JCU Logo


COURSE NAME: "Creative Writing Workshop: Creative Nonfiction "
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Elizabeth Geoghegan
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 6:00-7:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: EN 110 with a grade of C or above

This creative writing workshop is designed to help students develop their writing and editorial skills, as well as the reading habits necessary for the production of works of creative nonfiction. The class will focus upon the creative process and the generation of several different forms within the nonfiction genre including the personal essay, the memoir, travel writing, and the journalistic or magazine profile. Through the examination of superior examples of creative nonfiction, discussions, and critiques, students will become acquainted with the techniques and tools used to build an excellent portfolio of literary and journalistic pieces within the creative nonfiction genre.
Classes will move between traditional lectures, discussions of the assigned readings, and “writing workshops” or peer reviews.  Born of the philosophy that all writing benefits from careful critique and thoughtful revision, the workshops will aid students in the development of critical thinking and editorial skills, helping to foster an aesthetic sensibility about their own writing, the writing of others, and ultimately a more thorough understanding of creative nonfiction.
--Through the examination of superior examples of creative nonfiction, discussions, and critiques, students will become acquainted with the techniques and tools used to build an excellent portfolio of literary and journalistic pieces within the creative nonfiction genre.

--Students will become proficient in taking their writing projects/assignments through several stages -- including drafts and peer-reviews in workshop, before the revision phase. These steps will aid students in the necessary skills of close reading, editing, offering critiques, as well as revising, polishing, and restructuring a given piece of writing.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary NonfictionPhillip LopateFree Press, 2013ISBN-10: 9781451696325 Available at ANGLO AMERICAN BOOKSHOP. Students must bring PRINTED EDITIONS to class. No e-books as substitutes.
Best American Essays 2018Series ed. Robert Atwan, Series ed. Hilton AlsBest American PaperISBN-10: 0544817346 Available at Anglo American bookshop. STUDENTS MUST BRING PRINTED EDITION TO CLASS. NO e-books as substitutes.

Participation & Homework Students participate is of the utmost importance; this means having read the assigned material and being prepared to discuss it in an articulate fashion, even to write about it in class. Homework assignments will vary during the term.15%
Conscientiousness of Peer Reviews During workshop students will offer peer reviews (critiques) of the works produced by their colleagues in class.15%
Conscientiousness of Self-EditingStudents will be required to take their work through various drafts until they produce a polished, professional piece of writing for the portfolio. Self-editing will include a written process analysis for each piece. 20%
AttendanceStudents who are more than 15 minutes late will be counted as absent. Students who use their phones or other devices during class may be counted as absent. See the JCU attendance policy for further information on excused and unexcused absences. 10%
Final Portfolio The final portfolio will include the revisions of all the pieces produced during the semester. Portfolios may also include homework assignments, in-class writing, and other pieces. Detailed Guidelines TBA. 40%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.



You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period is TBA; students should not make plans to be away during exam week. 

Phones and laptops are not allowed in class without special permission; students caught on their phones will be counted as absent. 

Any student who is more than 15 minutes late may be counted absent for the day.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Please note that this is an overview of the class lineup and the units covered. Due dates and assignments are subject to be changed and/or added to. A more detailed breakdown will be provided in class.  Textbook is  TO SHOW AND TO TELL by PHILLIP LOPATE & BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2018, edited by Hilton Als. Additional readings & guidelines will be posted on Moodle.


Reading Assignments & Homework

UNIT ONE: Exploring creative nonfiction, descriptive writing, and the Micro-Essay

Week One

Mon Jan. 21 - Intro to Creative Nonfiction + In-class writing prompt

Buy textbooks (Anglo-American Book store) & a notebook; begin thinking about potential essays you might write. 

Wed Jan. 23

Discussion +

In class writing (“People I Know” etc.) 

Bring handouts to class; Read “The Fox Who Came to Dinner” (Auvinen) & “Untamed” (Sedaris), choose an image, line or scene from each and be prepared to discuss why you chose them and how the two authors handle like material differently. 

