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Baby I've Changed, I Swear: Creating Turning Points in Prose & Poetry (January 2012)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Baby I've Changed, I Swear: Creating Turning Points in Prose & Poetry (January 2012)
Fiction writer Dean Bakopoulos defines a “turning point” as an internal process in a speaker or character that affects the course of the poem or story, and sets into motion what will become the climax, resolution, conclusion, or epiphany. He identifies and considers the internal moments that are seeds of change, leaps towards epiphany, or transformations in stories and poems, including Richard Bausch’s “The Fireman’s Wife,” Junot Diaz’s “Nilda,” Mary Gaitskill’s “Tiny Smiling Daddy,” Reginald McKnight’s “The Kind of Lights That Shines on Texas,” Donald Hall’s “Affirmation,” Franz Wright’s “To Myself,” J. Allyn Rosser’s “As If,” and Richard Hugo’s, “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg.”
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Let Us Consider the Kitchen: The User's Guide to Lists, Maps, and Inventories (January 2014)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Let Us Consider the Kitchen: The User's Guide to Lists, Maps, and Inventories (January 2014)
Bakopoulos’s discussion class examines the uses of lists and litanies in poetry and prose as a way to heighten momentum and illuminate syntax. Among the texts discussed are William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow and works by Tillie Olsen, Susan Minot, and Stuart Dybek.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Postponement in Fiction (January 2010)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Postponement in Fiction (January 2010)
Shaped by Lorca’s concept of duende, Dean Bakopoulos’ lecture explores the effect that moments of stillness can have when they come against backdrops of intense action. Bakoupolos draws on fiction by John Cheever, James Joyce, and Jane Smiley, poetry by Richard Hugo and James Wright, and Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” to consider how these writers allow their characters, and their readers, to access the “deep song” in their lives.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Rainbows for All God's Children (& Other Horror Stories) (January 2013)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Rainbows for All God's Children (& Other Horror Stories) (January 2013)
A meditation on the challenges of narrative momentum in prose and poetry, this lecture attempts to use lessons from the horror genre and apply them to writing that is not always plot-driven. Among the stories discussed are Z.Z. Packer’s “Brownies,” Stuart Dybek’s “Paper Lanterns,” and “Dance in America” by Lorrie Moore.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: The Lyricism of Upheaval (January 2011)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: The Lyricism of Upheaval (January 2011)
Dean Bakopoulos challenges the workshop maxim that “less is more” and asks what happens when writers drop “the cloak of restraint” and move into the “realm of excess.” Fiction which seeks to enact emotional upheaval and intensity need not be melodramatic, he argues. Drawing on examples from fiction, poetry, and music, Bakopoulos looks at the strategies used in Nathaniel West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, Barry Hannah’s “Love Too Long,” Aleksander Hemon’s Nowhere Man, and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, as well as Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.”
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: They Threw Me Off the Hay Truck: On Bafflement and Difficulty (January 2017)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: They Threw Me Off the Hay Truck: On Bafflement and Difficulty (January 2017)
Bafflement, Bakopoulos tells us, is not surprise; it’s the mystifying blind spot we must look into in order to change. He discusses works by Ellison, Murakami, James Cain and others to explore the ways magical realism and noir mysteries overlap, and what we might learn from that overlapping, particularly when writing about the struggle for justice or peace (global or personal), in times of violence and upheaval (physical or emotional). 
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: We Never Close: A Heartbroken Manifesto against Tidiness, Resolution, and Brevity (January 2016)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: We Never Close: A Heartbroken Manifesto against Tidiness, Resolution, and Brevity (January 2016)
Dean Bakopoulos examines work fueled by heartbreak so surreal it cannot follow the tidy or predictable forms of traditional stories and poems. Instead, the work rambles, digresses, glosses over the important, elevates the mundane, forces a form, and then kicks the form apart. Looking at work by Lorrie Moore, Edward Hirsch, and James Baldwin, Bakopoulos explores how such works manipulate the reader and build conflict, even in the absence of plot.
BARNHARDT, WILTON: Don't Take That Tone With Me (January 2008)
BARNHARDT, WILTON: Don't Take That Tone With Me (January 2008)
Wilton Barnhardt: Don’t Take That Tone With Me How often are we tempted to write solemnly about solemn subjects and joyfully about joyful subjects, matching style with content to achieve a so-called appropriate tone? In this lecture, Wilton Barnhardt reflects on the surprise and rich layers of meaning that can be produced when the writer uses an “anomalous tone,” or a tone that is seemingly at odds with the subject matter; Barnhardt looks at work by John Brehm, James Joyce, Randall Kenan, and Imre Kertesz for examples.
BARNHARDT, WILTON: The Sense of Place (July 1997)
BARNHARDT, WILTON: The Sense of Place (July 1997)
“Some writers,” Wilton Barnhardt notes, “pile up the details and never quite convince us we’re standing where they say we are; some writers in a sentence or two capture a remote corner of the world.” How, Barnhardt asks, is this latter magic done? Arguing that far from merely being a backdrop in fiction, place is often itself a central character, Barnhardt explores how David Lodge, Willa Cather, Vladimir Nabokov and Tennessee Williams powerfully convey place, ultimately transforming it into a carrier of meaning.
BARNHARDT, WILTON: To the Manner Born… (2000 July)
BARNHARDT, WILTON: To the Manner Born… (2000 July)
In mannerist writing, style is every bit as important as content, Wilton Bardhardt notes. And this type of writing, he acknowledges, has its liabilities—it can seem pretentious, self-indulgent, or simply ridiculous. But can’t we all, he asks, think of some “hyper-stylist” who first drew us “to the magic of writing itself”? In this lecture, Barnhardt examines what can make mannerist writing more—as well as less—successful; he looks to e.e. cummings, Faulkner, Henry James and Cormac McCarthy for examples.
BARRETT, ANDREA: The Transformation: Virginia Woolf and The Years (January 2017)
BARRETT, ANDREA: The Transformation: Virginia Woolf and The Years (January 2017)
In 1931, Virginia Woolf made her first notes for what she called “an Essay-Novel, called The Pargiters.” By 1934 she had a 900-page draft, which she revised heavily several times. Barrett discusses the transformation of those earlier drafts into the novel we know as The Years, which—radically different from her earlier conceptions—was published in 1937.
BAXTER, CHARLES:  A Dialogue on Dialogue (July 2016)
BAXTER, CHARLES: A Dialogue on Dialogue (July 2016)
Hey, everybody: let's put on a show! Charles Baxter’s lecture explores and (with the assistance of two other faculty members) enacts a range of approaches to dialogue in both fiction and poetry, exploring strategies of silence, ping-pong dialogue, the art of the rant, cruel triangulations, self-interruptions, and actual interruptions in works by Eisenberg, Rabe, Kooser, and others.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Dramatic Interventions: The Request Moment (July 2013)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Dramatic Interventions: The Request Moment (July 2013)
Dramatic situations are often set into motion when one character makes a request of another; poems, too, may acquire a certain energy from requests made within them. These requests tell us something about the social group in which they occur, and they tell us about the obligations one character may have for another. Examples are offered from Shakespeare, A. E. Housman, Shirley Jackson, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, and others.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Fugitive Subjectivity (July 2014)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Fugitive Subjectivity (July 2014)
What happens within a story when there may be no one to whom a story can be told, or the story itself is somehow unspeakable? Baxter explores “fugitive subjectivity”—subjectivity without an outlet—in the toxic narratives that result, focusing on John Cheever’s “The Country Husband.”
BAXTER, CHARLES: Great Faces (July 2003)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Great Faces (July 2003)
In nineteenth-century novels faces were often presented as indicators of character, Charles Baxter notes, but now, because of cynicism about facial insincerity, fiction writers shy away from describing faces at all. What do we lose when we can’t see a character’s expression? Baxter considers the importance of different kinds of faces in work by Thomas Hardy, F.Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner and Paula Fox, among others.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Inflection and the Breath of Life (January 1998)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Inflection and the Breath of Life (January 1998)
In this lecture, Charles Baxter takes on that elusive yet crucial component of narrative craft: inflection, or the tones and emphasis with which something is said. Arguing that inflection can be as important for the narrative voice as for voices within a dialogue, Baxter explores how inflection can allow the reader, and the narrator, to suspend disbelief, so that the story begins to “believe in itself.” He looks to fiction by Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, and J.D. Salinger for examples.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Learning from Playwrights (July 2001)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Learning from Playwrights (July 2001)
“Writers must always be listening,” Charles Baxter remarks, “but their characters may not be able to listen at all.” Noting that this inability to listen often signals the presence of subtexts, what the characters can’t or won’t discuss, Baxter explores how dialogue can powerfully represent such distractedness—and, crucially, the subtexts causing it. He looks, for models, at evasive dialogue modes in a Eugene O’Neill play, and the use of similar techniques in fiction by William Trevor and Katherine Anne Porter.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Learning from the Poets: Rhyming Action (and Unity of Imagery) (July 1996)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Learning from the Poets: Rhyming Action (and Unity of Imagery) (July 1996)
Charles Baxter explores how “rhyming action,” as exemplified in narrative poems by Coleridge, Shelley and others, can work in fiction, taking the form of dramatic or imagistic echoes. The most effective types of rhyming action, Baxter argues, cannot be consciously contrived but are generated imaginatively between conscious intent and sub-conscious impulse, creating a formal unity distinct from historical progression that carries recursive insight, as shown in work by Twain, Joyce, Rilke, Nabokov, Munro and others.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Narrative Urgency (July 2010)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Narrative Urgency (July 2010)
Narratives should be organized, Charles Baxter remarks in this lecture, “around the truth of the material and not the deployment of devices.” Yet urgency is crucial to good fiction. Drawing on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Paula Fox’s The Widow’s Children, Joan Silber’s The Size of the World, Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Pet Dog,” and Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, Baxter offers a variety of strategies writers can use to deepen suspense and tension in their work.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Regarding Happiness (July 2008)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Regarding Happiness (July 2008)
Why, Charles Baxter asks, is happiness such an intractable subject for treatment in extended dramatic forms, whether poetry or fiction? While reflecting on the difficulties in writing about happiness, Baxter offers several strategies writers can use to approach the subject; he turns to Czeslaw Milosz’s “Gift,” Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” and John Cheever’s “The Worm in the Apple” for examples.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Sonia's Last Speech (July 2006)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Sonia's Last Speech (July 2006)
Charles Baxter examines Sonia’s closing speech in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya as a lens to look at sentimentality in relation to the need to fend off despair in fiction. While Sonia’s speech at first feels unconvincing even to her, Baxter argues, at a certain point she begins to “believe her own stories”; this complicated moment produces a kind of “double-voicing,” or a tension between what is real and what is hoped for. Baxter goes on to discuss double-voicing in work by Paula Fox, Gustave Flaubert, and Donald Justice.
