• Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn

ENG 7800 - Seminar in Creative Writing 

The Essay Collection as Theme-and-Variation 

Donovan Hohn

Tuesday, 6:00 - 8:45 p.m., 115 State Hall


Part graduate writing workshop in creative nonfiction, part literary seminar, this course will consider The Essay Collection as a literary form comparable to a collection of poems or short stories. Although the essays they collect are self-contained enough to be published separately, and although those essays may differ greatly from one another, the books we will be reading are not miscellanies but artful arrangements in which the essays play variations on some unifying preoccupation, field of study, subject, or theme-empathy, say, or entropy, or entomology, to name three examples from books that may appear on our reading list. 

The books on that list tend to include documentary essays and personal essays both. A few include critical essays. Many hybridize these strains of creative nonfiction, combining the personal and the documentary and the critical. Some are highly narrative; some more lyrical, meditative, or polemical. All are written for a general rather than specialized audience, as will be all of the writing we do in the course. Candidates for the reading list also have this in common: most of the essays they collect could have been written by a graduate student of limited means, practically and financially speaking; in fact, a number of them were written by graduate students. 

Possible titles include Elif Batuman’s The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, Richard Rodriguez’s Brown: The Last Discovery of America, Jeff Sharlet’s Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In Between, Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Joseph Mitchell’s The Bottom of the Harbor, Morgan Meis’s Ruins, Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind, James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, Elena Passarello’s Let Me Clear My Throat, Hugh Raffles’s Insectopedia, Ander Monson’s Neck Deep and Other Predicaments, Benjamin Busch’s Dust to Dust, Bernard Cooper’s Maps to Anywhere, Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: AGardener’s Education, MFK Fisher’s Consider the Oyster, Peter Trachtenberg’s The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning, Eula Biss’s Notes From No Man’s Land: American Essays, John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead, John Berger’s About Looking, Lia Purpura’s On Looking, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, Maria Bustillos’s Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork, Charles D’Ambrosio’s Orphans, Stephen Church’s Ultrasonic, and Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem, among others. 

Although we will write short critical responses to such books, mainly we will be seeking in them models and inspirations for our own creative nonfiction. At the beginning of the semester, students will identify subjects or ideas or fields of knowledge that fascinate them, haunt them, or preoccupy them, or that they have an itch to explore. These preoccupations may or may not be drawn from their respective fields of graduate study. Over the course of the semester they will map out a table of contents for a collection of essays that play variations on their chosen theme, and they will write and workshop a few of those variations before the semester ends. 


Creative Writing
Room 9305.1 5057 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, MI 48202
Phone: (313) 577-2450
Fax: (313) 577-8618
Website: clasweb.clas.wayne.edu/creativewriting
Email: donovan.hohn@wayne.edu