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

Sophomore and above—Year

This is a writing course that aims 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 both include and 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. Assignments come with deadlines for drafts, rewrites, and final copy. The assignments are not “writing-class exercises” but, rather, the kinds of work that any editor would assign. A warning: This is not a course in “creative nonfiction” or covert autobiography. Accurate reporting is a non-negotiable starting and finishing point. The course will begin by emphasizing writing technique. And as we move on to longer assignments, our focus will be on the role that 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.