Seminar, Monday, 10/09

Social: Caffe Gelato, 5:00–6:00

Seminar: 316 Gore, 6:00–7:15

Special Guest: Janel Atlas, author of They Were Still Born

Thinking About How Audience Helps to Shape How a Story Is Told

Fastwrite: The same tragic story of stillbirth drives each of the three pieces by Janel that I’ve asked you to read. But the way Janel begins that story differs—slightly but, I think, significantly—on each occasion. Please reread the first few lines of each of her pieces, and jot down some notes on what you find (a) interestingly different, and (b) importantly the same.

Before she was born but after she was dead, I decided that there must be a book. There had to be a collection of stories written by people who had firsthand experience with stillbirth in their own lives, who had stared into the abyss of burying a baby and lived to tell the tale.

I sought this book, frustrated, in the library. I looked for it online. I kept thinking perhaps it would appear on a different shelf or at the top of the next search returns. But it didn’t.

And so I determined to make one myself. (Atlas 2014)


Eight months into a healthy pregnancy, my belly suddenly hung lower. I noticed that the baby’s movements slowed, decreased in frequency, and seemed sluggish compared to just a few days before.

Concerned that something might be wrong, I called my obstetrician’s office and described what I’d noticed. . . . (Atlas 2017a).


Through the night, waiting for labor to progress, I heard babies’ first caterwauls. Drifting down through the sterile hospital hallway came the sounds of laboring women, supportive nurses, encouraging partners. I turned onto my side and cradled my hugely pregnant belly in the crook of my arms.

I already knew that my baby would make no sounds in the delivery room when she was finally born.

I knew because she was already dead. (Atlas 2017b)

And then we’ll talk with Janel—about these three pieces, audience, writing in general, writing online, and anything else that seems useful!

Coming Up

We will not meet again as a seminar until Monday, 10/30/2017. During that time we hope that you will be working on the first full draft of your Curriculum Unit. That unit is due on October 30. Please email me and Kathy your draft before seminar meets that evening. Title your document <Lastname Draft 1>.

I would then like to spend some time in seminar on Monday, 11/06/2017, workshopping these drafts in small groups.  During the next two weeks (when again we won’t meet as a group), I will schedule a one-on-one conference with each of you to talk in detail about your work.

I’d also like us to read and discuss the other book we ordered for this seminar: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Please plan to read to page 130 by October 30, and to finish the book for November 6. Remember that November 6 is also “Bring A Friend”evening; I hope you will do so!

This is the time when everything starts to come together! I’m excited to read your work!


Seminar, Monday, 10/02/2017

304 Gore

Wallace and Strayed as Exemplars

These two essays are among the most acclaimed and anthologized pieces of nonfiction in this century. They have become, that is, part of the “canon” of creative nonfiction. Choose the one (Wallace or Strayed) that most interests (or provokes) you. Working with a partner, see if you can name and identify three or four qualities about the essay that you think have made teachers and editors admire it, that have helped it become considered canonical.  Find a brief passage to illustrate each quality.

The Essay of the Moment

Reread the essay you’ve brought with you to discuss in seminar. Locate a brief passage (no more than a ¶) that shows something you admire about the writing of the piece. (It would be great if this were not a quality we’ve talked about in our discussion of Wallace and Strayed.) Be ready to talk about that passage.

For Next Week (10/09/2017)

I’ve asked my friend and colleague Janel Atlas to come speak with us next week. Janel is an accomplished writer of nonfiction who has published extensively both in print and online. To prepare for our conversation next week, I’d like you to read three related pieces that she’s written:

  • “Telling a Story of Stillbirth: Accepting the Limits of Narrative.” 9 May 2014.
  • “Bereaved Families Need Compassionate Presence.” KevinMD. 7 March 2017.
  • “Telling a Story of Stillbirth: Accepting the Limits of Narrative.” Survive and Thrive: A Journal for Medical Humanities and Narrative as Medicine, 3(1). April 2017.

I’m interested in talking with Janel about the decisions she made in reworking similar materials to address three different groups of readers and three different occasions for writing. My hope is that this conversation will help you think about how to help your students imagine the readers they are writing to.