BAXTER, CHARLES: The Poet's Story and the Dramatic Image (July 2015)
BAXTER, CHARLES: The Poet's Story and the Dramatic Image (July 2015)
Looking at work by Sherwood Anderson, Janet Kauffman, Wright Morris, and others, Baxter’s six-part lecture investigates dramatic images which carry the weight of a story’s emotions—which “stop time altogether for the sake of an almost mythic intensity.”
BAXTER, CHARLES: Things about to Disappear: The Writer as Curator (January 2017)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Things about to Disappear: The Writer as Curator (January 2017)
In this moving lecture, Charles Baxter discusses works by Deborah Eisenberg, Edward P. Jones, Wright Morris, and others to explore the vital and enduring responsibility of the writer as curator, memorializing and preserving what Samuel Beckett called “things about to disappear.”
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Narrative Distance and the Visual Image and Hemingway (January 2006)
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Narrative Distance and the Visual Image and Hemingway (January 2006)
Beginning by admitting that she has never been able to “get” Hemingway, Adria Bernardi explores what it is about Hemingway’s narrators that leave her feeling “locked-out,” unable to access these characters’ emotional worlds. Through careful readings of several of Hemingway’s stories, Bernardi investigates how Hemingway’s use of narrative distance in relationship to visual images allows the reader to stand next to the narrator, and she reflects on what makes this narrative distance both challenging and rewarding.
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Spandrels, Spark, and a Leap Over the Tombstone: A Discussion of (Swift) Connections and (Unexpected) Associations Made Outside Chronological Sequence (January 2005)
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Spandrels, Spark, and a Leap Over the Tombstone: A Discussion of (Swift) Connections and (Unexpected) Associations Made Outside Chronological Sequence (January 2005)
How can fiction writers, as Muriel Spark put it, give “disjointed happenings a shape”? Adria Bernardi considers the ways that narrative can be driven by association, often of the resonant, seemingly small image, as well as craft strategies of voice and tonality, and precision of image and language. Drawing on non-fiction about writing by Robert Boswell and Italo Calvino, Bernardi looks, for examples in fiction, at Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron and Muriel Spark’s The Girls of Slender Means.
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Visual Image and Noise in Eudora Welty (January 2007)
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Visual Image and Noise in Eudora Welty (January 2007)
The movement between the inner and the outer, and the primacy of the visual image, are central to the poetics of Eudora Welty, Adria Bernardi argues. Bernardi looks at essays and three stories by Welty to consider how visual images can function at moments of transition, and in particular moments of transition into different ways of seeing; she suggests that such images can offer the writer opportunities to move into an alternative point of view or level of consciousness.
BOSWELL, ROBERT:  Making a Scene (July 2016)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Making a Scene (July 2016)
Robert Boswell’s recent experience as an Off-Broadway playwright provides the structure of this 12-part lecture which applies what he has learned from his experience in the theater to fiction writing, and draws from a wealth of plays and works of fiction, ranging from Chekhov to Tennessee Williams to NoViolet Bulowayo.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Complex Moments in Fiction (July 2010)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Complex Moments in Fiction (July 2010)
Most readers have had the experience of responding viscerally to a particular moment in a piece of fiction; in this lecture, Robert Boswell considers how such “complex moments” are made. Through close readings of work by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh, E.M. Forster, William Faulkner, and Kazuo Ishiguro, Boswell suggests that narratives have horizontal and vertical planes, and that writers can manage the intersections between these planes to create moments of lasting resonance.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Having Gravity and Having Weight: On Meaning in Fiction (July 2013)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Having Gravity and Having Weight: On Meaning in Fiction (July 2013)
The lecture muses on meaning, focusing on rarely discussed aspects of craft. Texts referred to include Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" and Sherwood Anderson's "Death in the Woods."
BOSWELL, ROBERT: On Characters and Characterization (January 2012)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: On Characters and Characterization (January 2012)
Looking at Joyce’s “The Dead,” Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Munro’s “Friend of my Youth,” and Welty’s “The Wide Net,” Boswell develops twelve possible useful stratagems for establishing complex and believable characters, including imagining a character’s approach to the inscrutable, describing the illusions to which a character clings, and exposing a character’s darkest and ugliest motivations.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Take Me to the River: Stories that Invent and Manipulate Rituals (July 2015)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Take Me to the River: Stories that Invent and Manipulate Rituals (July 2015)
Presented in thirty parts, Boswell’s modular lecture weaves a personal narrative with investigations of ritual in works by Eudora Welty, Alice Munro, Peter Taylor, John Cheever, and others.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: The Alternate Universe (July 2002)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: The Alternate Universe (July 2002)
In comic books, alternate universes exist alongside realistic ones, and characters can move between them. How might writers borrow from such a model to enliven their fiction? In this lecture, Robert Boswell explores how writers such as Alice Munro, Anton Chekhov, James Joyce, James Baldwin and others create resonant moments, a “shimmer” in their fiction by allowing characters to move from familiar, to less familiar, worlds.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: The Man in the Water: Sub-Aqua Commerce in Maximal Short Fiction (July 2011)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: The Man in the Water: Sub-Aqua Commerce in Maximal Short Fiction (July 2011)
Robert Boswell examines what he calls “big stories,” or short stories which manage in relatively few pages to convey the complexity and expansiveness of the larger world. How can a writer generate this sense of expansiveness? And what strategies can be used to make a “big story” cohere? Boswell explores these questions, focusing on examples from William Trevor and Alice Munro.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Writing the Political Novel: The Responsibilities of the Writer in an Inconvenient Time (January 1996)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Writing the Political Novel: The Responsibilities of the Writer in an Inconvenient Time (January 1996)
What makes a good political novel? Is it possible for a work of fiction to make a difference in the complex contemporary world? Noting that many writers resist overtly political writing, Robert Boswell examines and opposes that resistance, believing that writers keep the possibility of change alive when they engage with the political. Drawing on work by Melville, Roth, Wolfe, Updike, Styron, Kingsolver, and others, Boswell offers strategies for writing political novels that retain their integrity as literary fiction.
BOULDREY, BRIAN: Tell, Don’t Show! (January 2000)
BOULDREY, BRIAN: Tell, Don’t Show! (January 2000)
Young writers often hear the advice “show, don’t tell,” as though, Brian Bouldrey notes, “it were an article of faith.” But is showing necessarily better than telling? In this lecture, Bouldrey challenges that truism, reminding us that fiction is storytelling, and exploring how “telling” is vital to style, voice, and point of view in Chekhov’s “The Darling,” William Trevor’s “After Rain,” and Graham Greene’s “The End of the Affair.”
BRENNAN, KAREN: Beyond Accessibility (July 2007)
BRENNAN, KAREN: Beyond Accessibility (July 2007)
Karen Brennan interrogates the idea that contemporary creative writing must be “accessible.” Through readings of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, “Cockroaches in Autumn” by Lydia Davis, “The Garden” by Andrew Marvell and "The Voice Imitator" by Thomas Bernhard, Brennan argues that the enigmatic is a crucial part of what makes art important to us; she considers how meaning can be made not through eliding the mysterious or difficult to interpret, but through acknowledging and embracing it.
BRENNAN, KAREN: Fiction as Vision (January 2000)
BRENNAN, KAREN: Fiction as Vision (January 2000)
Fiction writer/poet Karen Brennan, examining the theoretical and material link between visual arts and fiction writing in the 20th century, shows how movements like cubism have correlatives in the work of writers like Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf, and how writers can draw inspiration from artists to move beyond conventional, linear narrative to convey experience. She looks to Woolf’s The Waves, William Gass’s “Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife,” and Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” for examples.
BRENNAN, KAREN: Memory, Dream, Story and the Recovery of Narrative (July 1996)
BRENNAN, KAREN: Memory, Dream, Story and the Recovery of Narrative (July 1996)
Memory always implies a gap, Karen Brennan notes, implies what is forgotten, against which it constructs “the narratives that keep our lives going forward to the next thing.” Her talk explores memory as a neurological process, discusses ways it can be injured and altered, and how memory uses fragment and dream to reconstruct narratives, even in pathological situations. She draws on memoir, a moving personal story, and Barthelme’s “The Falling Dog” and Joyce’s Ulysses to consider the mind’s narrative imperative.
BRENNAN, KAREN: Place as (Psychic) Space (January 2003)
BRENNAN, KAREN: Place as (Psychic) Space (January 2003)
Karen Brennan explores the importance of place in fiction, arguing that it is critical to the birth of characters and ideas, and not just a kind of backdrop. Brennan also discusses how place is not a replica of the actual but is constituted through an interaction between the imagined world of the text and the reader’s world. Using Faulkner to exemplify this, she then explores the dis-placement of modern writers, and the different forms that place, as a result, can take in writing by Gass, Faulkner, Salter, and Woolf.
