Advanced Nonfiction Seminar

Course Description

The idea of nonfiction is simple: tell the truth. But as anyone who has ever attempted it knows, telling the truth can be a lot more complicated than it looks. How do you write a scene if you can’t remember exactly what everyone said? How do you spend only a paragraph describing a character you’ve known for 30 years? How do you pace a story that has spanned your entire life? In this course, we’ll explore in detail both how nonfiction is crafted and the forms it can take, and our essential goal will be to understand the literary techniques employed by nonfiction writers as well as the vast array of nonfiction produced by these techniques. To this end, we’ll be looking at short works of nonfiction from around the world, across the genre and throughout history. We’ll be reading a few canonical authors such as Montaigne and Sei Shonagon, as well as more contemporary writers like Joan Didion, Julio Cortázar, and Eliot Weinberger, and we’ll use these works as the basis for our own short weekly writing experiments. Students will finish the course by using the techniques they’ve learned to write their own full-length work of nonfiction. The course will run from May 10, 2014 to June 28, 2014.


Fifteen writers hailing from Argentina, Bangladesh, Egypt, Germany, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States were selected from a pool of 187 applicants to participate in the seminar.


Cutter WOOD received his MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. His work has appeared in such publications as Harper’s and the L Magazine. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Happening Now

  • To mark PEN International’s centennial, Words Without Borders has published a sampler of works by writers committed to freedom of expression. Algerian novelist and scholar Med MAGANI is among them.

  • A fall harvest of book reviews coming in: of The Others by Sarah BLAU (translated from the Hebrew by Daniella Zamir); of LO Yi-Chin’s Farewell, translated from the Chinese by Jeremy TIANG; of Véronique TADJO’s In the Company of Men

  • A fascinating interview with IWP’s Senior Advisor, professor Peter Nazareth, retired from UI’s English Department in spring 2021, after nearly five decades of teaching.

  • Word reaches us that poet HU Xudong  胡续冬, who also taught comparative and world literatures at Peking University (Beida), specializing in Latin American literatures, passed away unexpectedly. RIP, Hu Xudong…

  • We note with sadness the passing of Hiroshi SAKAGAMI 坂上 弘, whose long novelistic career garnered him major literary and cultural honors. A former president of the Japan Writers’ Association, he was until his retirement also the director of Keio University Press.

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