*Begin “Lists” in notebook  (continue adding to all term)

Week Two 

Mon Jan. 28
Discussion + In class writing 


Guidelines for Snapshot /micro-essay (in class); Read Into (Lopate) + handouts “Turbulence” (Sedaris) & “Skunk” (Dyer);be prepared to discuss.

Wed Jan. 30


Micro-essay due; Workshop – See Guidelines

Week Three

Mon Feb. 4


Workshop, continued. (Please read the remaining essays and be prepared to offer both written and oral critique to your colleagues.); Read: “Nonfiction Today” (Lopate, p 3)

Wed Feb. 6

UNIT TWO: The Personal Essay & Exploring voice-driven writing, mining the memory + incorporating character & dialogue

Read: “On the Necessity of Turning Oneself into a Character” (Lopate, p. 17)

And “All the Home You’ve Got” (Danticat, BAE)

Week Four

Mon Feb. 11

Read: “The Art at the End of the World” (Julavits, BAE); choose a section or aspect of the essay and be prepared to do a close reading/informal presentation of it in class. 

Wed Feb. 13

Read: “How Do You End an Essay” (Lopate, 64) + “Land of Darkness”  & TBA (BAE)

Fri Feb. 15 makeup class

TBA; make up for April 22

Week Five

Mon Feb. 18


Essays due; see guidelines + bring copies

Wed Feb. 20


Workshop; read and be prepared to offer critique on remaining pieces

Week Six

Mon Feb. 25

Personal Essays that double as Profile pieces; read “Play It Like Your Hair’s on Fire” (Gilbert) & “Lucky Jim” (Gilbert, handouts)

HW: write a list of five potential profile pieces you’d like to do and sketch out an approach for each (pay attention to whether or not interviews / research are necessary) – bring to class

Wed Feb. 27

“No Direction Home” & “My Father’s Cellar” (BAE); be prepared to discuss 

Week Seven

Mon. Mar 4

Personal Essays that double as Profile pieces & Incorporating Dialogue Read: “Love and War” (Steavenson, handout) + 

Wed. Mar 6

Profiles Due

Week Eight

Mar 11 & Mar 13


Week Nine

Mon Mar 18


Profiles due; see guidelines 

Wed Mar 20

Workshop: read & prepare written + oral critiques

Week Ten

Mon Mar 25

Intro to Travel Writing: Writing About Place whether you travel there as a tourist, live there, or have no choice but to spend time there. Read: “Shipping Out” (Wallace, handout) 

Weds Mar 27

List of 10 Due

Write a list of 10 Locations: 5 places you “know” (have visited, lived in, or otherwise passed through) & 5 places you’d like to travel to along with a brief description of the essay you could write about each of the 10. Bring to class. The last five can be “dream destinations” e.g. “I’ve always wanted to drive the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible” or I’ve always wanted to see Angkor Wat”(etc.)

Week Eleven

Mon Apr 1

Reading TBA

Weds Apr 3

Travel Essays Due; see guidelines

Week Twelve

Mon Apr 8


Workshop: read & prepare written + oral critiques 

Weds Apr 10

Memoir & Reflective Essays

Week Thirteen

Mon Apr 15


Weds Apr 17


Final reflective essay due; see guidelines

Week Fourteen

Mon Apr 22 


Weds Apr 24


Week Fifteen
Mon Apr 29 


Portfolios Due

Final Portfolios DUE (Digital; see guidelines)

Weds May 1st 

Final Exam  


No exam for this class; we will meet & read the final memoir pieces or any selection you choose and offer a final critique 

Creative Nonfiction Snapshot 

Objective:  Generating creative nonfiction from the world around you

Page Count/ Word Count:350-500 words

Format:  Double-spaced in a 12-point font, numbered pages, stapled, titled

Bring copies for workshop:  Number TBD

Due Date:  See Schedule 

Revision Due:  Final Portfolio




You will now be writing in the 1stperson exclusively and whatever thoughts you state are your own.

When it comes to nonfiction, you make a pact with your reader that what you write is the truth as you know it, as you see it, as you experienced it. Your prose, however, need not be so focused on the trajectory of plot, though structure will still be important. 

