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The Nonfiction Essay: Writing the Literature of Fact, Journalism, and Beyond

Sophomore and above, Intermediate—Year

The aim of this course is to have students produce a series of nonfiction essays that reflect Tom Wolfe’s belief that it is “possible to write journalism that would read like a novel.” The reading that we do is designed to serve the writing that we do, which will include but go beyond standard journalism. We will read a number of well-known nonfiction writers—among them Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, John McPhee, and Henry Louis Gates—but this course is not a history of the nonfiction essay. Students will be given assignments with deadlines for drafts, rewrites, and final copy. The assignments are not “writing-class exercises” but the kinds of work any editor would give out. A warning: This is not a course in “creative nonfiction” or covert autobiography. The writer’s subject, not the writer, is our primary concern. Accurate reporting is a nonnegotiable starting and finishing point. The course will begin by emphasizing writing technique and, as we move on to longer assignments, will focus on the role research, interviews, and legwork play in completing a story. Students should bring a writing sample to the interview and should not be taking another writing course.