Take Your Place in the Murray State Tradition
Sample Genre Seminars

Skip Navigation LinksAcademics > Colleges/Schools and Departments > College of Humanities and Fine Arts > English and Philosophy > Graduate Programs > MFA in Creative Writing > Residency, Program Resources > Sample Genre Seminars

Sample Genre Seminars

Genre seminars allow students to become familiar with the conventions of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and to explore the range of responses established writers have had to these conventions. Seminars in all genres are offered every residency. Students are required to attend the three seminars in their elected genre and are welcome to attend seminars in other genres.

July 2012


Fiction – Laura Dawkins (FH 105)

The Short Fiction of Flannery O’Connor

This seminar will focus on the short fiction of Flannery O'Connor, assessing her place in Southern literature and her important role in the development of the American short story.

Required Reading: The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 


Nonfiction – Jeff Osborne (FH 106)

Experience and Reflection

This seminar, featuring the work of Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, and Primo Levi, will focus on experience and reflection in first-person creative nonfiction. The seminar will ask the following, among other, questions: How is meaning generated and impression conveyed through descriptive language that brings to life experience? How is meaning conveyed through more expository or reflective language? How does descriptive language and reflective language work together? Finally, if it is the task of creative nonfiction (as it is the task of other creative genres) to generate reflection on the part of the reader, how is a writer to accomplish this?

Required Reading: Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi, Touchstone Press Joan Didion’s “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” and David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”


Poetry – Carrie Jerrell (FH 206)

Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell is an inarguably crucial figure in 20th century poetry, best known by most readers for his role in the development of Confessionalism, his struggles with manic depression, and his tumultuous personal life. Poems such as “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket” and “Skunk Hour,” along with his collection Life Studies, are heavily anthologized and appear on nearly every recommended reading list. Though our discussions will not exclude these elements of Lowell’s life and work, this seminar will focus more intensely on aspects of Lowell’s poetry that are more often, and unfortunately, overlooked: his interest in translation, his poetry of political witness, his return to form and experimentation with the sonnet in the 1970s, his obsessive revision of his own poems, and his work as a critic.

Required Reading: Robert Lowell: Collected Poems, edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter (FSG, 2003). Specific readings and any supplementary materials will be emailed to students.


January 2012

Poetry – Kelley Wezner
Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros

This seminar will focus on Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros, with particular attention to his versatile use of language and structure, and inventive reinterpretation of Homeric allusions and techniques.


Creative Nonfiction – Paul Walker
Nature Writing in Canyon Country

We will read selections from Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, Wallace Stegner's The Sound of Mountain Water, and Terry Tempest Williams' Red. Each of these authors takes a different approach in describing, praising, and disturbing the remote, Redrock canyons of the Colorado Plateau, sharing an honest realism about their wild "home" rather than a far-off idealism of wilderness. We will discuss their approaches in terms of general conventions of nature writing as well as the humor, politics, and eroticism found in their work.

Fiction – Tim Johns
J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and Short Fiction from South Africa

This seminar focuses on J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, a variety of South African short stories, and the legacy of apartheid in South Africa. While apartheid—a form of white minority rule that ended in South Africa in 1994—inspired a fair share of committed, didactic political writing, it also fostered a brilliant tradition in prose fiction. Indeed, two Nobel Prize winners in literature have so far emerged from this tradition: J. M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. In our seminar, we will examine how the elevated craft of Coetzee’s novel, as well as rich stories by Gordimer and others, function within the constraints of apartheid’s harrowing legacy.


July 2011


Poetry – Peter Murphy
Williams Carlos Williams

This seminar will focus on Williams’ shorter poems from his Selected Poems (New Directions), and examine them through the lens of two of his essays on poetics: “A New Measure” and “The Poem as Field of Action.” In addition, we will read and discuss Book One of Paterson.


Creative Nonfiction – Mike Morgan
Norman Mailer’s The Fight

We will be reading a seminal work in creative non-fiction, Norman Mailer’s The Fight. We’ll focus on several aspects of the book, including Mailer’s insertion of himself into the work as a narrator and "character." In addition, we’ll examine thematic aspects of the book, the subject of which is the Mohammed Ali versus George Foreman boxing match which took place in 1974 in what was then called Zaire, in Africa. Students who aren’t sports fans should not despair, as the work has significant historical relevance, and very palatable prose from Mailer.


Fiction – Josh Adair
Constructions of the House in English Fiction

This genre seminar will explore the concept of the English house, be it a great one or a cottage, as a metonym for society at large. Strategically exploring depictions of the house in each third of the twentieth century, we will carefully investigate issues of socioeconomic status, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and imperialism. Queer and space theory will serve as the critical foundations to examine E. M. Forster’s classic Howards End, Beverley Nichols’ little-known mid-century Merry Hall, and Sarah Waters’ supernatural contemporary The Little Stranger.


Decorative image
Site Directory