For this assignment I would like you to spend time in a new part of Rome. Choose a site or location to visit such as Castel Sant Angelo, MAXXI museum, the Palazzo Barberini or any one of the areas of Rome you have not yet experienced. Go alone to one of these places, wander, sit and write (inside or out). From this experience try to generate a descriptive, nonfiction snapshot or a series of short descriptive passages describing the location. Write in your sketchbook in journal form, using the first person point of view. Be descriptive. Allow yourself to free associate and riff without editing the words too carefully.

Example:Try to recreate the experience of your outing if possible. Say you decide to visit Villa Borghese, but you take the wrong bus. As you sit on the bus and have the experience, perhaps you recall other times you were lost, in other cities. Or perhaps you jump off the bus and this opens the door to a different essay or even an essay about how you tried to find Villa Borghese, but failed.  

Note:  In the end, your nonfiction snapshot can contain anything you want it to. The key thing to keep in mind with nonfiction is that you are telling the truth as you see it. Regardless of whether your “journey” ends up being the actual snapshot is less important, than the quality of prose, but I still want you to take the prompt seriously and document it in your notebook. Then, if you end up writing about your love of espresso, or Piazza Trilussa, so be it, but the experience will inform the rest of your nonfiction and become a component of your sketchbook. 




Due Date: March 5th

Revision Due: Portfolio

Format:MLA, Titled, typed, stapled, DS, 12-point font, numbered pages, name in header

Page/Word Count: 5-7 pages (1800-2000 words)

Copies for Workshop:6

Objective: To profile another person either someone close to you or formerly unknown to you, whom you interview. If you choose to do the second, see below for more tips.

Assignment:  Choose someone that you would like to profile and write a 5-7 page portrait of that person. Your essay must include quotes within the body of the article. The amount of research will depend upon your chosen subject. 


·Voice—Analyze how important your role is to the profile? How present do you (as author) want to be within the context of the narrative? Look to the profiles that we have reviewed in class as examples of how different authors include themselves within their profiles. Some are journalistic style interviews – and you are welcome to do that, if you like. Others are personal memoirs that double as a profile of a person close to the author.

·Structure—How do you want to structure the profile? Consider how best to introduce the subject. Do you want to begin in the present moment – who / what / where, etc. -- and then move into background info? Or would it be better to begin with the backstory before presenting the subject. 

For example, “Play It Like Your Hair’s On Fire” uses description and background information for several paragraphs before it introduces Tom Waits, himself.  Other authors use different techniques. Take a look at the various profiles and assess what works best and why.

·Style & Tone—What is the best tone to use?Serious? Playful? Irreverent? Humble? Consider the way that tone will impact the reader’s view of the subject and what you hope to achieve by writing with the tone. Should the writing style be simple and pared down or more ornate and elaborate? Both your subject and the structure will help determine the style to a degree, but ultimately it is best to be true to your own writing style and use language that your are comfortable with.

·Research before the Interview or Writing Profile—How much research is necessary? How will you be able to do the research? Where will you locate your sources? Consider what is truly feasible given time constraints and so forth. Even if you are profiling a person you’ve known your whole life, you may need to do research: for example, say you want to write about a grandparent who survived a particular war or hardship; you might want to do research (both by asking others and looking up facts connected to those events). 

·Research after the Interview or While Writing —Certain issues may come to light during your interview that will later require fact-checking and additional research. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to do the necessary research to make your article shine. You may also want to do follow interviews or questions. Your profile may be personal, but while writing it you may realize that you haven’t got all the information you need to do the subject justice.

·Interview Questions for the Subject/Interviewee—If you do interviews, try to structure your queries in such a way that the subject will respond at length rather than with a “yes” or “no” answer. Ask questions that require descriptive, thoughtful responses.

·Interview Questions for people connected to the subject—Who else might be able to bring the profile to life? Consider the people who might have access to intimate, historical, or relevant details about the subject and who would be willing to share those ideas with you.

·Recording Device (necessary?)—To assure that you quote accurately it is best to record any interview that you do. If you cannot record you will need to take copious notes. In the case of writing a journalistic profile for a particular publication, you will need to read back  the selected quotes to your subject for accuracy. 

NOTE:  As discussed in class, if the person is no longer living, then you may need to interview people who knew him or her. 

Guidelines: Travel Memoir

Due Date

Revision Due: Portfolio

Page Count/Word Count: 5-7 pages (approx. 1800-2000 words) 

FORMAT:  1stperson POV, MLA titled, typed, 12 point, DS, numbered pages, stapled

Topic:  Open (See below)

Copies for Workshop:  6 

CONSIDERATIONS: Although the subject matter is open, the essay must recount a different or new “location.” Please do not write about a location you’ve already covered (in detail) in some other essay. Decide what you want to focus upon and what the slant is – for example travel memoir can encompass food and “actual” travel, such as destination travel, but it may also simply be an essay rooted in “place.” You can write about a location you visited once, a place you have returned to over and over again, or even a somewhere you have lived, so long as the location is, in and of itself, germane to the story you wish to tell. Remember, too, that you do not need to love a place to write about it. Sometimes when travel goes wrong interesting stories occur. 

Feel free to incorporate quotes, research, or any information that is pertinent to your piece. Research is encouraged, particularly to underscore the “authenticity” of the piece, and/or of your assertions about the place, however it is not required. Keep in mind that this is not an academic essay, but a personal essay that should be steeped in your own experience and reflections. As with all the other writing we have been doing, setting can become a character. Details are of the utmost importance. Description and descriptive language are what will make the writing sing. 

Do not feel obliged to solve the problems of the world in one essay. Narrow your focus rather than broaden it. Consider various options for how you might structure the piece (In sections? In time frames? In letter form? In diary form? etc. – even if it needs a beginning, middle and end there are still unorthodox ways of approaching that). The voice you choose (along with the tone, the sentence structure, the cadence) will impact the work greatly. Remember that even in travel you can portray characters and use dialogue to move the “story” forward.

Keep in mind that this is NOT a “How-To” for visiting a particular destination, nor is it a guidebook entry. Look to the essays we have read thus far for inspiration. Peruse the Travel Section of a favorite newspaper or the travel issue of a favorite magazine. Travel writing runs the gamut. 


Due Date:April 23rd(electronic copy in Final Portfolio)

Format:MLA, DS, 12-point, Numered pages, titled, stapled, etc. 
Word Count/Page Count:7-8 pages (approx.. 7500 words)

Copies: 6

Considerations: Your final essays can be about any subject you choose. You have written a variety of personal essays of varied lengths, including travel and profile writing. For the final essay, you can return to any of these genres or move beyond them to write about a personal essay or memoir about any subject that interests you. Strive to incorporate description, dialogue, and to showcase the skills you’ve garnered in the workshops – employing a coherent structure and a consistent voice.  There is no limit to the number of subjects or styles you might choose – 


OBJECTIVE:To Submit a semester’s worth of polished creative nonfiction


Electronic submission NOTE:Submit by due date via JCU Email: [email protected]

 If the file is too large, submit as attachment or Google Doc or to Dropbox to the following mail: [email protected]


A) Typed, Double-Spaced, Times New Roman or other legible font.

B) Please include a title page (cover sheet) & Table of Contents

C) Title each piece and keep each piece separate from one another.

D) At the end of each piece, drop down and include a ‘process analysis’ (labled). This is a brief description of your approach to each piece & revision. You may single space the process analysis.

E) NOTE: Save in WORD format (NO PDF’s) & put your surname in file name e.g.   “CW352_Portfolio_name.doc.”


Please note that the portfolio guideline is subject to change depending on production levels, changes, etc. 

            1 Micro-Essay (approx. 500 words)  + process analysis

            2 Essay 1 (5-7 pages or 1800-2000 words) + process analysis

            3 Profile + process analysis

            4 Travel Essay + process analysis

            5 Final Memoir + for the final piece, please also include

            6 Homework & Free-writes (comprehensive list TBA)

            6 (Optional) Any extra nonfiction you’d like to include – up to 12 pages