Creative Nonfiction: Immigration Syllabus

Independent Studies: IWP Creative Writing

International Issues in Creative Nonfiction: Immigration
Spring 2012, January 16-May 13


Instructors

Originally from south Texas, Stephanie ELIZONDO GRIEST is the author of the memoirs Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana and Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines as well as the guidebook 100 Places Every Woman Should Go. She has written for The Believer, Oxford American, New York Times, and Washington Post, and edited the anthology Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010. The winner of a Margolis Award for Social Justice Reporting, she has been a Henry Luce Scholar in China, a Hodder Fellow at Princeton, and currently teaches Creative Nonfiction at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Mariana Martinez Estens (Tijuana, Mexico) is a Mexican journalist and poet based in the Tijuana/San Diego border region as well as a professor for the Border Issues Seminar at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Tijuana. Martinez Estens has been honored with the Henry Taylor Award and a Cabot International Journalism Scholarship, among other awards. She is the author of three books of poetry. Martinez Estens is an honors graduate of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and has a B.A. in communications from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Tijuana and a degree in English/Spanish translation and interpretation from the University of California, San Diego.

Course Description

Welcome to Independent Studies: IWP Creative Writing: International Issues in Creative Nonfiction: Immigration offered by the International Writing Program and funded through the US State Department.  This course will link students in Iowa City, USA and Tijuana, Mexico who are interested in creative nonfiction, a mode of pushing and redefining literary boundaries—between the subjective and objective, the domestic and global, the personal and political, the fictional and the factual. This exchange will be facilitated by co-instructors in both countries for nonfiction writers who are excited about communicating via social media and technology, and who enjoy working with international peers to examine one of the most pressing social and political issues our world faces today: immigration. Over the next sixteen weeks, we will read extraordinary works of creative nonfiction addressing this topic and then strive to write our own. All work will center on the idea of reading as a writer and generating creative work in response. In other words, this will be as much of a literature course as it is a creative writing course.

Students will be graded on participation in discussions, whether work is turned in on time, and whether an appropriate amount of effort has been invested. Two video conferences will take place over the duration of the course via Elluminate. At the end of the semester creative work will be collected into a podcast anthology or e-book.  All course activities will be conducted in English.

Course Materials

As this is a web-based class, students will need a high-speed internet connection for reliable connection and video chat sessions. Further, students must have access to a webcam and microphone to take part in video chat sessions. The following texts are required, and may be purchased via Amazon, the University of Iowa Bookstore, or any other venue. All books are available in electronic format as well.

Luis Alberto Urrea, Devil’s Highway

Suketu Mehta, Maximum City

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

Dave Eggers, What is the What 

Course Interaction

Our primary means of interaction will be University of Iowa’s ICON system—a secure, online educational environment. On our course homepage, you will find all the materials you need for class—extra readings, course documents, assignment guidelines, and so on. Another integral feature of this class will be the forums, also hosted through ICON, which will be the main site of our conversations as a group. Here, we’ll post both our workshop contributions and our weekly written responses. In addition we’ll be using a real-time video chat feature hosted through UI called Elluminate. We’ll use this twice throughout the semester to discuss workshop pieces. More info on when and how this will happen is forthcoming….

Assignments

Assignments will include:

1) Academic responses to discussion questions;

2) Creative responses to prompts;

3) Workshop pieces of creative nonfiction (including memoirs, personal essays, or literary journalism);

4) Responses to classmates for workshop.

Academic Responses

For each of the four books we read as a class, the instructors will post probing discussion questions on ICON. Students must write an original response of 350-400 thoughtful, well-reasoned words to one of the questions, as well as a brief 100 word response to one of their classmate’s responses. These must be completed by Monday of the week following the posting.

Creative Responses

On ICON, you will find a series of handouts filed under the “Writer’s Toolkit” folder that give strong examples of the following elements of craft: description, character, setting, dialogue, point of view, voice, stellar sentences, and revision. Four times throughout the semester, you will be asked to take a little excursion and then write a 350-400 word mini-essay about that experience, employing a particular element of craft. Ideally, you’ll be able to fuse these mini-essays into your workshop essay. Creative responses must also be posted to the ICON forums by Monday of the week following the posting.

Workshop Pieces

Twice during the semester, each student will compose a 5-6 page memoir, personal essay, or journalistic narrative and post them on ICON for class critique. Each piece must be “complete” in that it must have a beginning, middle, and end, and final draft quality, meaning no grammatical errors, misspellings, and so on. Students are encouraged to use their creative responses as launching points for these pieces.

Workshop Responses

Every student will respond to each workshop contribution via a letter of critique within a week of the story’s submission. These critiques should focus on elements of craft—style, character, voice, dialogue, and so on—and should provide insightful, detailed, and specific criticism on how to improve the piece. All responses should be polite, considerate, and constructive. Any student who routinely violates this policy may face a grade reduction.

Grading

For undergraduates taking this course for credit, your final letter grade will be largely determined by how extensively you participate in discussions, both via the forums and the video chat, and the quality of your feedback. Lateness of an assignment will also adversely impact your final grade. Do your work, do it well, and you’ll be fine.

For those of you enrolled as auditors or as non-credit students: your essays will only be workshopped if you generously participate in the forums.

Students with Disabilities

Instructors will make reasonable accommodations for students with physical, mental or learning disabilities. At the University of Iowa, students with disabilities requiring some modification of seating, testing, or other class requirements should visit with Stephanie Elizondo Griest so that appropriate arrangements may be made. Contact Student Disability Services, 3100 Burge Hall (335-1462), to obtain a Student Academic Accommodation Request form (SAAR), which specifies what course accommodations are judged reasonable for a given student.

