I’m a writer and teacher, and I’m always looking for ways to shake up the traditional workshop. In 2016, I was inspired by a poet who mentioned that in their workshop, they read the poem on the spot and then discussed it together. This was a revolutionary idea to me, and I felt the sky open up with possibilities. I decided to design an undergrad course around a semester-long creative nonfiction conceit that would become a chapbook. We’d read the pieces on the spot, and respond either to the writer’s questions or with what stood out as most compelling and powerful.
In the class, we studied chapbooks as objects, thinking about design elements—paper choices, fonts, color, image+text pieces, etc. We also read some of my favorite reading assignments that inspire students and keep us all writing. These included books like Nicole Walker’s Micrograms, Sarah Minor’s The Persistence of the Bonyleg, Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and Citizen, Theresa Hak Kyoung-Cha’s Dictée, Renee Gladman’s Calamities, Lydia Davis’ The Cows, T. Fleischman’s Syzygy, Beauty: An Essay, Dustin Parsons’ Exploded View: Essays on Fatherhood, with Diagrams, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and Jane, A Murder, and Beth Ann Fennelly’s Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs. We also looked at some great online flash pieces like Dina Relles’ “There Are Distances Between Us” by Roxane Gay, “I hoisted them, two drug dealers, I guess that’s what they were,” by Diane Seuss, and “Snowbound” by Natalie Lima.
The class was a success and I’m so proud of the work my students produced. Krys Malcolm Belc was part of that first graduate class and wrote a chapbook in the class that went on to win the Cupboard’s contest. She began teaching a similar class this year in a six-week community workshop for Catapult. I’m so excited to see the work that comes out of her class and all the other classes that have been inspired by this revolutionary way of teaching creative nonfiction.