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."

Critical Thinking - What is It?

My first resume listed skills such as 'organized,' 'detail-oriented,' and 'assertive,' but these seem to words of the past. According to an article in the WSJ this week, it is 'critical thinking' that has become the new buzzword in business. The problem is, no one can really tell you what that is. My personal definition of critical thinking is the ability to draw from different sources, opinions, and examples to form a solution to a problem or to improve a system. This can of course be tweaked and applied to smaller examples, but all together it is critically analysing information and applying it. This definition, however, is not exactly what businesses such as Goldman Sachs might think: “It’s one of those words—like diversity was, like big data is—where everyone talks about it but there are 50 different ways to define it,” says Dan Black, Americas director of recruiting at the accounting firm and consultancy EY. So with this confusion, how are recent graduates supposed to know if they are fit for the job, and how do employers know what they are looking for in a candidate? There have been plenty of studies about the difference in how many students think they are critical thinkers, and how many employers disagree (According to WSJ: A Harris Interactive survey of 2,001 U.S. college students and 1,000 hiring managers last fall found that 69% of students felt they were “very or completely prepared” for problem-solving tasks in the workplace, while fewer than half of the employers agreed.) So what can you do to please this confused crowd of hiring managers? Be a problem solver first and foremost. Not all employers are looking for someone who will come in a rock the boat. Find a way to show that you will solve problems, improve the system, and work hard without reinventing the business model. Be assertive, questioning, and open to learn new things. But never stop analysing your tasks, what your boss tells you, what your business is actually aiming for. Continue to think critically, and maybe then your employer will see in you what they wanted all along.