Seminar, Monday, 9/25/2017

304 Gore

Hypotaxis and Parataxis


  • Please read the accounts of a fever by Rushdie and Malouf. I trust that, like me, you’ll find them very different. Working with a partner, see if you can if you can put a name to their diverging tones or styles: How would you describe their differences?  Then, see if you can point to some strategies (try to list at least three or four for each) that the writer uses to achieve his particular tone.
  • Handout
  • With a partner again, look back over one of the three essays (Beard, Berry, Biss) we’ve read for this week from the Touchstone Anthology. Would you describe the piece as primarily hypotactic or paratactic? Locate a passage that supports your reading

Researching Your Curriculum Units

  • Fastwrite: Please jot down a few sentences about each of the two texts you’ve brought with you. Briefly describe (a) what the text is about, (b) why it interests you, and (c) how it might inform or fit into your unit.
  • Groups: Share and discuss your texts. As a group, choose one “teacher text” and one “student text” that you think will be of interest to everyone in seminar. Be ready to say why.

A Problem With How Essays Get Anthologized


For Next Week (10/02/2017)

  • Please read (or re-read) the essays by Cheryl Strayed and David Foster Wallace in the Touchstone Anthology. I’ve chosen these two pieces because they are among the very most acclaimed essays published in this century. What does that tell you about what contemporary readers and critics seem to most value in creative nonfiction?
  • Please also locate a brief nonfiction piece (800 words or less) that you admire that responds to a current social or political event or issue.
  • Continue to work on your unit! Send me an email if there is anything I can help you with!

Seminar, Monday, 9/18/2017

304 Gore

Welcome Back!

Image courtesy of Northeast Indiana Public Radio,
  • Fastwrite (10 minutes): What did you do in your summer vacation? Or, to be more exact, what did you do on your curriculum unit in your summer vacation? Please briefly describe your unit, as you now see and plan it, for the other members of this seminar. Tell us who your students are, what you want to teach them how to write, and why. Conclude by mentioning one thing that really excites or pleases you about your unit, and one thing that worries you or that you haven’t quite figured out yet. We’ll read these aloud, and see how we can help each other move forward.

Developing Your Curriculum Unit: Some Thoughts From Joe [Handout]

For Next Week (9/25/2018)

  • Please bring two readings with you to seminar that you plan to use in developing your unit.. One should be for you—an article or book that you will use to ground or inform the work you do in designing and teaching your unit. The other should be for your students—a piece you will assign them to read and perhaps use as a model for their own writing. In most cases, I think it will work best if you bring actual print copies of these texts to seminar, but if it makes more sense to send me hyperlinks, please do so before 4:00 pm next Monday.
  • Please read (or re-read) the first three pieces (Bear, Berry, Bliss) in the Touchstone Anthology. We’ll talk about how they do or don’t fit into the four types of nonfiction I proposed last spring (memoir, reporting, interviewing, criticism).

Seminar, Monday, 5/22/2017

308 Gore

Continuing Our Talk About Voice in Nonfiction

Virginia Woolf, by George Charles Beresford, 1902, public domain


Please read the first section of your Revised Unit Proposal. During the second reading, your readers should mark passages they admire with a straight line, and passages they have questions about with a squiggly line. Then I’d like each reader to talk to the writer about the following two things:

  • What did you find most interesting, unusual, or ambitious in this project?
  • What one thing would you most like to see the writer do more of or do differently as they work on this project over the summer?

Writers should be quiet as readers respond. Sublimate—take notes! Each reader should try to add something to what has been said before about the piece. When all four readers are done responding, the writer can ask them questions.


Fastwrite: Pick one reading you plan to work with this summer, and write a few sentences introducing it to the other members of this seminar. What draws you to this reading? What uses do you hope your students might make of it?

Summer Reading

  • “Read around” in the Touchstone Anthology. Identify at least three pieces you’d like us to talk about in the fall. Highlight passages that you admire.
  • Pick one of the books on the list of possible summer readings and read it. (Or if there is another current nonfiction volume you’re eager to read, send me a link to its Amazon page by email. I am very likely to approve it!

