Creative Writing Nonfiction: Memoir



To become appreciators and producers of creative writing in nonfiction.


Objectives:  By the end of this class, each student will be able to

1.  Express personal thoughts in well-written essays.

2.  Use invention techniques, peer critiques, group critiques, multiple draft writing, and

     free writing.

3.  Practice generative techniques to tap “flow”.

4.  Acquire a personal repertoire of writing techniques to organize discrete data into

     a unified whole, even when this data is initially uncontexualized.

5.  Have written four papers for a public audience.

6.  Have worked toward mastery of grammar and usage.

7.  Become a part of a community of writers.


I am not a therapist and this is not a group session.  While personal writing does have such benefits, this class is not the place to work out personal issues.


Required Materials:

1.  Root, Robert L, and Michael Steinberg.  The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers

            of/on Creative Nonfiction, Second Edition.  New York: Longman, 2002.

2.  Writing journal


Recommended Readings:

1.  Cartier-Bresson, Henri.  The Mind's Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers, First Edition.  New York: Aperture, 1999.

2.  Jamison, Kay Redfield.  An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness.   New

            York: Random House, 1996.

3.  MacLeish, Archibald.  “His Mirror Was Danger.” Life 51, 2.  14 July 1961: 71-73.

4.  Nabokov, Vladimir.  Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited.  New York: Vintage International, 1967.  (Willing to discuss if this is truly an autobiography or a memoir!)

5.  Shulman, Alix Kates.  A Good Enough Daughter: A Memoir.  n.p: Schocken, 2000.

6.  Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I.  The Oak and the Calf: Literary Life in the Soviet Union.

            New York: Harper Colophon, 1975.

7.  Welty, Eudora.  One Writer’s Beginnings.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984.

8.  Whiteley, Suzanne Mehler.  Appel is Forever: A Child’s Memoir.  Detroit: Wayne  

            State UP, 1999.



Undergraduate, student performance will be evaluated on an A-U scale using the following criteria:

1.  Four, hundred-point papers (chapters), which integrate to form one paper; it will be   of “publishable” quality and include the following: I. Title and subheadings; II.  Acknowledgments; III. Table of Contents and Dedication; IV. Three visuals with captions.

2.  One abstract, covering all four papers, with enough copies for all class members, 20 points (minus one point per error).

Graduate, student performance will be evaluated on an A-U scale using the following criteria (Please talk with me during the first class meeting):

1+2.  Same as undergraduate students (420 points).  The difference between graduate student and undergraduate student credit exists in two aspects: (1) the quality will be held to a higher level of competence (stronger content, more vivid details, tighter structure, cleaner polish), and (2) the quantity will be held to higher level (yes, more--while undergraduate students’ papers will be expected to be between 12-15 pages each, graduate students’ papers will be expected to be between 20 and 25 pages each; each page is expected to be 250 words).


Evaluation and Grading:

Basically, I would happier if we could have a mentorship arrangement and I didn’t have to assign grades, but until that happens, I will try to demystify how I determine grades.  If you participate in course work and turn in all of your work in a timely fashion, you will probably not have to be too concerned about grades: A = outstanding; B = strong; C = acceptable; D = just barely met standards; U = not acceptable.  The weight of each aspect of the writing is as follows: content=75%; structure=15%; and polish=10%.  (See numerical grades listed within this syllabus).  A number of safety nets have been built-in to the course to reinforce basic writing and editing concepts.  This course is designed to give you a solidly paced experience in generating and editing creative nonfiction.  Caveat: try not to get behind in your work; my previous students have said this is the only grade-danger in my classes. There will be no substitution of assignments.

* Late work will lose one letter grade per DAY late; this includes weekend days as well.  ALL papers are due at the beginning of the Thursday class and must be submitted in person; no papers are accepted online or by fax. 

** Something-I-shouldn’t-have-to-say: Plagiarism has no place in any institution of learning; therefore, any plagiarism in this class, either in part or entirety, of any work will result in an U (failing) grade for the course plus the material will be submitted to the appropriate university disciplinary individuals(s) and/or committees for institutional action.



Because this will be a workshop-style class with pieces of writings actually being written during class and because this class meets for only one month, attendance and participation are vital.  Therefore, after two absences, each absence will lower the over-all course grade by one letter grade per absence; exceptions to this rule will be extremely rare.  Being more than thirty minutes late to a class will also count as an absence.  No student may invite and/or bring any guest(s) to any class. 


Accommodation of Students with Documented Disabilities:

“Reasonable accommodations are available for students who have a documented disability.  Please notify the instructor during the first week of any class of any accommodations needed for the course.  Late notification may cause the requested accommodations to be unavailable.  All accommodations must be approved through the Office of Disability Services (SLB 11, 6-6666).”  E-8.  University of Illinois at Springfield Academic Staff Handbook