English 487 

Advanced Studies in Genre

Blurred Boundaries

T/TH 11:00-12:15

Spring 2011

Greg Martin


Office:  Humanities 257

Office Hours:   Tuesdays 2:00-3:00 and by appointment

Phone:  277-6145

E-mail:  gmartin@unm.edu 

Course website:  www.unm.edu/~gmartin


  1. The Meadow, James Galvin
  2. Lying: a Metaphorical Memoir, Lauren Slater
  3. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel
  4. The Emigrants, W.G. Sebald
  5. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
  6. So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell
  7. Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen
  8. Course Packet (UNM Copy Center, Dane Smith Hall, Rm 124)


Two quotes to start out with:

Saul Bellow:

"A writer is a reader moved to emulation."

Annie Dillard, from Write Till You Drop

"The writer studies literature, not the world. She lives in the world; she cannot miss it…  She is careful of what she reads, for that is what she will write...

The writer knows her field - what has been done, what could be done, the limits - the way a tennis player knows the court. And like that expert, she, too, plays the edges. That is where the exhilaration is. She hits up the line…

Hemingway studied, as models, the novels of Knut Hamsun and Ivan Turgenev. Isaac Bashevis Singer, as it happened, also chose Hamsun and Turgenev as models. Ralph Ellison studied Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Thoreau loved Homer; Eudora Welty loved Chekhov. Faulkner described his debt to Sherwood Anderson and Joyce; E. M. Forster, his debt to Jane Austen and Proust. By contrast, if you ask a 21-year-old poet whose poetry he likes, he might say, unblushing, ''Nobody's.'' He has not yet understood that poets like poetry, and novelists like novels; he himself likes only the role, the thought of himself in a hat. Rembrandt and Shakespeare, Bohr and Gauguin…learned their fields and then loved them. They worked, respectfully, out of their love and knowledge, and they produced complex bodies of work that endure. Then, and only then, the world harassed them with some sort of wretched hat..."

Blurred Boundaries

William Maxwell, in his difficult to categorize novel/memoir SO LONG, SEE YOU TOMORROW, says that when we talk about the past we lie with every breath we take.  This is a craft-based reading seminar designed for creative writers which will explore the blurred boundary between “truth” and “invention,” between fiction and nonfiction. Course readings will include novels, memoirs, short stories, and personal essays, as well as essays and interviews on craft. In all these readings, we will look at how both fiction and creative nonfiction writers, implicitly and explicitly, manipulate the reader's desire for "literal” truth. 

Far too often in creative writing courses, too much emphasis is placed on the workshop process--on critiquing and analyzing one's own ongoing work--and not enough emphasis is on expanding our own sense of what is possible. Far too often, in reading literature for a class, the student judges whether they like or dislike a work, rather than look at it for what they might steal from it--in terms of form or subject or tone or some other craft aspect. With all of the course readings, each of us will ask the question: what lessons can I learn from this to help my own writing? It should not matter at all whether we agree on literary merit or quality. We all have different aesthetics--we ought to agree and disagree plenty. But that kind of agreement or disagreement has no place in this class. We are looking for models of how to write, we are looking to be influenced. We want to end up "liking" books and stories which we would not have liked before we began talking about these books and stories. No artist wants to just enounter a book they already know how to like. The best artists are always seeking to expand their own sensibility--so that their own writing will grow. So: let your reading be acquisitive, idiosyncratic, and intuitive--rather than judgmental.

One goal of the course is to learn how stories and essays, novels and memoirs, actually work. We will come to understand the “moving parts” of stories and essays in much the same way a mechanic understands the parts of an engine.

Because this is a course designed for creative writers, along with discussion of published work, most every class session will include in-class creative writing--freewrites and exercises and improvisations--based on imitating and emulating what we're reading. The format of the reading responses are designed to aid you in this generative, imitative free-writing. We are looking to generate a host possibilities for future development.  

Course Requirements


Reading Responses: 50%  (see handout)

(A) Ten brief, two-page-long, responses. You may not write onto the third page.


(B) Five four-page-long responses. You may not write onto the fifth page.


These responses will prepare you for discussion and the sharing of ideas with your classmates.

Craft Annotation: 10%   This is an expanded reading response, where instead of analyzing one problem or craft feature closely, you will analyze several craft features of a single work.  The idea is for you to become deeply familiar with the techniques of a work that you greatly admire.  You have the choice of focusing on: (1) a book, (2) a chapter from a book, or (3) an essay or story length piece.  Craft Annotations must be on works read in this class.  Length: Ten pages double-spaced.

