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EN994 Nonfiction Writing Workshop

Prof Andrew Williams - Office S1.38 Social Sciences

Non-fiction encompasses a huge range of writing genres and styles. From memoir to biography, reportage to travel literature, comedy to commentary, the field is vast. In recent times, the label ‘creative non-fiction’ has become popular, attempting perhaps to capture the sense that one can write ‘true’ stories about the ‘real’ world (your own and others) in an affecting way, drawing on novelistic techniques.

The aim of this module will be to explore diverse contemporary (for the most part) examples of these non-fiction approaches whilst also allowing you to develop your own writing of non-fiction however you might want to define the term. You will be assessed on a maximum of two new pieces, totalling 10,000 words, (which will be workshopped) and a critical essay of 2,000 words. Any genres will be acceptable, but you’ll be encouraged to take risks in your writing, perhaps defying convention and easy labels.

Throughout the module we will discuss short extracts from various works to examine the power of both story and style. These are arranged according to writing themes, which invariably overlap.

From week 3 we will also begin to workshop your pieces following an agreed rota. You will all have a chance to be workshopped twice during the term. Before that starts we will agree how the workshops should be conducted and decide what we can expect from each other.

The writing requirements, totalling 10,000 words, are two new pieces of creative nonfiction (75%) and a critical essay of 2,000 words (25%). You can write in any of the genres we’ll be discussing. You must write new work (and no ‘multiple submission’ or ‘group work’ allowed). Your two pieces can be two chapters from a longer work, and you can come up for workshop just once with a longer work instead of twice with two shorter pieces.

You’ll be reading the works in progress of your peers, and I’ll expect you to comment on these works with respect, hard intelligence, and thoroughness. You’ll need to read each piece up for workshop at least twice and offer a written comment as well as participate in the workshop discussion.
The weekly readings will be excerpts from the books listed below and are likely to follow the timings set out though we’ll allow some flexibility should discussion take us in any particular direction:

Week 1: Writing truth
Javier Cercas, The Imposter

Jenny Diski, Skating to Antarctica

Week 2: Writing youth
Andrea Ashworth, Once in a House on Fire
Seamus Deane, Reading in the Dark
Benjamin Zephaniah, My Life and Rhymes

Week 3: Writing difference
Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump
Steve Silberman, Neuotribes
Stephen Kuusito, Planet of the Blind

Week 4: Writing grief
Karl Ove Knausgaard, A Death in the Famiily
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Week 5: Writing the suffering of others and oneself
Emmanuel Carrere, Lives Other Than My Own

Sonia Deraniyagala, The Wave
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wrestling with the Devil

Week 6: Writing place
Talk by Adam Weymouth, travel writer (to be arranged)
Hisham Matar, The Return

Week 7: Writing people
Oscar Lewis, Pedro Martinez
WG Sebold, The Emmigrants
Nikesh Shukla, The Good Immigrant

Week 8: Writing for change
Arundhati Roy, The Algebra of Infinite Justice
Elizabeth Pisani, The Wisdom of Whores
Gary Younge, The Speech

Week 9: Writing war

The author Helen Parr will be joiing us to discuss her writing

Martha Gelhorn, The Face of War

Helen Parr, Our Boys: the Story of a Paratrooper

Week 10: Writing the Future
Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction
Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable