Summer Writing Course | Nonfiction Workshop

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Session 1 (May 23-July 1), TTh, 2-4:10PM
Instructor: Cris Beam
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Session 2 (July 5-August 12), MW, 5:30-7:40
Instructor: Anelise Chen
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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
The 2016 rate for current degree seeking students and visiting students is $1630 per point. Students enrolled in postbaccalaureate and certification programs can review tuition and fees here.

Materials Fee: $20
For questions about School of the Arts summer courses, including those concerning admissions, registration, and billing, please contact the School of Professional Studies summer team at, or 212-854-9666. With questions about specific course content, please contact Writing Departmental Representative Dorothea Lasky at

About the Instructors

Cris Beam

Cris Beam is the author of To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013), I Am J (Little, Brown 2011) and Transparent (Harcourt 2007), which won a Lambda Literary Award and was a Stonewall Honor book. more


Anelise Chen is the author of SO MANY OLYMPIC EXERTIONS (Kaya Press, Spring 2017), an experimental novel that blends elements of sportswriting, memoir and "self help." Her BA in English is from UC Berkeley, and her MFA in Fiction from NYU. A former Open City fellow at the Asian American Writers' Workshop, she is currently Fiction Editor of AAWW's online publication The Margins. Her essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in the New York Times, Gawker, The Rumpus, The Morning News, VICE, Gigantic Magazine and many other publications.

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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.