CALLANAN, LIAM: Distraction, Displacement, and Discourse: On Dialogue in Poetry and Fiction (January 2015)
CALLANAN, LIAM: Distraction, Displacement, and Discourse: On Dialogue in Poetry and Fiction (January 2015)
Looking beyond mechanics, Liam Callanan discusses how dialogue works in fiction and poetry: what is conveyed, what is concealed, and what, in the end, does effective dialogue sound like—aand look like—on the page? Authors discussed include Theocritus, Robert Frost, Louise Gluck, Toni Morrison, Alice McDermott, and others.
CASEY, MAUD: It's a Wooden Leg First: Paying Narrative Attention to the Literal Story (January 2008)
CASEY, MAUD: It's a Wooden Leg First: Paying Narrative Attention to the Literal Story (January 2008)
About her story “Good Country People,” in which a Bible salesman steals a woman’s leg, Flannery O’Connor wrote, “If you want to say that the wooden leg is a symbol, you can say that. But it is a wooden leg first.” Similarly, Maud Casey warns against symbol-hunting and symbol-planting; she argues, instead, for the resonant power of lavishing attention on the literal level, and turns for examples to O’Connor’s story as well as to fiction by James Baldwin, Tim O’Brien, Deborah Eisenberg and Chris Abani.
CASEY, MAUD: Mystery: On Unmaking and Being Undone (January 2016)
CASEY, MAUD: Mystery: On Unmaking and Being Undone (January 2016)
There’s a lot that needs making in fiction but creating space for mystery in fiction requires a certain amount of unmaking. Un doesn’t merely undo a word and turn it into its opposite; un is a release from, a freeing, a bringing out of, all of which are effects of mystery and part of its purpose. Through an examination of works by Henry James, Jane Bowles, and James Baldwin, Maud Casey’s lecture considers a few of the ways mystery, that essential literary quality, is conjured in fiction.
CASEY, MAUD: States of Wonder (January 2012)
CASEY, MAUD: States of Wonder (January 2012)
“Wonder in art, as in life, is difficult to pin down and hard to talk about,” says Maud Casey. “It is a state of marveling in the face of something inexplicable, perplexing, bewildering, and yet utterly compelling.” Casey offers a meditation on this elusive state, exploring the tensions between the implausible and the credible in Deszo Kosztolanyi’s Skylark, Stephen Milhauser’s “In the Reign of Harad IV,” as well as in works by Werner Herzog and Isaac Babel.
CASEY, MAUD: The Art of Sensibility (July 2010)
CASEY, MAUD: The Art of Sensibility (July 2010)
In order to make a character compelling, the author must capture a specific human consciousness on the page. But how can writers make palpable that aspect of a person that often eludes description—his or her sensibility? Maud Casey offers three methods for depicting sensibility in fiction, looking to Barbara Comyns’ The Vet’s Daughter, Jean Rhys’ Voyage in the Dark, and Muriel Spark’s Loitering with Intent as examples.
CASEY, MAUD: Watching the Clock (July 2009)
CASEY, MAUD: Watching the Clock (July 2009)
Fiction is not an expression of real time, Maud Casey notes, and yet it is very much occupied by time; novels and stories are shaped and organized, their revelations dramatized, by the illusion of time passing. Through close readings of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters, and Paul LaFarge’s Haussmann, Casey considers different ways fiction writers can depict chronological as well as what she calls “emotional time” and the complex relationship between past and present.
CASTELLANI, CHRISTOPHER: Objective Correlative (July 2012)
CASTELLANI, CHRISTOPHER: Objective Correlative (July 2012)
Christopher Castellani examines the usefulness of T.S. Eliot’s concept of the objective correlative for the fiction writer. Through a close reading of Peter Cameron’s novel Coral Glynn and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Castellani explores the power of the objective correlative to evoke strong emotion in the reader, as well as to seamlessly introduce back-story and necessary information into a narrative.
COHEN, ROBERT:
COHEN, ROBERT: "Refer Madness": Writing in an Age of Allusion (July 2012)
In this lecture, Robert Cohen considers the dilemma faced by contemporary fiction writers seeking to create work not reliant on allusion or reference. Using as a jumping-off point Franz Kafka’s short story, “The Wish to be a Red Indian,” Cohen discusses reference and allusion in Joyce’s Dubliners, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and William Gaddis’s The Recognitions. Cohen demonstrates how difficult it is for contemporary writers to avoid these stratagems, but argues that therein lies opportunity for new kinds of creativity.
COHEN, ROBERT: Emblem, Essence, Naming and its Discontents (July 2006)
COHEN, ROBERT: Emblem, Essence, Naming and its Discontents (July 2006)
Robert Cohen explores, as he puts it, the “dark, forbidding, all but impenetrable jungle” of naming characters in fiction. Arguing that a character’s name should strike the reader as inevitable, and preferably not allegorical, Cohen looks at a range of ways in which authors approach the task of naming, from the satirical to the emblematic. Cohen gives emphasis to Melville’s Moby Dick and Nabokov’s Lolita, but draws, too, on examples from John Kennedy Toole, Norman Mailer, and Henry James.
COHEN, ROBERT: Rants, or The Piano Has Been Drinking (January 2004)
COHEN, ROBERT: Rants, or The Piano Has Been Drinking (January 2004)
We’re often told that when it comes to good dramatic writing, less is more, Robert Cohen notes. But is this really always true? In this lecture, Cohen explores the value of rants in fiction, arguing that they can deepen a sense of a character and push the readers outside of their emotional comfort zones, puncturing the shield of conventional constructs. He finds examples of successful rants in sources as diverse as Tom Waits, D.H. Lawrence, Philip Roth and William Shakespeare, among others.
CRONIN, JUSTIN:
CRONIN, JUSTIN: "Baby, It's Yu": Einstein, Jung, One Really Awful Dream, and the Problem of Meaning in Fiction (January 2006)
In this lecture, Justin Cronin argues that meaning in fiction originates in “deep structure,” or the ways in which subsurface patterns of metaphor in a text are organized to replicate the living, physical world. Using the language of physics as he explores works by Alan Furst, Susan Minot, Virginia Woolf, and Michael Cunningham, Cronin juxtaposes the rigid or predictable “Newtonian” world of genre fiction with a richer set of relationships in “Einsteinian” fiction.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: After the World Ends: Writers and Artists Respond to Crisis (January 2016)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: After the World Ends: Writers and Artists Respond to Crisis (January 2016)
Focusing on the fiction of Paul Monette and Gwendolyn Brooks as well as the photography of Cartier-Bresson, D’Erasmo’s lecture offers an exploration of the radical shifts in theme, technique, and genre that writers and artists have undergone following massive upheavals on global, cultural, and personal levels.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Creation of Intimacy (July 2009)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Creation of Intimacy (July 2009)
Most of us know, Stacey D’Erasmo suggests, how to put characters in a room and get them to talk, fight, trouble and/or seduce one another— we know, that is, how to create an impression of intimacy through dialogue and action. But intimacy can be expressed by means of a variety of subtle textual strategies far more deeply implicating the reader in the characters’ emotional lives; D’Erasmo draws on fiction by D.H. Lawrence, Elizabeth Bowen, William Maxwell, Virginia Woolf and Charles Baxter for examples.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Love Among the Ruins (July 2008)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Love Among the Ruins (July 2008)
Stacey D’Erasmo argues that the novel of sexual identity is no longer, on its own, compelling. Yet certain of the sexual identity novel’s tropes—the narratives of passing and of double lives, of desire stifled by circumstance and of discontinuous selves—remain compelling to contemporary writers. D’Erasmo looks at work by Michael Cunningham, Jeannette Winterson, Colm Toibin, Monique Truong and others to explore how the architecture of the sexual identity novel has been recycled and transformed.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: On the Unsayable (January 2011)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: On the Unsayable (January 2011)
What, Stacey D’Erasmo asks, is the meaning of “the unsayable” for a writer today? She argues that the heart of the question lies not in which topics may be taboo and why, but rather in subject matter which “we fear language will be inadequate” to portray. Looking closely at Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, D’Erasmo explores how these novelists use indirection to narrate stories about the horrors of slavery and nuclear apocalypse.
DAUGHERTY, TRACY: A Pigeon Coop, A Crystal Palace: On Philosophy and Fiction (July 2004)
DAUGHERTY, TRACY: A Pigeon Coop, A Crystal Palace: On Philosophy and Fiction (July 2004)
Invoking William Carlos Williams’ famous aphorism “No ideas but in things,” Tracy Daugherty asks how fiction writers turn ideas into things and whether philosophy has any place in fiction. Daugherty looks at writing by William Gass, Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ernest Hemingway and others to undermine our conventional understandings of fiction as rooted in the body and philosophy as trying to transcend it, suggesting that the dichotomy between the two forms is a false one.
DAUGHERTY, TRACY: The Princess in the Deed Room: Joan Didion’s Changing Sense of Narrative (January 2002)
DAUGHERTY, TRACY: The Princess in the Deed Room: Joan Didion’s Changing Sense of Narrative (January 2002)
In the 1960s, Tracy Daugherty argues, Joan Didion all but abandoned traditional storytelling for a more fragmented, non-linear style. Yet Didion’s more recent work, Daugherty notes, shows a return, if not to straightforward narrative, then to “the enduring ability of stories to limn our culture’s secrets.” Looking at a range of Didion’s fiction and non-fiction, Daughterty considers how and why Didion made this return, what it has meant for her work, and what it can tell us about narrative craft more broadly.
DAUGHERTY, TRACY: What We Learn from Buildings, or The Social Elegy as Storytelling Form (July 2000)
DAUGHERTY, TRACY: What We Learn from Buildings, or The Social Elegy as Storytelling Form (July 2000)
Tracy Daugherty considers how buildings can be helpful metaphors for stories: both, he notes, are carefully constructed areas where private and public lives meet, and both can be richly haunted and marked by the past. He then explores how, as in old buildings, the presence of the past can “shape, support, or warp a narrative,” while an elegiac impulse toward history and memory can lift a work of fiction into a moral realm. He looks to work by Sinclair, Hawthorne, Poe, Wharton, Goyen and García Marquez for examples.
