Jul 21

Spring Course in Advanced Creative Nonfiction

2 January 2009

If you're working on nonfiction and need a workshop, I'm teaching an evening workshop called Nonfiction Seminar at University College, Washington University, this spring. It's a 3-credit workshop course for memoir, essay, biography, travelogues, and nature writing; or narrative, as-told-to and other forms of creative nonfiction. The course emphasizes professionalism and publishability.

The course meets Tuesdays, 6:00-8:30 p.m., begins January 13 and ends May 5. I am happy to answer any questions. Please pass the word. Thank you.

To register, go to ucollege.wustl.edu and click "Courses and Registration" The course number is U11 313, under English Composition, and tuition is $1495.

I'm also teaching a course Thursday evenings, same place, U11 323, called The Art of the Personal Essay.
Jun 27

Not Everything is a Joke

You know the mock air violin that smart alecks "play" when somebody's telling their troubles. Someone who'd just learned to do that, a big joker, asked me if I'd ever seen it, and demonstrated, and I said, "I find that sickening, vicious and cruel. Here somebody is not joking for once, is speaking in earnest, and you are making fun of their honest feelings. You are shaming people for speaking their truth."

Sitcoms and standup have set the tone for our language and behavior, and writers increasingly write that way. I have a cookbook whose hip young authors riddled the text with cutesy, unfunny jokes, and I wonder why. If someone speaks in earnest, with passion, we say: "Tell us what you REALLY think!" If someone complains, we play the air violin or say, "Do you want cheese with that whine?" A harsh story or philosophizing makes us say, "that's heavy" or "that's pretty dark" and we do our best to restore a light and carefree atmosphere as if the world and Disney World were one and the same. We joke, tell jokes, refer to jokes. We all know chronic jokers. I have learned smart-aleck replies to earnest inquiries as simple as, "What time is it?" Above all we want to be liked. Laughter brings us together, but it can also keep us apart. Not everything is a joke.

Surprisingly, our comedians do not tell jokes. We are the ones who tell jokes. They tell truths: about money, sex, relationships, politics. Our poets do that also. The U.S. found the perfect poet in Billy Collins, a hybrid poet/comedian who is a product of our time.
Jan 31

The Little Pit Viper

I was assigned two freshmen composition classes at Syracuse University in 1986, fifty students total, with no training other than “Keep records” and “Smile.” I was 29 and had never taught anything. First semester not so good. Second semester I began to love teaching and the students. Was disgusted by the ineptness and smugness of the supervisors, and they knew it (no use finessing my feelings because people have always seen right through me anyway) so when a huge impromptu party happened one evening in the largest adjunct office, with anti-supervisor graffiti Magic-Markered up the walls to the ceiling – Rankovic was a prime suspect. Yet all witnesses told investigators that the little pit viper had not been present. The traitors were in fact their finest Yes-men and Yes-women. Guess it happens that way a lot. Moral of the story: --Do you have a moral for this story, that'll sum it up?