Course Descriptions

Spring 2015

All WRT courses are restricted to graduate students in the Michener Center’s MFA program or graduate students in our affiliated programs in English, Theatre or RTF, unless special permission is granted.  Click for other departments’ workshops in fiction, poetry, playwriting, or screenwriting.


Michael McGriff
Mondays, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

In this poetry workshop, students will share and critique new poems. As writers, we’re entangled in our obsessions. We’re guided by our personal literary playlists. We have faith in our impulses. We each have our own set of poetry gods. It’s my belief that the creative writing workshop is no place for proscription or homogeny. It’s in this spirit that we’ll approach each other’s work during the semester. We’ll also read and discuss three books by Larry Levis: The Afterlife, The Dollmaker’s Ghost, and Winter Stars. Please, purchase your books prior to the beginning of the semester. Though many of these poems are available in The Selected Levis, it’s essential to this class that you buy the individual books. One of the goals of this class is to have an ongoing conversation about the nuances of compiling and editing an individual volume of poetry. We’ll turn to these Levis titles and let them serve as touchstones for this conversation.

Required books:

The Afterlife, Larry Levis, Carnegie Mellon University Press

The Dollmaker’s Ghost, Larry Levis, Carnegie Mellon University Press

Winter Stars, Larry Levis, The University of Pittsburgh Press


Geoffrey Dyer
Tuesdays, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

Imagine this course as a badly needed but non-existent section in a book store.  It’s here that we will find those non-fiction books that don’t sit entirely comfortably in the sections where they are sometimes found.  These book are often compounds  of several quite distinct genres. What they have in common is that they all  merit the status of literature.  How do they manage this?  How did they  assume the form they did?  How are the demands of factual accuracy reconciled with  the  assumed freedoms of fiction?  What are the risks involved when a work reportage—or  reference, even—becomes  autobiography? Are there precedents? Is this  a recent phenomenon? If so what is its relationship to the vitality and gravitational pull of the novel?

Each week we will look at one book—or, on a couple of occasions, two books—but students will also be encouraged to read additional titles by the same author or titles of related interest (see below).

A provisional list  of books is given below in the rough order they will be studied (with Thomson and West  towards the end of the semester because they are long–so start reading now!) but this can be adjusted.  We can add or delete books once the semester gets underway if this seems appropriate.

John BergerAnd Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, and A Fortunate Man.  Also: Pig Earth, Selected Essays

Annie DillardTeaching a Stone to Talk.  Also: The Writing Life, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Ryszard KapuscinskiThe Soccer War.  Also: Imperium, The Shadow of the Sun, Another Day of Life etc.

David FinkelThe Good Soldiers and Dexter Filkins: The Forever War.  Also:  Finkel’s Thank you for your Service

Sven LindqvistA History of Bombing.  Also: “Exterminate all the Brutes”

Roland BarthesCamera Lucida.  Also: A Lover’s Discourse,  RB  by RB

EM CioranThe Trouble with Being Born.  Also: Theodor Adorno: Minima Moralia, Sontag on Cioran,  and Don Paterson: The Book of Shadows

Terry CastleThe Professor

Simon Schama: Dead Certainties

David Thomson: Biographical Dictionary of Film (various editions).  Also: Have you  Seen…? and Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed (Conversations with Paul Cronin)

V S NaipaulAn Area of Darkness.  Also: India: A Wounded Civilisation, Among the Believers and Paul Theroux: Sir Vidia’s Shadow

Ivan Vladislavic: Portrait with Keys

Claudio MagrisDanube

Rebecca WestBlack Lamb and Grey Falcon (try to read the whole thing but we can concentrate on excerpts)

David ShieldsReality Hunger.  Also Jonathan Lethem:  The Ecstasy of Influence

Writing Assignment: You will be expected to  initiate/lead discussion of at least one class in the course of the semester and, at the end, to  complete either:  a) a critical piece about an author/book or the issues raised by the course, or b) a creative piece  inspired by the works/authors read.


Stephen Harrigan
Tuesdays, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

The sole focus of this course will be on helping students either to finish a novel or to finish a substantial portion and have a confident understanding of where the story is going.  There will be no required reading other than material I may bring in to illustrate a practical story-telling point. We will meet once a week as a group to read and discuss work-in-progress, but from time to time I may use the classroom hours to meet individually with the students to talk about plotting, character development, etc. as it applies to their own projects. Because every novel is different, and every writer works in his or her own manner, I want to keep the structure of the course somewhat loose and open to improvisation. I will function less as a professor than as a hands-on editor, reacting to the work, suggesting changes, offering guidance about marketing and other practical matters. In addition, I anticipate inviting a few successful novelists or publishing professionals to visit the class and talk about their experiences, both in writing and in selling their work.