Shopping list as essay. Death certificate as personal narrative. Map as manifesto. Where once writers of nonfiction were expected to adhere firmly to traditional presentation of their material and avoid overly creative manipulation of form, contemporary writers increasingly challenge these rigid notions, insisting that the thoughtful exploration of a subject can be enhanced by a complementary form to add additional layers of meaning. Today’s prose might therefore borrow the formats of poetry or drama in order to most effectively make its point. It might masquerade as a dialogue, resumé, instruction manual, itinerary, or any of a myriad of traditionally non-literary forms. It might even use forms like comics to present literary content. In this workshop, we will discuss many of the fun and interesting ways that contemporary writers are pushing the boundaries by using unconventional forms in their work. We will read contemporary essays that demonstrate the appropriation of other forms and look closely at how the writers’ deliberate formal choices inform their subject matter. Then we will dive in and experiment with form in our own work, discussing the effectiveness and potential pitfalls of our chosen forms in workshop. Expect to break all of your own rules, hit upon brilliant ideas, and have a lot of fun taking your writing into new territories. This is a generative course, so bring only your open mind!
Mieke Eerkens is a Dutch-American writer who grew up between Los Angeles and The Netherlands. She earned an M.A. in English from the University of Leiden in The Netherlands, and an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing from The University of Iowa. She currently teaches creative writing for UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in various outlets, including The Atlantic, The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review of Books, Pen America, PANK, Guernica, and Creative Nonfiction, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her work has also been anthologized in Best Travel Writing 2011; Norton’s Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts, edited by David Shields; and A Book of Uncommon Prayer. Her essay “Seep,” about the Cosco Busan oil spill, was a winner of the Walton Sustainability Solutions Essay Award in collaboration with Creative Nonfiction magazine, and was selected as a “Notable Essay” in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2015. She has served as editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Transfer and as a reader for literary journals and prizes. She is currently working on a book about her parents’ respective experiences in WWII and the inheritance of war trauma. Her book, All Ships Follow Me: A Family's Inheritance of War, is forthcoming from Picador.