The best literary nonfiction borrows several things from fiction: strong character development, well-developed, nuanced scenes, and a tangible narrative arc. But it also often bears the hallmarks of good journalism: thorough research, live reporting and a writer’s quizzical, intelligent stance. This class meets directly at the intersection of fiction’s energy and journalism’s integrity—the place where literary nonfiction is born.
In this class, students will not only learn the components of a good story, but what makes an idea compelling to a diverse audience to begin with. We’ll look at and write three forms of nonfiction: memoir, the personal essay, and the literary profile. We’ll read masters in these three major styles as well as some newer voices—writers like Joan Didion, Jamaica Kincaid, bell hooks, and Lauren Slater, to explore things like tone and approach, argument and appeal. Each form is distinct, but we’ll build on the skills we establish as the class moves along. The memoir, for instance, will be a short assignment, and based entirely on students’ lived experience. The personal essay can incorporate elements of students’ lives and belief systems, but must also integrate reporting and outside research. The final profile will be based entirely on reporting but will be literary in style and approach, with attention to scene, character development and dramatic tension.
Tuition & Fees Most summer courses are offered at the standard Continuing Education tuition rate of $1,512 per point ($4,536 for a 3-point course and $9,072 for a six-point intensive). For more detailed information, please see "tuition and fees": http://arts.columbia.edu/summer/tuition-fees
Materials fee: $20
About the Instructors
Amy Benson’s book, The Sparkling-Eyed Boy (Houghton Mifflin 2004), was the 2003 Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize winner in creative nonfiction, sponsored by Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference; it was also an Elle Must-Read Book and a USAToday summer reading pick. Recent work has appeared in journals such as BOMB, Boston Review, New England Review, Triquarterly, PANK, Seneca Review and Black Warrior Review. She is the co-founder of the First Person Plural Reading Series in Harlem.
Adam Sexton’s nonfiction writing has been published in the New York Times, the Village Voice, and the Boston Phoenix, as well as on various websites. He is the author of Master Class in Fiction Writing (McGraw-Hill) and the editor of three published anthologies including Rap on Rap, which was recently acquired by the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard. Adam teaches creative nonfiction at Yale College and journalism at the New School; he has taught writing and literature at NYU and lectured at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the University of Pennsylvania’s Kelly Writers House. He holds an MFA from Columbia’s School of the Arts and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a Benjamin Franklin Scholar.