Spring 2023 - The Art of Storytelling

LS 770-45
Spring 2023
Wednesdays 6-9 PM
GLS House, 2114 Campus Drive

INSTRUCTOR: Michelle Dove


The words—incredibly—are all we have, but a good story wilts without structure. Arriving at the knowledge that content dictates structure, this course will allow you to explore structural possibilities for your nonfiction, fiction or hybrid-genre writing.

One creative nonfiction form that increasingly renews itself and its staying power is the lyric essay, a moldable structure that draws from poetry, essay and memoir to distill a way of thinking onto the page. At peak form, lyric essays invite readers to engage in more nuanced and subtle arguments than traditional essays might, without sacrificing the freshness and musicality paramount to poetry. Under the lyrical spell, the reader turns activated thinker and participant in a context that you, as the writer, along with your content, establish. What the writer of the lyric essay leaves out is of equal concern to what the writer includes.

With lyric essays, essays on craft and short stories as our primary texts, this workshop and discussion-based course will examine the choices we make as writers at the sentence and structural-levels, with the goal of illuminating what makes a personal narrative or story satisfying or complete. Students in this course will read, write and workshop their own nonfiction, fiction or hybrid-genre work, investigating the dynamic among the story, the world outside the story, the reader and the author. Our analysis will focus on the recursion of language and structure to bring about what Gordon Lish calls the “swerve”—i.e. the inevitable yet surprising conclusion—for every work we encounter. Using David Foster Wallace’s lens to probe creative nonfiction, we will further investigate our motivations for writing personal narratives “other than sheer truthfulness,” allowing for simultaneous creative goals of informing, instructing, entertaining, persuading, edifying, amusing and intriguing our readers. Readings will include work by authors such as Claudia Rankine, Eileen Myles, Anne Boyer, Michelle Chan Brown, Mary Ruefle, Amy Hempel, Susan Steinberg, Lynne Tillman, Lyn Hejinian, Roxane Gay, Dorothy Allison, Annie Dillard, Joan Didion and Nathalie Leger.

MICHELLE DOVE is a multi-genre writer and musician. Since joining the staff of the Duke English Department in 2016, she has taught fiction, nonfiction and poetry writing at Duke and, more recently, at Night School Bar in Durham. She is the author of Radio Cacophony, a linked collection of short prose, and a co-owner and operator of SPINSTER, a radical feminist record label founded in 2018 that has released albums featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, and Rolling Stone. Since 2016, she has also served as an Associate Series Editor for the Wigleaf Top 50.