Course Descriptions

Spring 2016

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.


WRT 380S:  METAPHYSICAL MESSAGES:  A Consideration of a Tradition in Literature

Peter LaSalle
Tuesdays, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

This course will examine the metaphysical element in a selection of modern and contemporary literature—prose, poetry, and drama—as well as in some painting. For our purposes, the metaphysical element will basically mean the creative imagination exploring, questioning, and ultimately going beyond standard assumptions about time and space, dream and reality, etc., as perhaps true knowledge begins. The works themselves, essentially avant-garde, may be seen as the “messages” of the course’s title.

The Reading:

I.  Symbolism, Decadentism, Surrealism, etc.

  • The Flowers of Evil, poems, Charles Baudelaire
  • Nadja, a novel, André Breton
  •  Nightwood, a novel, Djuna Barnes

II.  Borges and Bombal: The Buenos Aires Connection

  • Labyrinths, stories, essays, and poems, Jorge Luis Borges
  • New Islands, stories, María Luisa Bombal

III.  An Interlude with Painters

  • Gustave Moreau, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Odilon Redon, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Delvaux, and René Magritte  (paintings viewed on Web sites)

IV.  Contemporary Messages

  • Collected Shorter Plays, Samuel Beckett
  • The Lime Twig, a novel, John Hawkes
  • Selected Poems, Mark Strand
  • Transparent Things, a novel, Vladimir Nabokov
  • Best American Fantasy 2007, edited by Anne and Jeff VanderMeer; stories by Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Ramola D., Daniel Alarcón, and others. The anthology casts a pretty wide net in its definition of “fantasy,” to include much postmodern experiment and also what often falls under labels such as “The New Weird,” with a very eclectic selection of stories this particular year.

Students will present weekly responses to the reading in class and will write two papers.

The first paper will be a personal essay on thinking about the metaphysical element in relation to the student’s own creative writing; it will be due at mid-term. In the second paper, longer, the student will select a writer (other than those on the reading list) whose work seems metaphysical and examine that work according to ideas developed in the course, for the sort of engaging and even stylistically innovative essay about literature written by a creative writer and found in a literary magazine (rather than commentary that is simply functional, as maybe done for a research/analytical article in an academic journal); this paper will be due a week before the end of the class, which will allow discussion of the final student papers during the last class session.



Jane Miller
Mondays, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

Your own writing is the text for this course. Together we will scrutinize your poems with traditional, experimental, and developing discourses in mind. Bring poems to class that are rough, with something at stake.

We will begin by sight-reading single poems, asking:

What is the strategy of your poem? Is there an argument? Is it / how is it voiced? Is there a structure? What is its form trying to accomplish?

Advancing to poems-in-portfolio, we will ask:

Is there an inquiry being shaped that fulfills the destiny of a polished manuscript? What activities of the “poetic” could travel into other literary genres and other art forms?

Your portfolios will be due one week before they are discussed so that we may study them.

We will investigate your relationship to historical and current practices. One of the subtexts of this course will regard our assumptions about truth and beauty, which abound in Middle Eastern, European, African, and Asian thought as much as in British romanticism. What is the current thinking about truth and beauty in American poetry, and how are these inherent assumptions, their substitutes, or their counter-arguments represented in your work?



Kathleen Orillion
Wednesday, 1:00-4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

In this course, students will work on an original, full-length feature screenplay and a detailed step outline.  Over the course of the semester, each student will have 3-4 opportunities to submit their work-in-progress, and each week, the class will meet and discuss the pages submitted, offering thoughtful, detailed, and constructive feedback.  Although we’ll be considering issues of plot, structure, and momentum, this workshop will, for the most part, emphasize character-driven screenplays — that is, stories that develop organically from the character(s) that you create.  Alternatively, students may work on the pilot and season outline for an original television drama.   There are no required texts, but script pages will need to be submitted in Final Draft.  It’s not mandatory but it would be helpful to come to the first class with a potential story idea (or two) for the project you’d like to pursue.

Stephen Harrigan
Wednesday, 9:00 am – 12:00 noon
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.