DOENGES, JUDY: The
DOENGES, JUDY: The "Secret Communion" (July 2005)
The world, Judy Doenges points out, is full of unreliable narrators—“government hacks [and] conservative talk show hosts” among them. In this lecture, Doenges explores the charm and appeal of the unreliable narrator in fiction to readers, who are happy to surrender to the teller of tales. She gives particular attention to the narrator of Thomas Mann’s Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man, arguing that his unreliability humanizes him and cultivates intimacy with the reader.
DOENGES, JUDY: We Are One: First Person Plural (July 2009)
DOENGES, JUDY: We Are One: First Person Plural (July 2009)
How does a literature focused almost exclusively on the life of the individual make room for the occasional work of fiction that uses a collective first-person narrator? How does using such a point of view impact the contract between writer and reader? In this lecture, Judy Doenges looks at Ayn Rand’s Anthem as a negative and Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End as a positive example of the possibilities and ramifications, both aesthetic and political, of writing fiction in the first-person plural.
DOERR, ANTHONY: Suspense (January 2010)
DOERR, ANTHONY: Suspense (January 2010)
What makes suspense compelling instead of melodramatic? Through close readings of work by Camus, Joyce Carol Oates, Joseph Conrad, Cormac McCarthy, and Edgar Allen Poe, Anthony Doerr suggests that well-executed suspense functions at a number of levels, so that even as smaller moments of literal suspense are resolved, larger, figurative questions continue to grow.
GAVRON, JEREMY: In Praise of Omission (July 2012)
GAVRON, JEREMY: In Praise of Omission (July 2012)
In this class, Jeremy Gavron considers the question of how much information to include in a work of fiction, looking at choices made by several contemporary writers. Gavron compares the richness of the opening pages of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections to the relative sparseness of Amoz Oz’s The Same Sea and Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room and pays particular attention to how each writer subtly varies his approach.
GAVRON, JEREMY: Whose Story is it Anyway? (July 2011)
GAVRON, JEREMY: Whose Story is it Anyway? (July 2011)
Jeremy Gavron considers the limitations and benefits of using a secondary character as a narrator in a work of fiction. Looking at Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes and Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, among other novels, Gavron suggests that a narrator’s lack of full access to the “hero” of a story can intensify our attention to the hero and lend the narration a quality of truth-telling.
GROFF, LAUREN: Horror Vacui: On Gaps, Spaces, and Silences (July 2014)
GROFF, LAUREN: Horror Vacui: On Gaps, Spaces, and Silences (July 2014)
The gaps in a text may be empty of words, but full of resonance, the vacuum filled instantly by the reader’s swift comprehension. Groff’s lecture questions and explores varieties of white space in a text—pauses, rests, caesurae, silences—in works by Perec, Levi, Duras, Beckett, and others.
GROFF, LAUREN: Islands (July 2015)
GROFF, LAUREN: Islands (July 2015)
"We are like islands in the sea," William James says, "separate on the surface, but connected in the deep." Groff’s lecture confronts the issues involved in being a writer—a lonely and sometimes solipsistic position—during a time of environmental crisis. Among the texts discussed are Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, J.M. Coetzee's Foe, Elizabeth Bishop's “Crusoe in England,” Derek Walcott's Omeros, and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea.
GROSSMAN, JUDITH: Instead of a Muse: A Genealogy for Stories (January 2014)
GROSSMAN, JUDITH: Instead of a Muse: A Genealogy for Stories (January 2014)
Elements of the folktale persist throughout the transformations of the modern story. Grossman’s lecture investigates how the Hero/Heroine, the Enemy and the Ally, the Treasure, the loss of a parent or exile from home, and the factor of lucky work like traditional post-and-beam in narrative, looking at the Grimm Brothers’ “The Devil with Three Golden Hairs,” E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman,” Samuel Beckett’s “First Love,” and stories by Alice Munro.
HAMILTON, JANE: How the Master Guides the Student: Shadow and Glare (January 2015)
HAMILTON, JANE: How the Master Guides the Student: Shadow and Glare (January 2015)
What do we hope for when our work speaks to an avowed masterpiece? Are we propelled by courage or delusion—or both? Jane Hamilton’s lecture, delivered in January 2015 at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, offers a meditation on the student/master dynamic through the lenses of two pairings: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Jane Austen’s Persuasion, as well as “White Angel” by Michael Cunningham and John Cheever’s “Goodbye, My Brother.”
HAYNES, DAVID: Narration, Narrators, and Edward P. Jones (January 2012)
HAYNES, DAVID: Narration, Narrators, and Edward P. Jones (January 2012)
David Haynes draws from Frederick Reiken’s essay, “The Author-Narrator-Character Merge,” to focus discussion on the nature of narrative, and in particular, on Edward P. Jones’s innovative approach. Haynes outlines possible techniques for orienting a reader, including the management of narrative time, the release of information, summation and judgment, and the modulation of narrative distance. Close readings of Jones’s stories “Old Boys, Old Girls” and “A Rich Man” highlight issues of when and why an author might choose to draw attention to narration, as well as when an appropriate choice might be to render narrative techniques invisible.
HAYNES, DAVID: Novels from the Ground Up (July 2012)
HAYNES, DAVID: Novels from the Ground Up (July 2012)
In this class, David Haynes examines some of the formal aspects of the novel. Using Ernest J. Gaines’s A Lesson before Dying as a blueprint for long works of fiction, Haynes identifies what is needed to start a novel’s engine and what’s needed to maintain narrative momentum. Haynes gives special attention to the ways in which a novel’s opening establishes its terms and shape.
HAYNES, DAVID: Would You Like to See My Cat Mammy? Looking at Other People and their Stuff (January 2014)
HAYNES, DAVID: Would You Like to See My Cat Mammy? Looking at Other People and their Stuff (January 2014)
Are you a white person who is just dying to include people of color in your next novel? Comfortably middle class and just fascinated as all get out with those quirky folks down at the trailer park? Does this course description make you a little bit queasy? Then this is the class for you! Haynes’s discussion class looks at how shifting lenses of creator/narrator/reader/viewer shape the development of and interpretation of cultural material in creative works. Among the texts discussed are works by Allan Gurganus’s White People, Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” and David Foster Wallace’s “Ticket to the Fair.”
HORROCKS, CAITLIN: When Bad Stories Go Good (July 2013)
HORROCKS, CAITLIN: When Bad Stories Go Good (July 2013)
Caitlin Horrocks talks about stories that wear their “bad ideas” proudly, requiring clichés to be redeemed, craft commandments to be broken, challenging or bizarre subjects to be tackled. Readers recognize the possibility of disaster in these stories, and cheer when the author emerges unscathed. Stories by Todd James Pierce, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Suan Sontag, and “Chris Drangle are examined for techniques or approaches that help risky stories succeed.
HRIBAL, C.J.: Big Secrets of Writing (January 1997)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Big Secrets of Writing (January 1997)
We commonly speak of a fiction writer’s style, as though that style were static or intractable. Yet, C.J. Hribal argues in this lecture, style can change according to the needs of a given story, and can even change within that story. Through close readings of fiction by Rachel Ingles, Ota Pavel, Angela Carter, and Tim O’Brien, Hribal explores how each writer deploys style at different moments—including spare or lush language, point of view, and repetition—to convey emotional nuance and narrative tension.
HRIBAL, C.J.: Comic and Cosmic Distance (July 2007)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Comic and Cosmic Distance (July 2007)
What can comedy do that drama can’t? In this lecture, C.J. Hribal explores what comic distance can convey about the human condition; he focuses on how three novellas—The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol, Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekhov, and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka—modulate narrative distance to evoke comedy and tragedy simultaneously; in doing so, Hribal suggests, they allow the reader to feel complex empathy for their characters.
HRIBAL, C.J.: Go Little Book: Obsession in General and the Novella in Particular (January 2014)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Go Little Book: Obsession in General and the Novella in Particular (January 2014)
As writers, we often worry about not repeating ourselves, yet many wonderful writers return repeatedly to the same essential material. Hribal’s lecture extols the virtues of obsession, and offers a paean to the novella, a narrative form which allows writers to embody their inner obsessive. Among those texts discussed are Andre Dubus’s “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” and Jane Smiley’s “Ordinary Love” and “The Age of Grief.”
HRIBAL, C.J.: Revelatory Information and the Art of Mystery (January 2010)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Revelatory Information and the Art of Mystery (January 2010)
C.J. Hribal considers the kind of mystery that can be produced when crucial narrative information is released early in the text. How can this strategy deepen suspense instead of resolving it? Hribal looks to music and fiction to explore this question, giving particular attention to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
HRIBAL, C.J.: Serious Whimsy (January 1998)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Serious Whimsy (January 1998)
C.J. Hribal considers how whimsy, “an oft-disparaged term,” can be used “to get at truths that mere mimesis cannot reach.” Through close readings of “The Swimmer” by John Cheever” and “The Metamorphosis” by Kafka, Hribal explores how the whims of a character or of the author permit revelations and consequences that would not otherwise have been possible; at the same time, he shows how in each case the whimsical is tied to what is ordinary in the story, so it seems almost a natural extension of it.
HRIBAL, C.J.: You Are Not Who You Think You Are: Meditations on the Second Person Voice (January 2015)
HRIBAL, C.J.: You Are Not Who You Think You Are: Meditations on the Second Person Voice (January 2015)
Stories, novels, and poems written in the second person are sometimes (often) seen as the red-headed, left-handed, ungainly second cousin of writing prose and poetry. But sometimes that voice, that persona, works marvelously. C.J. Hribal examines when and how to use the voice for its best effects, drawing upon works by Susan Minot, Lorrie Moore, Louise Glück, Claudia Rankine, and others.