Academic Fraud

You are expected to be honest and honorable in your fulfillment of assignments. Academic fraud is a serious form of misconduct. A full explanation is given in the Student Academic Handbook:

http://www.clas.uiowa.edu/students/handbook/x/#2.

An instructor who suspects a student of academic fraud must inform the student (in writing) as soon as possible after the incident has been observed or discovered. Instructors who detect cheating or plagiarism may decide, in consultation with the departmental executive officer, to reduce the student's grade on the assignment or the course, even to assign an F. In either case, the instructor will write an account of the chronology of the plagiarism or cheating incident for the departmental chair, who will send an endorsement of the written report of the case to University. A copy of the report will be sent to the student, who has the right to request a hearing within the Department and/or within the College.


Illness Absence Policy

 “University policy requires that students be permitted to make up examinations missed because of illness, mandatory religious obligations, certain University activities, or unavoidable circumstances. All instructors must comply with this policy. The attendance policy should provide options for making up work missed due to an excused absence. Instructors may request that students provide documentation for any absence before the student is allowed to make up missed work.”

NOTE: We reserve the right to request documentation from you if you miss a substantial number of assignments due to illness.

 

Reading & Writing Schedule

 Week One: January 16-22

Read: Bill Roorbach’s “Intro to The Art of Truth” and TBD (about immigration) posted under Week One on the ICON homepage.

View: The “welcome” video and Mariana Esten’s presentation on being a mindful observer.

Contemplate: What group do you most self-identify with (male/female; gay/straight; white/black/Mexican/Asian; Catholic/Jewish/Buddhist/agnostic; vegetarian/locavore; etc)? What are the characteristics important to that group, and who do you discriminate against?

            Write: A 350-word response to the questions above.

 Week Two: January 23-29  

            Read: Devil’s Highway, pp. 1-105

Review: The Character handout located in the Writer’s Toolkit on ICON.

Experience: Talk with someone in your family or close circle of friends about their own immigration story.

Write: Draw up a brief “character profile” of them, using the outline provided in the handout, and then bring them to life on the page, using action, speech, appearance, and thought.  

Week Three: January 30-February 5

            Read: Devil’s Highway, pp. 106-220

            Contemplate: The questions posted under Week Three on ICON.

            Write: A 350-400 word Academic Response.

Week Four: February 6-12

Read: What is the What, pp. 1-232

Review: The Description handout located in the Writer’s Toolkit on ICON.

Experience: Visit an ethnic restaurant or market, preferably one you haven’t been to before.

Write: Describe your experience, using all of your senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

Week Five: February 13-19

Read: What is the What, pp. 233-475

            Contemplate: The questions posted under Week Five on ICON.

            Write: A 350-400 word Academic Response.

Week Six: February 20-26, Workshop One, Part I

Group One posts a workshop essay of 5-6 pages. Both group one and group two write a 1-page response for every essay submitted.

Week Seven: February 27-March 4, Workshop One, Part II

Group Two posts a workshop essay of 5-6 pages. Both group one and group two write a 1-page response for every essay submitted.

 Week Eight: March 5-11, Elluminate Session I

We’ll meet at a time (TBD) via Elluminate and spend approximately 15 minutes discussing each workshop in real-time. We’ll also compare and contrast Devil’s Highway and What is the What. This session will run about two hours in length.

March 12-18: SPRING BREAK, NO CLASS

Week Nine: March 19-25

Read: The Woman Warrior, pp. 1-109

Review: The Setting handout located in the Writer’s Toolkit on ICON.

Experience: Participate in an ethnic festival or visit a place of spiritual significance (such as a mosque, ashram, Quaker Meeting House, yoga studio, or Zen Center) that you have never been to before.

Write: Bring this experience to life on the page, noting everything from the physical setting to the people who fill it. Every sense should be evoked, from sight and sound to smell, taste, and touch.

Week Ten: March 26-April 1

Read: The Woman Warrior, pp. 110-209

            Contemplate: The questions posted under Week Ten on ICON.

            Write: A 350-400 word Academic Response.

Week Eleven: April 2-8

Read: Maximum City, pp. 1-263

Review: The Dialogue handout located in the Writer’s Toolkit on ICON.

Experience: Strike up a conversation with someone you ordinarily wouldn’t.

Write: Recapture the conversation to the best of your ability, using scene and stage directions.

Week Twelve: April 9-15, Workshop One, Part I

Read: Maximum City, pp. 264-542

            Contemplate: The questions posted under Week Twelve on ICON.

            Write: A 350-400 word Academic Response.

Week Thirteen: April 16-22, Workshop One, Part II

Group One posts a workshop essay of 5-6 pages. Both group one and group two write a 1-page response for every essay submitted.

     
Week Fourteen: April 23-28, Elluminate Session II

Group Two posts a workshop essay of 5-6 pages. Both group one and group two write a 1-page response for every essay submitted.

Week Fifteen: April 30-May 6

We’ll meet at a time (TBD) via Elluminate and spend approximately 15 minutes discussing each workshop in real-time. We’ll also compare and contrast The Woman Warrior and Maximum City. This session will run about two hours in length.

Week Sixteen: May 7-13

Review: The Stellar Sentences and Revision handouts located in the Writer’s Toolkit on ICON.

Write: Revise one creative response or workshop essay and submit to instructors via email by Sunday, May 13.

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