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CNF 59 W — The Truth Behind the Truth: Enlarging the Personal Essay

Quarter: Spring
Course Format: Online course (System Requirements)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Apr 3—Jun 9
Drop Deadline: Apr 11
Units: 3
Tuition: $850
Instructor(s): Suzanne Rivecca
Limit: 17
Apr 3—Jun 9
10 weeks
Drop By
Apr 11
3 Units
Suzanne Rivecca
Essayist Phillip Lopate says that the key to good autobiographical writing is “to expand the self by bringing one’s curiosity to interface with more and more history and the present world.” In memoir, there are two levels of truth: the literal truth of what actually happened, and the figurative, subjective truth of what it meant. We aren’t defined by what happened to us, by what we saw or felt or witnessed or experienced. What does define us, however, is our interpretation of these things. Our insight into what our personal stories mean, and how they connect to something larger and more meaningful than the events themselves, is much more revealing than any mere confession. In this course, we’ll explore how to use our personal stories—the ones we need to tell—as keyholes through which to see and interpret the world around us: to uncover the truth behind the truth. We’ll do close readings of essays by Primo Levi, Barbara Kingsolver, Leslie Jamison, and John Jeremiah Sullivan, and we will talk to published memoirists who will share secrets and insights about their work in this genre. Students will hone their skills and explore their ideas through weekly writing exercises, and each will submit a fifteen- to twenty-page memoir or memoir excerpt to be workshopped by the class and instructor.

Although the time commitment for an online writing course is dependent upon one’s degree of participation, students should plan on investing four to six hours per week in order to gain substantial benefit from the course.

Suzanne Rivecca, Former Stegner Fellow, Stanford

Suzanne Rivecca is the author of Death Is Not an Option, which received a Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, The Story Prize, and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Rivecca has received two Pushcart Prizes, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and inclusion in Best New American Voices. Her essays have appeared in The Rumpus, The Huffington Post, Library Journal, Brevity, and Salon.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Phillip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology From the Classical Era to the Present (ISBN 978-0385422987)