Documentary Storytelling in Prose

*Enrollment for this class opens December 6, 2016. SOLD OUT. Please register then at this link.

Class meetings: Six consecutive Wednesdays, 6-8pm, from March 22 to April 26, 2017, in the University of Arizona Poetry Center Conference Room 207. 

While most people think of film when they hear documentary, writers have long been documentarians of their time. They draw not only from their own experiences but also from the culture, people, and places that concern and interest them in order to investigate, curate, and create meaning. In this six-week nonfiction writing course, we will think about and practice what it means to document. We will read journalistic pieces, essays, prose poetry, and hybrids of these by authors committed to documenting, analyzing, and reflecting on the times they live in—authors like Joan Didion, James Baldwin, Lauren Redniss, Maggie Nelson, Sarah Stillman, Claudia Rankine, and others. 

All nonfiction writing is rooted in the self because the “I”—or eye—decides the angles explored, the questions asked, the lenses used, the information included or discarded, the subject matter and voices included. Our backgrounds, identities, and areas of interest and expertise determine what and how we write. Rather than strive for neutrality—which is itself a construct rooted in who has power, authority, airtime in a culture—we will acknowledge and address the subjective in documentary writing, engaging the more challenging work of situating the self.  We will become documentarians: practicing research and reporting methods and embarking on “gonzo” missions, and experiments of documentation in different forms, to generate writing. We will explore the ways in which research, interviews, and external source material can enliven our work by adding context. Students will generate writing and workshop one piece generated during the course.