HRIBAL, CJ: Eva Figes and the Lyrical Novel(la) (January 2016)
HRIBAL, CJ: Eva Figes and the Lyrical Novel(la) (January 2016)
Prose that almost aims to be sung: sometimes this occurs in particular moments within a longer work, sometimes it seems as if it’s the entire work itself. This lecture about “prose that aims for poetry” looks specifically at the work (particularly the two novellas, Light and Waking) of English author Eva Figes.
HRIBAL, CJ: The Intimate Distance of Bohumil Hrabal (January 2017)
HRIBAL, CJ: The Intimate Distance of Bohumil Hrabal (January 2017)
Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal referred to his writing style as “palavering”; critic James Wood calls it “anecdote without end.” Hrabal’s narratives move forward through narrators who just keep talking, spilling all their (and other people’s) secrets. C. J. Hribal’s lecture provides a comprehensive introduction to Hrabal’s work and his highly idiosyncratic style.
LIVESEY, MARGOT: Mrs. Turpin Reads the Stars: Creating Characters (January 2012)
LIVESEY, MARGOT: Mrs. Turpin Reads the Stars: Creating Characters (January 2012)
In this lecture, novelist Livesey investigates the theory and practice of creating a character alive enough “to walk off the page.” Surveying work by Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, and John Cheever, Livesey argues that though many memorable characters are by contemporary definition “flat,” they were not conceived of as such, but rather are “always capable of reaching after roundness,” and therefore can be used to subvert and enliven reader expectations. With additional readings from Richard Ford, John Metcalf, and Ivy Compton-Burnett, Livesey concludes her class with a discussion of the ways in which both imagination and technique contribute to successful characterization.
MARTONE, MICHAEL: Homer on Homer, or, a Bunch of Stuff That Happens (January 2005)
MARTONE, MICHAEL: Homer on Homer, or, a Bunch of Stuff That Happens (January 2005)
In this playful “Episodic Meditation on Episode,” Michael Martone considers the limitations of neat narrative structure and the ways in which it can be subverted. Considering examples from contemporary television, and sources as diverse as The Simpsons, Gone with the Wind, and John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse,” Martone reflects on the benefits of character- rather than plot-driven fiction.
MARTONE, MICHAEL: How to Hide a Tank: Camouflage Realism and Believing Our Eyes (January 1995)
MARTONE, MICHAEL: How to Hide a Tank: Camouflage Realism and Believing Our Eyes (January 1995)
In what ways does fiction camouflage or conceal? How does it disclose or reveal? In this lecture, Michael Martone uses the metaphor of camouflage in war to consider how fiction often pretends to be something it’s not—a memoir, for example, or a series of letters. Drawing on Art & Camouflage by Roy Behrens, and a story by Stephen Dixon, Martone reveals how writers can effectively use techniques of concealment and also frame the story to “let the reader in on the deception.”
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: Forbidden Looking (July 2008)
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: Forbidden Looking (July 2008)
What is looking, Grace Dane Mazur asks, that it should be so enticing, so fatal, and so forbidden? How is looking different from seeing? What kind of insight is gained from forbidden looking, and is it worth the consequences? Mazur considers these questions through the lens of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and reflects on the differences in how Rubens, Virgil, and Ovid represent Orpheus’ famous look back.
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: The Whistling Roar; or The World of Fiction and the Land of the Dead (July 2005)
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: The Whistling Roar; or The World of Fiction and the Land of the Dead (July 2005)
What happens when we “curl up with a novel?” What world do we enter, and how do we enter it? Looking at work by Proust, Lewis Carroll, Paula Fox, Charles Baxter, Parmenides, Katherine Mansfield, and Eudora Welty, as well as The Epic of Gilgamesh, Mazur suggests that we might understand the world of fiction as a kind of underworld, or Hades; she examines the ways specific moments in novels, particularly the opening pages, function as crucial liminal moments that guide us between these worlds.
McCONIGLEY, NINA: Representing Foreign Territories in Fiction (January 2015)
McCONIGLEY, NINA: Representing Foreign Territories in Fiction (January 2015)
This discussion class focuses on how to deal with the social and factual issues innate to representing unfamiliar territories and the sometimes ethically sensitive process of writing about places/people we do not intimately know. Among the texts discussed are William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, Bill Cheng’s Southern Cross the Dog, and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Damaged by Willa Cather: One Writer's Recovery Story (July 1996)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Damaged by Willa Cather: One Writer's Recovery Story (July 1996)
Kevin McIlvoy unabashedly explores his obsession with Willa Cather, considering what makes her fiction compelling and distinct, and what we as writers can learn from it. Noting her use of an outsider’s perspective and her deep empathy for her characters, McIlvoy points, too, to her characters who will not change, whose fixity, antithetical to all we are taught about storytelling, makes them memorably heroic. Drawing on a range of fiction by Cather and others, he focuses primarily on her short story “Old Mrs. Harris.”
McILVOY, KEVIN: Desinence (July 2015)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Desinence (July 2015)
Kevin McIlvoy provides an “answering” lecture to his 2009 lecture on “Imminence” (the about-to-be-moment). “Desinence” addresses, with particular attention to the journals of Henry David Thoreau, the coming-to-an-end moment in reading experiences.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Focalization (January 2013)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Focalization (January 2013)
The tensions of looking and being looked at are essential in all narrative. What asks to be focused upon? What resists focalization? At what moment does something come into focus, and at what critical moment does something elude focus? For some writers, a significant breakthrough occurs when they move past their first assumptions about “looking” behaviors. McIlvoy’s lecture concentrates primarily on Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), specifically to the editions that include the “Dunnett Landing” stories.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Laughter and the Laws of Nature (July 2006)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Laughter and the Laws of Nature (July 2006)
What makes fiction successfully, and complexly, funny? Reflecting on comedy’s foundation in the tragic and on laughter as an embodied response, McIlvoy draws on writing about the comic by Henri Bergson, Charles Baudelaire, Walter Kerr and F.H. Buckley, and focuses on comic strategies at work in Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Making, Masking, and Unmasking: God in Fiction (January 2007)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Making, Masking, and Unmasking: God in Fiction (January 2007)
How can writers take up the unique challenges of portraying “God” as a figure in their fiction? In this lecture, Kevin McIlvoy draws on work by Simone Weil and on Tolstoy’s novels, but focuses on Tolstoy’s short story “Master and Man” to examine its distinctly sincere handling of religion. Arguing that it marks Tolstoy’s development into the kind of artist he himself called “inartistic,” McIlvoy suggests that this story serves as an example of how a writer can pursue innocence or simplicity instead of complication.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Opportunities for Imminence (January 2009)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Opportunities for Imminence (January 2009)
If imminence is the state in which events are about to occur, isn’t it the fiction writer’s job to fulfill that “about-to,” and make things happen? In this lecture, Kevin McIlvoy suggests otherwise. Through close readings of Grimm’s fairytales, James Joyce’s “The Dead,” Sherwood Anderson’s “Death in the Woods,” and Agha Shahid Ali’s “The Last Saffron,” McIlvoy explores the power and possibility that can be produced when writers dwell longer in “about-to-happen” conditions.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Reflections on the Sentence and Poetic Line (January 2011)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Reflections on the Sentence and Poetic Line (January 2011)
Kevin McIlvoy considers differences and similarities between the prose sentence and the poetic line. If a sentence functions as “a train to a destination,” he argues that the poetic line is often a kind of “pedestrian” whose guidance of the reader “invites discovery, not destination.” McIlvoy goes on to consider writing that creates points of intersections between the sentence and the line, drawing on poetry by Denise Levertov, Thom Gunn, and Jean Valentine; fiction by Angela Carter, Jim Crace, and Herta Müller; and critical studies including The Art of Syntax by Ellen Bryant Voigt and The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach.
McILVOY, KEVIN: The
McILVOY, KEVIN: The "Something There" Sensation: Learning from the Work of Anaïs Nin (July 2005)
In this lecture, Kevin McIlvoy explores the work of Anaïs Nin, focusing on how she writes about the body. Arguing that Nin elevates physical aliveness over intellectual awareness, McIlvoy explores the ways her characters inhabit the present moment and the ways her writing emphasizes feeling and embodiment. Through close readings of a range of Nin’s writing, McIlvoy suggests that her work offers a useful counterbalance to the theoretical preoccupations of much contemporary fiction.
McILVOY, KEVIN: The Equilibrist and The Dynamist (January 2014)
McILVOY, KEVIN: The Equilibrist and The Dynamist (January 2014)
This lecture presents ways in which writers can present the elements of their work that move it toward "dynamic balance" (verging on achieving balance and falling out of balance in the very same moment), while not moving it away from equilibrium. Through close consideration of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and C.D. Wright's Deepstep Come Shining, the lecture addresses concepts of "the wolf tone," "surroundability and directionality," and the "altered instruments" of poetic syntax and story structure.
McILVOY, KEVIN: The One Reader (January 2012)
McILVOY, KEVIN: The One Reader (January 2012)
Kevin McIlvoy examines the influence an imagined reader, receptive or resistant, can exert on a writer. He selects prose poems by Russell Edson, Matthea Harvey, Francis Ponge, William Stafford, and James Tate as works which, he suggests, are both mistakes and “the perfection of mistakes.” McIlvoy encourages writers to think about what might be possible were they to imagine their “one reader” as positive and receptive, able to appreciate such work, rather than resistant.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Truth Be Told (July 1997)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Truth Be Told (July 1997)
Kevin McIlvoy counters the current fear of showing conviction in art as he explores elements of “truthtelling” in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short fiction. Noting that Gilman was primarily an essayist, one unafraid to argue for her views, McIlvoy also considers how these convictions surface, in different ways, in her fiction; he focuses on how the story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” conveys its argument through image, and how an immediate issue of her time is used to create a terrifying, lasting work.
