UNSHAPING THE ESSAY:
Experimental Forms in Creative Nonfiction
Taught by Cleaver Editor Sydney Tammarine
for intermediate and advanced nonfiction writers
Memoirist Patricia Hampl said, “Memoir isn’t for reminiscence; it’s for exploration.” Just as nonfiction writers explore new terrains—both internal and external—in their writing, they also explore the landscape of language:
What is the best way to tell your story? How can we write what we can’t speak about directly? How can form help us to convey complex ideas and experiences? And how do we know when a form is working for us, rather than limiting us?
To answer that last question, I’ll borrow a few words from Brandon Schrand: “I recall some advice that rightfully suggested that if you have finished reading something experimental and if by the end, you can’t imagine it written in any other way, then the piece was successful.”
In this class, we will explore the boundaries—and boundlessness—of creative nonfiction, diving deeply into questions of memory and language while trying our hands at forms such as the lyric essay (where poetry and prose intersect), found forms (like the “hermit crab essay”), and experimental structures (including the braided and fragmented essay).
We will have weekly readings, writing prompts, synchronous discussions (through Zoom: 11am – 12pm EST on Sundays 7/18, 7/25, 8/1, and 8/8), and asynchronous peer workshops (through Canvas). Students will also revise one essay for instructor feedback. We welcome both new and experienced writers looking for motivation, structure, and enthusiastic feedback on their work.
Sydney Tammarine’s work has appeared in Ploughshares, LIT, Pithead Chapel, The Missing Slate, and other journals. She is the co-translator of a book of poems, The Most Beautiful Cemetery in Chile. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Hollins University and teaches writing at Virginia Military Institute. She has led workshops at The Ohio State University, Hollins University, Otterbein University, and at high schools, including as Writer-in-Residence at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School. She serves as flash and creative nonfiction editor for Cleaver.