Summer Writing

  • Monday, August 14: Prospectus Writing Assistance
  • Monday, August 28: Email prospectus to Joe (or upload to your individual folder on Google Drive)

Feel free to email me with questions at any time! I’ve enjoyed our work together so far, and look forward to seeing how you develop your curriculum units!

Some Possible Summer Readings

Essay Collections

Longer Nonfiction

Teaching Nonfiction

Seminar, Monday, 5/15/2017

233B Purnell Hall

Voice and Craft in Nonfiction

I’d like to begin our consideration of the three pieces for this evening with some work in small groups.

  • Laskas, “To Obama“: Jenn, Courtney, Kathy, Meighan
Lily Spunk
Lily, age 8, “This country needs more spunk”, from Laskas, “To Obama”

I’d like each group to do two things:

  1. Locate two moments in the piece where you clearly hear the voice of the writer. These may be moments when the writer uses “I”, but not necessarily. What I really want you to identify are passages when your attention as a reader shifts from the subject to the writer of the piece.
  2. Single out two other moments in the piece which showcase the craft of the writer—brief passages that strike you as especially clear or well-phrased. See if you can come up with a name or label for what you admire in the writing.

In sum, then, your group should come up with four passages to talk about. I’ll ask you to begin our discussion of your piece by reading each passage aloud, so let me add one last rule: No passage can be more than 100 words long. Good luck! Have fun!

For Next Week (Monday, 5/22/2017)

Revised Unit Topic and Reading List : As you know, participants in all DTI seminars are asked to submit a revised curriculum unit proposal next week. I’d like you to do three things in this proposal:

  1. Restate your teaching topic and goals for your unit, as you now imagine it. If you can, offer some context about how this unit will fit into the arc of the semester or the school year.
  2. Provide a link to (or copy of) a nonfiction piece that you might ask your students to read as part of your unit. Ideally, this piece should be both something you think students will enjoy reading and that will also serve as a model of the kind of writing you’d like them to do. We will talk much more about readings in seminar, and I will be eager to help you formulate a more extended list by email.
  3. Ask me any questions you might have about your project at this point. I’ll respond by email.

And here’s the kicker: I’d like you to do all this in 250 words or less.

I think it would be great if everyone in the seminar is able to read and talk about each other’s work. Before we leave this evening, then, I’d like to discuss some possibilities for sharing your writing—WordPress, Google Drive, and plain old email spring to my  mind as possibilities.



Seminar, Monday, 5/08/2017

5:00–5:30: Library Orientation (in 227 Purnell Hall)

5:30–7:00: Seminar (in 233B Purnell Hall)

Questions About Seminar Materials

Voice in Creative Nonfiction

Wabi sabi

Laurie Clements Lambeth, “The Three-Legged Dog Who Carried Me“, New York Times, Dec 7, 2016.

Fastwrite: Write about a memory or object that holds beauty for you because of its “asymmetry and imperfection”.

For Next Week (Monday, 5/15/2017)

Please read the following brief pieces:

(We’ll use Lambeth’s essay as a example of a piece grounded in the work of remembering (memoir).)


Seminar, Monday, 5/01/2017

308 Gore


Fastwrite (10 minutes): Tell a story about a good experience you’ve had with writing—a moment when you felt you accomplished something, or when you had some fun. Make your story as engaging as you can. Don’t just summarize. Show what happened. Set the scene, describe the people involved, tell how events unfolded.  I’ll ask you to read this piece aloud to introduce yourself to the seminar.

The Goals of This Seminar

  • To explore nonfiction as a fourth genre of creative writing (in addition to fiction, poetry, and drama).
  • To create a curriculum unit for your students that guides them in writing a piece of creative nonfiction.

What Is Creative Nonfiction?

For Next Week (Monday, 5/08)

  1. Follow this WordPress site. Read through the materials on it, and ask me any questions you may have.
  2. Bring your preferred writing tools (laptop, tablet, or pen and paper) with you to seminar.
  3. Begin collecting examples of (a) nonfiction pieces you admire and enjoy reading, and (b) nonfiction pieces your students might use as models for their own writing.