Seminar – This course will consider ten works of documentary literature: Studs Terkel's Hard Times, Jean Stein and George Plimpton's Edie, Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song, David Grossman's The Yellow Wind, Isobel Fonseca's Bury Me Standing, Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking, Bill Buford's Among the Thugs, Mitchell Duneier's Sidewalk, David Friend's Watching the World Change, and Dave Eggers's Zeitoun.
Like most strong nonfiction books, these are mongrel works, and most of them could be described as something other than documentary literature: as memoir, long-form reportage and, in the case of Mailer's book, a "non-fiction novel." What the books have in common—what makes them documentary literature—is their authors' determination to go outside the self and to make a relatively objective document grounded in the experiences of others.
To do this, the authors use the techniques associated also with documentary work in film, television, and print journalism: they conduct interviews, sift and sort papers and other materials, venture out into the world with their central characters, and/or assume the role of the participant-observer. At the same time, they give their work an emphasis different from that of a memoir or a piece of reportage. They use literary devices to suggest that the facts in themselves have aesthetic and moral significance; they reflect openly on their relation to the material or strive to remove themselves altogether in an attempt to make the facts speak for themselves.
There will be at least two writing assignments.
See the Writing MFA Program page for all course information and requirements.