Attendance and Participation:  40%

Your attendance and participation are integral parts of this course.  More than any creative writing course at UNM, this class is most like a seminar in a graduate MFA program. The success of the course, for all of us, depends upon our collective ability to have sustained, compelling conversations. My job is to facilitiate this so that you have all kinds of different opportunities to share your thoughts: in small and large group discussions, reading aloud from in-class writing, reading aloud from composed reading responses. Your job is to share your thoughts, to think and say things that you would not have otherwise thought and said if you had not tried to articulate your thoughts aloud.

Some writers are writers, in part, because they talk quite a lot less than other people.  Some of the best students I've had did not speak every class, not out of smugness or condescension, but because that's the way they were.  I respect this.  But I will also call on students who struggle to initiate or jump into discussion.From past experience with reading responses, I know that, often, the most insightful comments go unsaid because of student temperament. But I also very much appreciate those students who come to class eager to participate in class discussion, and who have a sense of how much participation is enough and how much is too much.  Students who participate regularly, with constructive comments and camaraderie, can expect a borderline grade to enhanced upwards. 

Coming to class without the readings assigned for the day's discussion or workshop is not acceptable.  If you come to class without the readings more than once, I will deduct half a letter grade from your final grade.  My expectation is that these readings will be full of pencil notes and marginalia--your questions and insights that help you come to class best prepared to learn.

For each reading, whether you choose to write about the book or essay or story or not, select a sentence or passage or paragraph that you particularly admire or that you take to be crucial in some way to the work and be prepared to say why.

From time to time, I will give short answer quizzes at the beginning of class, to jump start the day's discussion as well as to ensure that you come to class prepared. Just because you choose not to write a reading response on a particular reading is no excuse to not come prepared to contribute to the day's discussion.

Students may miss two classes without penalty.  A third absence will lower your final grade a full letter grade.  A fourth absence will lower your grade an additional letter grade.  I consider five absences grounds for administratively dropping you from the course.  Absences can be excused only for documented, serious situations (debilitating illness or urgent family emergency) or for direct conflict with an official event scheduled by a UNM organization (music performance, athletic competition). Illnesses not requiring a doctor's care might cause you to stay home from class, but they don't count as debilitating illness; keep your two absences in reserve for these situations. You should contact me as soon as possible if you miss class.  Absence is never an excuse for coming to the next class unprepared—it is your responsibility to find out what you missed, including handouts and/or changes in the syllabus. Consistent late arrivals disrupt the class.  Three late arrivals equals one absence. 

Woody Allen said that 90% of success is just showing up.  If you have perfect attendance, I will enhance your grade by a half letter. 

No late assignments are accepted. If, for whatever reason, you must miss class, I will accept your homework via email, if I receive it before 11:00 on the day it is due.  Otherwise, do not email your work to me.  It is your responsibility to make sure your work is printed out well before class is due.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a student say to me, "The printer was down in the lab." My firm, not unkind response is always: "I don't care." It is your responsibility to manage your time so that this does not matter.

Grading:   It's possible to earn a high grade in this class simply by doing the work and doing it well.  You need not be fascinatingly talented.  Talent is overrated.  You simply must be conscientious, committed, and engaged. 


Students who have special needs that may affect their ability to benefit fully from the class, please see me as soon as possible so I can arrange appropriate accommodation. 


Readings & Responsibilities -- Revised 2/10/2011

Note:  Readings are due on the date listed.



Week 1                                                                       


Introductions.  Syllabus.  Eavan Boland's Lava Cameo



Demonology, Rick Moody
Reading as a Writer, R.V. Cassill
Reading Response (handout)



Week 2           


Werner, Jo Ann Beard
Close Reading, Francine Prose
Notes on Craft (handout)




The Amish Farmer, Vance Bourjaily

Reading, Richard Ford  



Week 4



THE MEADOW, James Galvin

In Class: Sample Reading Responses



THE MEADOW, James Galvin

Week 5                                                         


Family Furnishings, Alice Munro

The Magic Show, Tim O'Brien



Cortes Island, Alice Munro

An Interview with Alice Munro



Week 6










Week 7


In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, Delmore Schwartz



On Keeping a Notebook, Joan Didion



Week 8








Week 9 Spring Break


Week 10


FUN HOME, Alison Bechdel



FUN HOME, Alison Bechdel



Week 11


Biography of a Dress, Jamaica Kincaid



Borges & I, Jorge Louis Borges



Week 12








Week 13


Mr. Hunter's Grave, Joseph Mitchell






Week 14









Week 15


No Name Woman, Maxine Hong Kingston




Any Generative Exericses (like Map Making) turned in as responses (short or long) Due



Week 16






Paris Review Interview: William Maxwell

Craft Annotation Due