Suspend Your Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘Teaching Writing’

Essays |

Stealing From The Past: A Research Assignment in Realist Fiction

In the newest contribution to our Teaching Writing Series, Laura Valeri describes the rewards of teaching her students to utilize primary research such as oral histories, court transcripts, and testimonies as avenues for inspiring their own fiction, as well as how working with these resources can prompt productive classroom discussions on “ownership, truth in fiction, and about the ethical nuances of writing another person’s story.”


Essays |

Gargoyles in the Classroom: Some Reflections on Popular Fiction in the Undergraduate Creative Writing Workshop

Back in the 90’s, I was teaching a multi-genre creative writing class at Cape Fear Community College, a name I am not making up. There were almost thirty students, with a wide variety of backgrounds, interests, and abilities. At the time, inexperienced, I was still letting folks workshop whatever they wanted, without any restraints on content or pre-screening by me. I was more giddy cheerleader than true teacher, with vague hopes of leaping onto my desk, Robin-Williams like, and inspiring bemusement and admiration from my young students. All this led to some unusual situations, like the young man who plagiarized […]


Shop Talk |

How to Hatch a Novel

Most writing classes revolve around the workshop—but the workshop format, in which participants usually read 25-30 pages of a student’s work and then critique it as a group, is ill-suited to the novel form, where 30 pages may not even be a full chapter. Is there a better way to give feedback on a novel-in-progress? Grub Street, Boston’s independent writing center, aims to find out with an experimental new course dubbed the “Novel Incubator.” (Disclaimer: I have taught for Grub Street, but have not been involved in the novel course.) Billing itself as a “year-long MFA-level course, team-taught by two […]


Shop Talk |

Bookish Gift Idea #12: The Storymatic

Here’s a great gift for a young writer, a game buff, or a teacher. The Storymatic provides 500 cards suggesting characters, images, and events to lead players into a story: First, draw two gold cards. Combine the information on the two cards to create your main character. For example, if you draw “surgeon” and “amateur boxer,” your character is a surgeon who is also a boxer. Next, draw one or two copper cards. Let the information on the cards lead you into a story. Wild cards are interspersed throughout, and they prompt you to go in directions you might not […]


Shop Talk |

Under the Influence… of Janet Peery

For me, the beauty of Janet (besides her flowing hair and karaoke skills, obviously) is that she forces students to name things, to make the abstract concrete. She won’t tolerate imprecise language, lazy writing, limp sentences.  I think her “Janet-isms” are in keeping with that. A lot of her funny sayings, some of them her own creations and others drawn from a lifetime of reading and study, concisely label common student writing flaws. Another former writing instructor once wrote in the margin of one of my stories, “I’m bored.” Fair enough. But, for me, that criticism was never helpful. After […]


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Why Teach Book Reviewing? or, How Penn State Graduate Students Become Responsible Literary Citizens: a guest post by Robin Becker

Editor’s note: As part of our focus on teaching this month, we’re delighted to present this guest post by Robin Becker. “To stimulate, to argue, to celebrate, to explain, to describe, to amuse, to popularize new ideas, to keep the conversation going—these are part of the job and a large part of the ideal to which any good book reviewer will always aspire.” –John Gross, New York Times Book Review Editor; editor of the special 100-year anniversary issue of the NY Times Book Review I designed the graduate seminar The Writer as Critic: Reviewing Contemporary Poetry, Fiction & Non-Fiction (English […]




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