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

  • Behind the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature, shared by novelists Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke, are translators--one key among them Jennifer CROFT, translator from the Polish, the Ukrainian, and the Spanish. Congratulations!

  • "Resisting English": at NYRB, Adam Kirsch reviews three decades of the translated work of the Japanese novelist and essayist Minae MIZUMURA (IWP '03).

  • Just out in Beirut, the intriguingly titled ['Laughter as Destructive History'] by the Iraqi poet, translator, and editor Soheil NAJM (IWP '07).

  • Death is Hard Work, the fifth title of the Syrian novelist Khaled KHALIFA (IWP '07), published by FSG in Leri Price's translation, is on the long list of the 2019 National Book Awards, in the Translated Literature category.

  • In the travel journal Off Assignment,  journalist and novelist Milagros SOCORRO (Venezuela, IWP '12) recalls a snowy day in Iowa City, and one woman's special gesture.

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