English 523  Graduate Creative Nonfiction Workshop

W 4:00-6:30

Mitchell Hall 206

Spring 2013

Greg Martin


Office:  ENG 257

Office Hours:   Wed  2:00-3:30 (and by appointment)

E-mail:  gmartin@unm.edu 

Course website:  www.unm.edu/~gmartin



  1. Personal Essays, Craft Essays & Handouts: WebCT site linked to course
  2. Emily Rapp's The Still Point of the Turning World



This is a writing workshop focused on revision.  Each student will write two new pieces of creative nonfiction.  We will workshop each piece twice.  Then, each of you will choose one of these two essays to revise again, and you will send it out at the end of the semester to six literary magazines.


The goal of the course is to push you to produce more than you thought you could, to break down what Jane Smiley calls “evasion strategies.” 


The particular subgenre of creative nonfiction you may turn in to the workshop is wide open:  Autobiographical Narrative (an essay that has the dramatic structure of a short story); a Lyric Meditation (a more “classic” Montaigne-like essay that is structured meditatively or philosophically or associatively); Profile; Travel Writing; Literary Journalism.  A hybrid essay that combines two or more of these forms. It's all fair game. 


Readings for discussion in class will consist of (1) published essays from a variety of the subgenres above, as well as (2) essays on the craft of narrative and about principles unique or important in creative nonfiction. In selecting pieces for us to read and discuss, my aim is for eclecticism--to give you a sense of the range of literary nonfiction, to give you a sense of the possibilities of the form. But please know that the readings are not comprehensive, in any way. Nor are they intended to give you a sense of the history of the form. And as much as anything, I chose essays that I, myself, want to re-visit and discuss. E.M. Forster said of the novel (but he could just as well have said it about any form of literature): "The first test of the novel will be our affection for it, as it is the test of our friends, and of anything else we cannot define."


We want to read essays that will make us want to re-read that same essay again. We want to read work that essays that we know, when we finish, we will want to re-visit. We want to write essays that have this same effect on the reader.



Recommended Reading


Any writer committed to writing literary nonfiction should be reading BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS cover to cover, each year. Other recommended reading:

Course Requirements


Treadmill Journal (5%)


Each student will keep a Treadmill Journal (of their own idiosyncratic design) which I will ask you about regularly throughout the semester and which I will glance at during the last class meeting. (See Treadmil Journal craft essay on e-reserves.)



Four creative nonfiction drafts:    (50%)


Important note #1:  the writing that you turn in to workshop must be, in some recognizable way (more on this) creative nonfiction. (No fiction.)


Important note #2:  Some of you are working on booklength projects, and so will not be turning in pieces that stand alone at 10-25 pages.   Fine.  If so, make sure to provide at the beginning of your workshop submissions a single spaced paragraph or so of the background your readers will need to give you feedback.


Peer Responses:  (25%) 1 full page, single-spaced, typed, responses for each of your peer’s manuscripts submitted for workshop. Please note: we will not be following the typical workshop protocol for sharing peer responses. You will post your peer responses to WebCT and we will share and discuss these peer responses first in small groups, followed by a larger, whole-class discussion. You will need to to bring 1 hardcopy of your peer response to each class, to refer to during discussion and then to hand to the author of the work under discussion. Your peer response is not a personalized letter to the author, but a public document for the class's consideration. It is an investigation into the work-in-progress as a system of artistic choices--an investigation and a speculation about possibilities which others can learn from. The workshopping process is at its most robust and effective when everyone learns from the discussion at hand of a particular draft. At the risk of being redundant, the workshop discussion is not singularly for the author of the piece but for everyone.


These peer responses are to be posted to the 523 WebCT site by NOON, on the day the work is discussed.  These responses should substantively conform to the prompts in the Peer Response handoutLate Peer Responses will affect your grade.


Essay Submission (20%)  


Antiquated Option #1: Bring six stamped envelopes to the last class meeting of the semester.  These six envelopes should be addressed to six different literary magazines.  Each of these envelopes will have:

  1. The proper postage!

  2. A cover letter. 

  3. A copy of one of the two essays you worked on during the semester. 

  4. A self-addressed, stamped envelope. 

I'll take your submissions to the post office the following day and ceremoniously drop them in the slot. 


Modern Option #2: If you are submitting online, bring to the party a print out of the magazine's confirmation of your submission.


For examples of cover letters, see the Publishing Your Work section link on the WebCT site. 


If this course requirement makes you feel like you need to check yourself into the ER (rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea), please come see me.  (But you still have to do it.)  You can pass the course without submitting (you'll get a "C"), but I will not make any exceptions or extensions for the submission policy.


Workshop Logistics and Etiquette


Think of the workshop as a process of helping the writer make this piece better, or as is often the case, make a future piece better.  Everything we say will be wrong, or partial, or skewed by our own aesthetics.  You will hear startlingly different analyses of your work from the class. Go away from the workshop with the reading and critique that is most helpful to you.  Choose, as your favorite critic in the class, the peer who seems most in sympathy with your work.  Then make friends with that person, get together outside of class, share your work, and drink caffeine.  Good workshops always extend beyond the classroom. 


1.      Manuscripts are due at specific times.  You need to post to WebCT a copy of your workshop submission,by 3:30 PM one week before you are to be workshopped.  There is no flexibility in this scheme.  The workshop’s effectiveness depends on the timely distribution of your work.  Late submissions will affect your grade. A submission posted more than 24 hours late will not be workshopped.


2.      Essays should be typed, double-spaced, numbered, 12pt font, with one inch margins, on one side of the page, with no cover pages, and stapled. Also include:  your name, the course number and section, my name, the date, the title.


3. Manuscripts cannot exceed 10,000 words.


4.      Correct grammar, usage, punctuation and spelling are expected. 


5.      Attendance and participation are mandatory.  If you miss class more than twice it will affect your grade.