MEDINA, PABLO: Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn: Partners in Crime (July 2002)
MEDINA, PABLO: Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn: Partners in Crime (July 2002)
Pablo Medina explores the influence Cervante’s Don Quixote had on the character, scenes, and structure of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Showing how Twain drew on Cervante’s use of contrasting partners or pairs—one a mirror for fantasy, the other for reality--together exploring the human condition, Medina also suggests that the decaying chivalric code depicted in Don Quixote has parallels in the racist hypocrisies of Reconstruction that form the setting of Twain’s novel.
NELSON, ANTONYA: True Grist: Material, and its Milling (January 2017)
NELSON, ANTONYA: True Grist: Material, and its Milling (January 2017)
"Stories don't happen to people who can't tell them," claims Alan Gurganus' oldest living Confederate widow. Is it so? Antonya Nelson’s lecture, delivered in January 2017, is a meditation on the process of finding—in life, literature, and lore, from fact, fiction, fairy tale—and using the stuff of stories.
NEVILLE, SUSAN: Barometric Pressure (January 2006)
NEVILLE, SUSAN: Barometric Pressure (January 2006)
Susan Neville examines how climate can serve not as a backdrop for narrative action but as part of the pressure that creates that action. She conducts close readings of several novels, giving particular attention to Mann’s Magic Mountain and Kawabata’s Snow Country, to examine how climate in fiction can work as “the uncanny, mysterious other… the thing one spirals back to again and again.” A 20-minute discussion with students and faculty follows the 50-minute lecture.
NEVILLE, SUSAN: The Paragraph (July 2011)
NEVILLE, SUSAN: The Paragraph (July 2011)
Susan Neville suggests that paragraphing, like prosody, is a musical device. Through close readings of work by Andre Dubus, George Saunders, Sylvia Plath and Marilynne Robinson, she explores how writers can use different kinds of paragraphs to generate feeling and tone, and convey information about their characters.
OHLIN, ALIX: Misfits and Malfeasance: The Criminal Act in Fiction (July 2012)
OHLIN, ALIX: Misfits and Malfeasance: The Criminal Act in Fiction (July 2012)
In this class, Alix Ohlin considers stylistic approaches to the portrayal of criminal acts in fiction. Looking at works by Raymond Chandler, Carson McCullers, and Alice Munro, Ohlin explores how charged moments of criminality can shift tone and texture. Ohlin argues that acts of violence and betrayal, often rendered lyrically, are integral not only to plot development, but also to successful, nuanced characterization.
OHLIN, ALIX: The Afterimage (July 2011)
OHLIN, ALIX: The Afterimage (July 2011)
Alix Ohlin explores how the idea of the afterimage, or that which lingers in our sight after a vivid visual sensation, might be applied to fiction. Through close readings of “Killings” by Andre Dubus, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, and “Wants” by Grace Paley, Ohlin shows how a writer can call up an image which reminds us of what came before, thus creating both echoes of the past and surprising visions of the future.
ORNER, PETER: Indelible (Inactive?) (January 2017)
ORNER, PETER: Indelible (Inactive?) (January 2017)
Why do we remember certain moments, scenes, lines or bits of dialogue from one book while often forgetting key plot points or details?  Orner explores what has stayed with him from works by Faulkner, Woolf, Gina Berriault, Penelope Fitzgerald, and others to explore the notion that indelible moments often arise from unexpectedly inactive ones—from a novel’s quiet detonations.
ORNER, PETER: Reading is Experience (July 2013)
ORNER, PETER: Reading is Experience (July 2013)
Peter Orner examines the work of the masterful, and vastly under-appreciated, English novelist, Henry Green. By zeroing in on two of Green's most famous and innovative novels, Loving and Party Going, Orner discusses technical and emotional aspects of Green's unusual and unique style, and emphasizes that the key to Green's work is his uncanny ability to see and listen to his characters. As Eudora Welty wrote in 1970, "The intelligence, the blazing gifts of imagery, dialogue, construction, and form, the power to feel both what can and what can never be said, give Henry Green's work an intensity greater...than any writer of imaginative fiction today."
PARKER, MICHAEL: All Hail the Semi-Colon (January 2011)
PARKER, MICHAEL: All Hail the Semi-Colon (January 2011)
Michael Parker explores the particular value of a semi-colon both as a form of punctuation and in terms of the broader lessons it can teach about writing. Parker argues that the semi-colon embodies ambivalence, since it is more “penetrating than a comma” and “less blunt than a period.” He shows how use of the semi-colon significantly contributes to the development of character and meaning in such short-shorts as Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” and John Cheever’s “Reunion,” as well as in Lydia Davis’ translation of Madame Bovary.
PARKER, MICHAEL: The Parenthetical (January 2015)
PARKER, MICHAEL: The Parenthetical (January 2015)
“Punctuation," said the essayist Pico Iyer, "gives us the human voice, and all the meanings that lie between the words." Parker’s lecture focuses on the parenthesis—specifically the ways in which it epitomizes various (and crucial) aspects of narrative: dissemination of information, development of character, the establishment of tension, rhythm and pattern, the handling of time and—most importantly—the creation of consciousness. Texts include Conrad Aiken's "Silent Snow, Secret Snow," Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, and examples from Nabokov, Faulkner, Joyce, Elizabeth Bishop, and Henry James (of course).
PARSONS, ALEXANDER: Lasting First Impressions: The Novel Opening (July 2011)
PARSONS, ALEXANDER: Lasting First Impressions: The Novel Opening (July 2011)
Alexander Parsons suggests that an effective novel opening can guide the writer in both subtle and direct ways, even in its early stages of composition. Drawing on examples from Cormac McCarthy, Raymond Chandler and Haruki Murakami, Parsons argues that in drafting and redrafting this section of a novel the writer engages with structure, controlling metaphor, motif, and tone—narrative elements which can help define the book as a whole.
REIKEN, FREDERICK: The Legacy of Anton Chekhov (July 2007)
REIKEN, FREDERICK: The Legacy of Anton Chekhov (July 2007)
Frederick Reiken explores the ways in which Chekhov’s stories made a radical departure from the event-plot variety of story popular at his time, and shows how Chekhov’s original, character-driven style provided the blueprint for short stories today. Looking at a range of Chekhov’s stories, as well as at Chekhov’s influence on writers as diverse as William Faulkner and Shirley Jackson, Reiken argues that Chekhov should rightly be considered the father of the modern short story.
REIKEN, FREDERICK: What is “True”?  Thoughts on Fictional “Truth,” Unconscious Metaphor, and Celery (January 2004)
REIKEN, FREDERICK: What is “True”? Thoughts on Fictional “Truth,” Unconscious Metaphor, and Celery (January 2004)
Why is it that a transcription of an actual event can feel unconvincing, while an invented story can feel absolutely true? Frederick Reiken explores what Tim O’Brien has called “story truth,” or the feeling of authenticity that a successful work of fiction conveys; he draws on thinking about this topic by John Berger and John Gardner and on fiction by Tim O’Brien and Franz Kafka to consider how the textual space with its own internal logic makes this kind of “fictional truth” possible.
ROMM, ROBIN: Great Neurotics (January 2014)
ROMM, ROBIN: Great Neurotics (January 2014)
What makes a neurotic narrator so compelling, so full of life for so many writers (and readers)? Romm’s lecture explains the craft implications of hyper-vigilance, obsessiveness, and overthinking, and explores how these qualities make for excellent prose in works such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Dorothy Baker's Cassandra at the Wedding, and others.
ROMM, ROBIN: The Unsparing Gaze (January 2013)
ROMM, ROBIN: The Unsparing Gaze (January 2013)
Romm’s lecture discusses two authors who use “the unsparing gaze” toward very different ends. Edward St. Aubyn’s tragic and autobiographical “Patrick Melrose Novels” explore how childhood incest wreaks havoc on a psyche. Alison Lurie’s comic social satire “The War Between the Tates” skewers gender roles and marriage. Both authors, Romm observes, “make the most of discomfort, an excellent aim for any artist.”
RUSSO, RICHARD: Laugh, I Thought I’d Die: A Meditation on Humor (January 1997)
RUSSO, RICHARD: Laugh, I Thought I’d Die: A Meditation on Humor (January 1997)
In this lecture, fiction writer Richard Russo affirms the importance of comic writing; he argues that the comic view of the world is aligned with a sense of wonder, and considers how effective writers can slow down thinking and perception enough that delight and wonder can come through. Each writer must learn to recognize and develop his or her own literary identity, Russo suggests, and not everyone is a comic writer; but, he argues, a comic worldview is as truthful as a tragic one.
RUSSO, RICHARD: Place in Fiction (January 1995)
RUSSO, RICHARD: Place in Fiction (January 1995)
While many beginning writers may recognize the importance of interior settings for establishing character—their characters’ homes, and the objects around them—the connection between external landscape and character, Richard Russo suggests, is less direct and more mysterious; yet, he argues, it is crucial. In his own fiction, place serves as both the generating ground and central “character” from which all else emerges; he then offers advice on how writers can powerfully render place in their own work.
SCHWARTZ, STEVEN: Mythic Characters (July 2009)
SCHWARTZ, STEVEN: Mythic Characters (July 2009)
Some of the most memorable and famous characters in literature—Kurtz, Gatsby, Bartleby, The Misfit—are often the most psychologically inaccessible, viewed only from the outside, opaque surfaces onto which other characters’ projections can be mapped. In this lecture, Steven Schwartz looks at fiction by Joseph Conrad, Flannery O’Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, Joyce Carol Oates, Steven Millhauser, Katherine Anne Porter and J.D. Salinger to investigate how such mythic characters are made.
SHEPARD, JIM: I know Myself Real Well. That’s the Problem. (January 2000)
SHEPARD, JIM: I know Myself Real Well. That’s the Problem. (January 2000)
In the epiphanic short story, Jim Shepard suggests, we tend to assume that a moment of self-knowledge implies change; once we know the destructive things we do we won’t do them anymore. Of course, as Shepard points out, this is far from true. How, then, can writers create realistic characters “who are intricately self-aware and yet still geniuses of self-destruction”? And how can this kind of failure sustain a short story? Shepard looks at “The Dead” by James Joyce and “Helping” by Robert Stone for examples.
