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Words Overflown by Stars: Creative Writing Instruction and Insight from the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program

From the Preface by David Jauss:

In his contributor's note to this volume, Mark Doty says, "I consider my time teaching in the [Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing] program to have been my own second graduate education." I've heard many of my colleagues say the same thing over the years, and I second the sentiment wholeheartedly. Although I earned graduate degrees from the writing programs of two exceptional universities, Syracuse University and the University of Iowa, in many ways my most valuable education as a writer began nearly twenty years later, in 1999, when I began teaching in the low-residency MFA in Writing Prdogram at Vermont College, as it was then known. (In 2008, the college became Vermont College of Fine Arts, an independent institution that is the first college in the nation devoted solely to MFA programs.) While I had several abrilliant teachers at Syracuse and Iowa . . . at Vermont College I found myself surrounded by brilliant teachers, all of whom delivered lectures during ten-day residencies at the program's beautiful hilltop campus in Montpelier, Vermont. These lectures weren't the casual, impromptu riffs I was used to hearing in workshops; they were carefully thought-out and exquisitely written lectures informed by reading that was both deep and wide, and they were chockfull of both thought-provoking aesthetic observations and sound, practical advice. Time and again, I left Vermont both exhausted from the intensive residencies and energized by the insights I'd gained from the lectures by my colleagues (and, I'm happy to admit, from those by our graduating students as well).

This anthology contains a sampling of essays, virtually all of which were originally presented as lectures at Vermont College of Fine arts, by some of the distinguished writers who have served on the faculty of the program over the past quarter century. Of the thirty-two essays included here, half focus predominately on fiction and creative nonfiction and half predominately on poetry, but many of them also address more than one genre. For example, both Laurie Alberts's "Showing and Telling" and Robin Hemley's "Painful Howls From Places That Undoubtedly Exist: A Primer of Deceit" discuss the shifting, tenuous borders between fiction and nonfiction, and Cynthia Huntington's "Poetic Technique in Nonfiction Writing" and Sydney Lea's "'I Recognize Thy Glory': On the American Nature Essay and Lyric Poetry" discuss the intersections of creative nonfiction and lyric poetry, as does Sue William Silverman's section on the lyric essay in "The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Creative Nonfiction." Natasha Sajé's "Roots in Our Throats: A Case for Etymology" refers not only to poetry, its principal subject, but also to fiction and nonfiction. Een those essays that don't overtly address more than one genre apply to other genres as well. As François Camoin notes in "The Textures of Fiction: An Inquiry," what he says about fiction applies equally to all three genres. Finally, Jack Myers's "Collaborating With Chaos: Not Knowing and the Creative Process" discusses the creative process that underlies all of these genres. In short, the anthology offers an abundance of craft advice to writers of any or all three genres. . . .



Bret Lott, "Before We Get Started"

Ellen Lesser, "The Girl I Was, The Woman I Have Become: Fiction’s Reminiscent Narrators"

David Jauss, "From Long Shots to X-Rays: Distance and Point of View in Fiction"

Diane Lefer, "Breaking the 'Rules' of Story Structure"

Douglas Glover, "Notes on Novel Structure"

Philip Graham, "Wake Up and Go to Sleep: Dreams and Writing Fiction"

Christopher Noël, "Keeping Open the Wounds of Possibility: The Marvelous, the Uncanny, and the Fantastic in Fiction"

Victoria Redel, "How Do We Mean What We Do Not Say: The Uses of Omission in Fiction"

Xu Xi, "Multi-Culti Literati: Or, Ways of Writing Fiction Beyond 'PC,'"

François Camoin, "The Textures of Fiction: An Inquiry"
Showing and Telling, by Laurie Alberts

Robin Hemley, "Painful Howls From Places That Undoubtedly Exist: A Primer of Deceit"

Phyllis Barber, "The Fictional 'I' in Nonfiction"

Sue William Silverman, "The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Creative Nonfiction"

Sydney Lea, “I Recognize Thy Glory”: On the American Nature Essay and Lyric Poetry"

Cynthia Huntington, "Poetic Technique in Nonfiction Writing"


Jack Myers, "Collaborating With Chaos: Not Knowing and the Creative Process"

Nance Van Winckel, "Staking the Claim to the Title"

Mary Ruefle, "On Beginnings"

Mark Doty, "Souls on Ice"

Natasha Sajé, "Roots in Our Throats: A Case for Using Etymology"

Betsy Sholl, "Mind the Gap"

Leslie Ullman, "Towards a Poetics of Pull-and-Release: Some Thoughts on Silence in Poems"

Richard Jackson, "The Word Overflown by Stars: Saying the Unsayable"

Ralph Angel, "The Poem, As and Of Address"

William Olsen, "The Changing Other"

Roger Weingarten, "Incidental Music: The Grotesque, the Romantic, and the Retrenched"

Nancy Eimers, "Striking the Wrong Hours: Poetry and Time"

Robin Behn, "Notes on Notes,/: Punctuation and Poetry"

Mark Cox, "On Voice and Revision"

Clare Rossini, "The Writer as Revisionary"

David Wojahn, "'If You Have to Be Sure Don’t Write': Poetry and Self-Doubt"