Russia: NonFiction Writing 2020

In a world with seemingly infinite amount of information at our fingertips, how do we distinguish what is real, and what is trustworthy from that which is merely arresting? How do we approach the challenges of research, bias, and, for that matter, the fallibility of memory? What about biographies, history books, propaganda? What counts as nonfiction, and what rules does one follow writing it?

Twenty-three Russian college students grappled with these questions during this class, IWP’s first virtual Russian Nonfiction Writing course. Supported by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the course, which ran from October to December 2020, was designed to increase students’ familiarity with the craft and protocols of non-fiction in a time when journalism and other forms of non-fiction are in danger of being misused, falsified, or censored. It was taught by two expert practitioners: journalist and novelist Alisa Ganieva (Moscow; IWP Between the Lines Instructor, Fall Resident ’12 & ’18) and journalist Jen Percy (New York City; MFA degrees from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, faculty in the Creative Writing MFA Program, Columbia University). Every week they focused on a new subgenre: biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs; experimental forms of nonfiction; travelogues and immersion journalism; published dissent in a range of forms, from humor and satire to essays; and gonzo journalism. Students completed weekly writing assignments; their strongest pieces appear in a digital anthology you can find here:

Alisa GANIEVA (Алиса Ганиева) is a Russian novelist, essayist, and media journalist; she grew up in Dagestan, the setting of most of her fiction. In 2009, her Salaam, Dalgat! won Russia’s prestigious national Debut Prize; it was followed by The Mountain and the Wall (English translation 2015) and The Bride and Bridegroom (shortlisted for the 2015 Russian Booker; published in the US in 2018); the English translation of her most recent novel, Offended Sensibilities, is forthcoming in 2022. She is also literary critic for Nezavisimaya Gazeta. A repeat participant in various IWP residencies and events, she was a juror for the 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Her work has been translated into many languages and praised globally.

Jennifer PERCY, the author of Demon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism (2014), is a widely published journalist and magazine writer. Her work has appeared in the Oxford American, Harper’s, The New Republic and the New York Times Magazine, among many other places; her honors include a NEA grant, a Pushcart, the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing and, in 2020, the Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Trauma. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she teaches writing at Columbia University.

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