SHEPARD, JIM: Structure When You Least Expect It (July 2003)
SHEPARD, JIM: Structure When You Least Expect It (July 2003)
Fiction writers, Jim Shepard notes, “tend to fret aloud about structure without having a very clear sense of what it is and how it operates.” What, then, is structure in fiction? How, if not only chronologically, can writers organize the “sprawl of experience and imagination” that goes into a short story or a novel? Shepard considers how chronology—as well as moments of “achronology” that signal a return to something crucial—both work to structure Denis Johnson’s “Emergency.”
SHEPARD, JIM: The Unexpected Ubiquitous-ness of Class (July 2001)
SHEPARD, JIM: The Unexpected Ubiquitous-ness of Class (July 2001)
Socioeconomic class is a crucial element of American society, yet in craft discussions about fiction, as in most of our daily life, it’s rarely talked about. In this lecture, Jim Shepard examines class issues as a subtext in Lorrie Moore’s “People Like That Are the Only People Here”; he explores how class is at first under the surface in the story, and then how the narrator’s desire to maintain her privilege forces that subtext to the surface, so that it dramatically shapes the narrative’s revelations.
SHIELDS, DAVID: In Praise of Blurredness (July 2000)
SHIELDS, DAVID: In Praise of Blurredness (July 2000)
“It is standard operating procedure,” David Shields notes, “for fiction writers to disavow any but the most tenuous connection” of their fiction to their lives, while non-fiction writers, conversely, are taught to stress the verifiability of their writing. So what can be gained by blurring these two genres? In this lecture, Shields draws on his book Enough About You and on David Foster Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” to make a case for writing that crosses the fiction/non-fiction divide.
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Literature of Delusion (January 2008)
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Literature of Delusion (January 2008)
Self-deception, religious mania, grandiose visions—these are among the forms of delusion Dominic Smith presents, as he discusses its usefulness to fiction writers for its ready-made conflict with reality. Through close readings of fiction by Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Ken Kesey, William S. Burroughs, and James Hogg, Smith shows how writers have successfully rendered delusion’s internal logic and innate drama, and how their delusional characters can help us see ourselves.
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Mystery of Personality: Paradox, Consistency, and the Limits of Psychology in Creating Compelling Fictional Characters (January 2013)
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Mystery of Personality: Paradox, Consistency, and the Limits of Psychology in Creating Compelling Fictional Characters (January 2013)
When Flannery O’Connor said, “A story always involves, in a dramatic way, the mystery of personality,” she highlighted a key tension for the literary fiction writer—how to create characters who are both consistent and paradoxical. While the psychologist might be interested in understanding and categorizing the tangled web of personality, the fiction writer is primarily interested in revealing it. And as O’Connor reminds us, that revelation must happen in a dramatic way. Smith’s lecture explores our cultural understanding of personality, how it impedes and/or aids our explorations on the page, and some practical ways we might harness personality as an inherently dramatic “vehicle.”
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Year without a Summer: On the Uses of Weather and Atmosphere in Fiction (January 2015)
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Year without a Summer: On the Uses of Weather and Atmosphere in Fiction (January 2015)
Weather is often taken for granted in fiction, or treated as a simplistic, overly-determined extension of our characters' moods. Dominic Smith examines the legacy of weather as it has been passed down from Gothic and Victorian literatures, looking at examples in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Hardy's Tess of the D'urbervilles as well as Rick Bass's "The Hermit's Story" and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping.
SMITH, DOMINIC: Varieties of Movement: Plot and Beyond in Fiction (January 2009)
SMITH, DOMINIC: Varieties of Movement: Plot and Beyond in Fiction (January 2009)
What keeps us turning the pages of prose pieces by W.G. Sebald or Gertrude Stein, works known for their lack of “event”? In this lecture, Dominic Smith challenges and expands conventional ideas about how fiction can move. Drawing on Aristotle’s Poetics, Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and David Markson’s The Last Novel, Smith considers a variety of types of plot, as well as other devices that can generate momentum at a more molecular level.
SPARK, DEBRA:  Buddy Up, or Learning (More) from Chekhov (July 2016)
SPARK, DEBRA: Buddy Up, or Learning (More) from Chekhov (July 2016)
Debra Spark’s lecture pairs stories by Chekhov with work by contemporary writers to explore his enduring influence in authors as different as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Donald Barthelme, Laurie Colwin, Edward Jones, Etgar Keret, and Tobias Wolff. 
SPARK, DEBRA: Border Guard Fabulism in Stuart Dybek’s “Hot Ice” (July 2001)
SPARK, DEBRA: Border Guard Fabulism in Stuart Dybek’s “Hot Ice” (July 2001)
Fiction writer Debra Spark examines Stuart Dybek’s short story “Hot Ice,” focusing on how the story uses fabulism—a form of magic realism in which fantastical elements are placed in an everyday setting—to walk the line between real and imagined worlds and achieve “magical, almost visionary effects,” high lyricism that hovers at the border between the living and the dead. While exploring how this particular story is made, Spark also considers “Hot Ice” in the context of Dybek’s larger body of work.
SPARK, DEBRA: Cheer Up—Why Don’t You? (July 2002)
SPARK, DEBRA: Cheer Up—Why Don’t You? (July 2002)
“In literature,” Debra Spark quotes Janet Burroway, “only trouble is interesting. Only trouble.” Is there any room for happiness in fiction? What might “happy fiction” look like? Spark considers different kinds of happiness—including the formal satisfactions of a work itself— and how happiness manifests in fiction by Anton Chekhov, Laurie Colwin, Bill Roorbach and Barbara Klein Moss.
SPARK, DEBRA: Cry, Cry, Cry: Handling Emotion in Fiction (July 2000)
SPARK, DEBRA: Cry, Cry, Cry: Handling Emotion in Fiction (July 2000)
In handling emotion in fiction, Debra Spark remarks, there are twin evils—sentimentality and coldness. How can a writer avoid both, and produce authentic emotion? Spark examines fiction by James Agee, William Trevor, Oscar Hijuelos, Dan Chaon and Stewart O’Nan to consider a range of strategies from restraint to kitsch, and to suggest that writers can produce convincing emotion by paying attention not to the emotion itself but to what in the text gives rise to it.
SPARK, DEBRA: Jump Already (July 2015)
SPARK, DEBRA: Jump Already (July 2015)
Referencing visual artists as well as the work of Richard Russo, Joan Silber, Joan Wickersham, and others, Sparks’s lecture focuses on artistic leaps in fiction, focusing on the shift from student to more accomplished work and from accomplished work to work of particular distinction. NOTE: Sparks's lecture refers to several images; a list of these images along with information on locating them online may be viewed by clicking on the Fiction thumbnail to the left of this description.
SPARK, DEBRA: New Wave Fabulism (January 2008)
SPARK, DEBRA: New Wave Fabulism (January 2008)
If years ago U.S. writers interested in magical realism and other forms of fabulism turned to South America, Russia, and Eastern Europe for models, now a group of contemporary writers, Debra Spark notes, are turning to genre fiction. What’s to admire and avoid in this fiction? Spark explores work by Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Ayelet Waldman and Rick Moody, among others, to examine how “new wave fabulism” or “recombinant genre fiction” functions.
SPARK, DEBRA: Raiding the Larder: Research in Fact-Based Fiction (July 2013)
SPARK, DEBRA: Raiding the Larder: Research in Fact-Based Fiction (July 2013)
Combining her own interviews with Charles Baxter, David Bezmozgia, Lily King, and Jim Shepard with online and print interviews with Kate Atkinson, Colum McCann and William Maxwell, Debra Spark discusses how contemporary writers use research to inspire, authenticate and correct their narratives. While always emphasizing that research is a means to a fictive end, not a goal in itself, she explores the artistic and personal pleasures of going to the library, interviewing, traveling, and even Googling obsessively.
SPARK, DEBRA: Size Matters (January 2007)
SPARK, DEBRA: Size Matters (January 2007)
Inspired by the lament, “Everything I write is so small!” Debra Spark examines the characteristics of what we generally consider “big” fiction. How can novels incorporate the big world and its big concerns, Spark asks, while avoiding the obvious pitfalls of a historical or overtly political novel? Spark focuses primarily on three “big” books by Elizabeth Strout, Philip Roth, and Dara Horn, exploring how these authors create a sense of magnitude, paradoxically, through their careful attention to the domestic.
SPARK, DEBRA: Speaking of Style (July 2003)
SPARK, DEBRA: Speaking of Style (July 2003)
We often point to a writer’s style as what makes the work distinct. But, like tone, style can be hard to locate or define. In this lecture, fiction writer Debra Spark, with reference to Stephen Minot’s Three Genres, considers the various elements that contribute to style, such as diction, syntax, verb tense and the balance of narrative modes; she looks at how these elements work in a range of writers, and how they convey a writer’s vision of the world, giving particular attention to the work of Raymond Carver and John Cheever.
SPARK, DEBRA: Stand Back (July 2004)
SPARK, DEBRA: Stand Back (July 2004)
Noting that narrators of much contemporary American fiction tend to be so close to their subjects that they inhibit creative freedom and limit vision, Spark explores the benefits of “standing back,” including the paradox that narrative distance from the action being described actually permits greater emotional intimacy. She looks at successful examples of such narrative distance in work by Deborah Eisenberg, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Elizabeth Strout, Akhil Sharma and others.
SPARK, DEBRA: Surprise Me (July 2014)
SPARK, DEBRA: Surprise Me (July 2014)
How do we think of surprise in fiction? As an antidote to boredom, a gift of the subconscious, or welcome strangeness? Spark’s lecture considers how even the quotidian can shock us through plot twists, formal invention, character revelation, or language that distills the nature of the real.
