2 years ago
ryantadman
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David Foster Wallace’s Creative Nonfiction Syllabus
As you could tell from my previous posts about this man, I am a huge David Foster Wallace fan. I wanted to share this inspiring syllabus (yes, I just called a college course syllabus inspiring) especially with the folks in the creative writing community. Here are excerpts from his syllabus for Pomona College's English 183D for Spring 2008. First let's understand what creative nonfiction is. Nonfiction writing ought to be about fact, but how can that also be creative? "The creative goal, broadly stated, may be to interest readers, or to instruct them, or to entertain them, to move or persuade, to edify, to redeem, to amuse, to get readers to look more closely at or think more deeply about something that’s worth their attention. . . or some combination(s) of these." DFW goes on to explain that this creative element to writing doesn't mean that it cannot be taken seriously: "This does not, however, mean that an essayist’s main goal is simply to “share” or “express herself” or whatever feel-good term you might have got taught in high school. In the grown-up world, creative nonfiction is not expressive writing but rather communicative writing. And an axiom of communicative writing is that the reader does not automatically care about you (the writer), nor does she find you fascinating as a person, nor does she feel a deep natural interest in the same things that interest you. The reader, in fact, will feel about you, your subject, and your essay only what your written words themselves induce her to feel." Not many people think about nonfiction writing as a genre that will move you emotionally, but DFW insists it is meant to do exactly that. That being said, as a writer, how and what do you make people feel with your words? I hope that going forward you can all improve your craft and harness the energy of your words.
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Thank you so much for sharing this, @ryantadman! As a professor myself, I hope college syllabi can be inspiring! I would describe it as the narrative of that term's journey together. It also tells me so much about DFW as a person and a professional. I also really appreciate your thoughts on nonfiction writing and its relationship to affect. Journalistic feature writing and non-fiction radio writing for podcasts are great examples of this as well. It's all about creating emotional interludes for the audience by arranging your set of existing facts artfully - and that is a big challenge!
I think that Creative Non-Fiction is really the future of communicative writing: it's what your high school teacher was trying to get your to write in your college essay, and it's what people are looking for when they read a dry piece of non-fiction. Creative non-fiction , for me, is the go to form, and it's difficult to accomplish well! These tips from DFW are fantastic. I hope to continue to learn from this.
Interesting stuff: to be honest, I find it hard to get through DFW's stuff now, but I think this is a great formula for introducing creative nonfiction writing .