AU’s newest English class is ENGL 384: Writing Creative Non-fiction. The AU calendar explains that this course ?is a senior-level course that offers students the opportunity to write creative non-fiction and receive feedback on their writing.? Creative non-fiction is ?also called literary non-fiction or literary journalism,? and is a type of writing that applies ?the principles of storytelling usually associated with fiction? to works of non-fiction. Through ENGL 384, ?students will learn these principles of storytelling as they produce their own work.?
Rachel Thompson is an AU student currently enrolled in ENGL 384, and she loves creative writing. ?As a teenager,? she says, ?I would write story after story using my friends as characters, and distribute them to everyone to read.? Lately, however, she has not had free time to devote to creative writing. When she saw that AU was offering a course in creative non-fiction, it caught Thompson’s attention as ?a great way to get back into? doing what she once loved.
And ?so far, so good!? Thompson appreciates that ?the assignments are varied,? as well as that her tutor ?is great and offers excellent feedback? on her writing.
Thompson’s tutor for ENGL 384 is Vivian Zenari, who also authored the course. Zenari explains that in some ways the idea of creative non-fiction repackages other writing genres, especially investigative journalism and the personal essay. Nonetheless, the term ?creative non-fiction? contains the notion that writing techniques used in fiction can fruitfully be applied to non-fiction. In this way, creative non-fiction acknowledges the narrative impulses behind fiction and certain types of non-fiction. Unlike journalism, creative non-fiction does not veer away from the figure of the author as an organizing principle behind its content?much creative non-fiction contains autobiographical aspects, whether overt or subtle. Creative non-fiction therefore appeals to writers and readers who wish to emphasize the human presence in non-fiction.
And human presence is also a key feature of ENGL 384, in the form of both tutor feedback and peer editing.
?The course stands and falls on the interaction between the tutors and the students,? Zenari says. ?That situation, to my mind, is a strength, since writing instruction requires an intense feedback process that other distance education courses don’t require.? Feedback from other students occurs during asynchronous Moodle workshops. ?In this way students get feedback from someone other than the instructor, and if students choose to, students can be in touch with other people who are engaged in the same feedback process.?
?The peer editing of work may seem offputting, but that aspect of the course gives students the chance to get feedback from more than one person,? says Zenari. And while peer editing can seem intimidating, students must remember that ?when giving negative feedback, no one is trying to be mean; rather, the readers are trying to be helpful and offer pragmatic advice; they are offering their reactions to something they have written (which is all people can really do).? And the process helps not only the writer but also those reading their work, as ?the peer editing allows students to read some good stuff.?
One aspect of the course that can be a mixed blessing is its seeming simplicity and straightforward nature. All students love concise instructions, but they can sometimes be a temptation to neglect readings. Thompson feels that ?anyone with a decent understanding of English and a bit of a creative mind could easily get away with only doing the assignments and not reading any of the assigned readings.? This approach clearly may not result in optimal results in the course, however. Zenari warns that students considering registering for the course should not only be prepared to complete the assigned tasks, but also ?be aware that the course assumes that students have a good (above average) knowledge of basic writing skills.?
So far, students like Thompson think that the course is ?great,? and Zenari describes it as ?a delight? to teach: ?many of the pieces [submitted by students] are outstanding and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to read them.?