SPARK, DEBRA: That's Funny (July 2012)
SPARK, DEBRA: That's Funny (July 2012)
In this lecture, Debra Spark questions how humor functions in contemporary fiction. Comparing the novels Personal Days by Ed Parks and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, Spark looks at the comedic qualities of each and identifies the means by which the virtues of gratitude and humility are conveyed to readers. Spark’s discussion also makes mention of fictional moments by Etgar Keret, Shalom Auslander, and Maggie Shipstead which lead to important considerations of characterization, precise observation, truth-telling, and emotional power.
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Breaking Out: Narrative Shifts (January 2012)
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Breaking Out: Narrative Shifts (January 2012)
Megan Staffel examines how the “break-out scene,” which changes the tonal register and trajectory of a piece of fiction, deepens characterization and narrative drive. Looking at “The Dead,” she show how Joyce uses scenes of stillness to suspend characters in a kind of tension which pressures them to change both understanding and behavior, and allows him to boldly change the direction of his story. Staffel also explores the crafting and effects of break-out scenes in Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire which, while resulting in profound changes in the characters, never feel staged or arbitrary—rather, Staffel says, each is accomplished “in a manner that’s so concise and natural, it has the ambiguity of raw experience.”
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Now You See It, Now You Don't: A Glimpse into the Locked Box (January 2014)
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Now You See It, Now You Don't: A Glimpse into the Locked Box (January 2014)
This two-hour discussion class led by Megan Staffel explores what is gained when the writer shows the protagonist having a sublime experience in the early pages of a novel. Not only does it allow the reader insight into the character’s secret ambition, but it establishes the reader’s sympathy with the character’s often risky or impossible purpose: to return to the sublime that was so fleetingly achieved.
STONE, SARAH: Strategic Opacity (July 2014)
STONE, SARAH: Strategic Opacity (July 2014)
An imaginative work needs to embody, rather than explain, its world and its people. Stephen Greenblatt uses the term “Strategic Opacity” in discussing Shakespeare’s approach to character motivation. Stone adopts this idea as her jumping-off point to explore character and plot mysteries in Jamaica Kinkaid’s At the Bottom of the River, Joy Williams’ The Quick and the Dead, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
STONE, SARAH: The Pleasures of Hell (July 2012)
STONE, SARAH: The Pleasures of Hell (July 2012)
Sarah Stone explores aesthetic choices that make depictions of “hell” in literature pleasurable. Referring to Dante’s Inferno, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, and Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black, Stone demonstrates ways in which writers entice readers to enjoy morally disturbing and painful matters.
TURCHI, PETER:
TURCHI, PETER: "If it makes you happy, why the hell are you so sad?" (July 2008)
In this lecture about tonal and emotional range, the combination of darkness and light, Peter Turchi reflects on the powerful effect that mixed emotions can have in music and in fiction. Turchi examines the ways in which Joe Turner’s song “Honey Hush” and fiction by James Thurber, Anton Chekhov, Cormac McCarthy, and Vladimir Nabokov layer contrasting emotions on top of one another; he shows how this layering can disrupt the reader’s assumptions and give the work lasting resonance.
TURCHI, PETER: A Rigorous Geometry; or, Erathosthenes, Kundera, and You (July 2002)
TURCHI, PETER: A Rigorous Geometry; or, Erathosthenes, Kundera, and You (July 2002)
The world of the story, Peter Turchi explains, exists just off the page; the story is the map of that world, and maps rely on geometry. While most stories don't conform precisely to figures like Freitag's triangle, writers can learn from geometry, Turchi suggests; in this lecture, he considers what the language of geometry and the distorting formulas of map-makers can offer to fiction-writing, drawing on work by Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov, and Edgar Allen Poe, among others, for examples.
TURCHI, PETER: All Around the World, or the Myth of Linearity (July 2011)
TURCHI, PETER: All Around the World, or the Myth of Linearity (July 2011)
Peter Turchi draws on a range of writing, including non-fiction by Tim Ingold and Kandinsky, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and short stories by Italo Calvino, Andre Dubus and Alice Munro, to challenge the idea that our reading experience should follow a clear line from one fixed point to another. Instead, Turchi suggests, the reader can be encouraged to dwell in the story’s labyrinth, and even find that dwelling pleasurable.
TURCHI, PETER: Archimedes' Problem, and Three Solutions (January 2009)
TURCHI, PETER: Archimedes' Problem, and Three Solutions (January 2009)
“Give me a place to stand and a lever,” Peter Turchi quotes Archimedes as claiming, “and I will move the Earth.” In this lecture, Turchi looks at John Updike’s Rabbit is Rich, E.L. Doctorow’s The March, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude to consider how writers can make “levers” to propel their narratives forward. Turchi pays particular attention to the openings of these novels, suggesting that writers can use beginnings to establish the rules and themes of what is to come.
TURCHI, PETER: Blanks (Silences) (January 2003)
TURCHI, PETER: Blanks (Silences) (January 2003)
A map, Peter Turchi notes, is as much made out of what it leaves out as what it selectively includes; in this lecture, Turchi posits the map as a metaphor for a poem, story, or novel, and considers the role of blanks and silences in all three forms. Drawing on Moby Dick, Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho and Kate Chopin’s “The Storm,” among other examples, Turchi asks us to consider how the blanks and silences in our writing can create “imaginal adventures” for the reader.
TURCHI, PETER: Digression, Misdirection, and Asides:  The Roast Beef Is the Story (July 2016)
TURCHI, PETER: Digression, Misdirection, and Asides: The Roast Beef Is the Story (July 2016)
Drawing upon passages from J. D. Salinger, Mark Twain, Jim Shepard, and Debra Eisenberg, and others, as well as an emblematic scene from Barry Levinson’s Diner, Peter Turchi’s lecture elucidates “the art of the left turn”—the virtues of strategic, skillful narrative digression.
TURCHI, PETER: Glimpsed in Twilight: Unresolved Characterization (July 2005)
TURCHI, PETER: Glimpsed in Twilight: Unresolved Characterization (July 2005)
Fiction writers often expend much effort trying to define characters or bring them into focus, Peter Turchi notes; in this lecture, he urges writers to move beyond this aim, and develop characters that are strategically unresolved. Turchi looks at drawings by Charles Ritchie and at fiction by Salter, Fitzgerald, Nabokov, O’Connor, Carver, Greene, Maxwell, Melville and Conrad to examine some such unresolved characters and how their complexity and contradiction lend richness and tension to the stories they inhabit.
TURCHI, PETER: Power Play (July 2013)
TURCHI, PETER: Power Play (July 2013)
Peter Turchi discusses different forms of power in fiction, and the possibilities made available when power shifts among three or more characters. His examples include Alice Munro's "Royal Beatings," Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” and Katherine Anne Porter’s “Noon Wine.”
TURCHI, PETER: Puzzles, Mysteries, and the Unsolvable (July 2007)
TURCHI, PETER: Puzzles, Mysteries, and the Unsolvable (July 2007)
Peter Turchi explores the appeal of solvable puzzles, including the prose puzzles we call mysteries, alongside the limits of that appeal and the particular pleasure that unsolvable mysteries and unanswerable questions can offer readers and writers. If an artist should not solve a problem but “state a problem correctly,” as Chekhov wrote, how, asks Turchi, can fiction writers accomplish this? To consider this question, he looks at fiction by Chekhov, Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, Edgar Allan Poe and Dashiell Hammett.
TURCHI, PETER: The Pleasures of Difficulty (July 2010)
TURCHI, PETER: The Pleasures of Difficulty (July 2010)
Peter Turchi explores how writing that is challenging engages the reader, offering greater fulfillment and pleasure than easy writing would. Turchi draws on fiction by Antonya Nelson, Charles D’Ambrosio, Michael Ondaatje, and Thomas Bernhard, as well as Mahler’s 5th Symphony and theories about successful video games, to consider how writers can effectively incorporate mystery and difficulty into their work.
TURCHI, PETER: The Writer as Cartographer (January 1997)
TURCHI, PETER: The Writer as Cartographer (January 1997)
In this “exploration of mapmaking as a metaphor for writing, led by a man known to get lost in shopping malls,” Peter Turchi looks at what fiction writing has in common with maps. Through close readings of stories by Dennis Wood, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Kate Chopin, and Robert Hoover, Turchi shows how the metaphor of the map can help us better understand, as writers, how a work of fiction can effectively chart territory, both orienting and disorienting its reader.
TURCHI, PETER: Theater of the World (January 2002)
TURCHI, PETER: Theater of the World (January 2002)
How, Peter Turchi asks, can we use our necessarily limited vantage points, our own limited mental maps, to open onto something larger, something like the “theater of the world”? Turchi considers the ways modernism, and its strategies for depicting the complexity and chaos of individual perspectives, persists in contemporary fiction; he looks, for examples, at Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Delillo’s White Noise, the film Memento and Heather McHugh’s poem “Not a Prayer.”
TURCHI, PETER: Twice-Told Tales (January 2001)
TURCHI, PETER: Twice-Told Tales (January 2001)
Peter Turchi examines the power that can accrue when different versions of the same event are included in a work of fiction. Looking at the narrative strategies available to a writer who wants write a “twice-told tale,” from the serial first-person accounts in Charles Baxter’s The Feast of Love to the use of omniscience in Katherine Anne Porter’s Noon Wine, Turchi argues that discrepancy between these different versions can work as a kind of narrative engine, providing energy and tension to the work as a whole.
VAN DEN BERG, LAURA: What's So Great About Normal? On Unconventional Interiors in Fiction (January 2016)
VAN DEN BERG, LAURA: What's So Great About Normal? On Unconventional Interiors in Fiction (January 2016)
Laura Van den Berg’s lecture explores unconventional interior landscapes in fiction—such as coldness, disorientation, indifference—while also considering works that appear to be fueled by different, non-emotive energy sources entirely. Texts discussed include Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, Yoko Tawada’s The Naked Eye, and Alan Warner’s Morvern Callar.