English 166

Special Topics: New Literary Nonfiction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Fall 2018 Le, Serena
TTh 9:30-11 211 Dwinelle Special Topics

Book List

Coates, Ta-Nehisi: We Were Eight Years in Power (2017); Gay, Roxane: Bad Feminist (2014); Jamison, Leslie: The Empathy Exams (2014); Nelson, Maggie: The Argonauts (2015); Wang, Esme Weijun: The Collected Schizophrenias (2018)

Other Readings and Media

Course Reader:

Excerpts from seleted works, possibly including: Sarah Gerard, Sunshine State (2017); Mariko Nagai, Irradiated Cities (2017); Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your LIfe (2017); Eileen Myles, Afterglow: A Dog Memoir (2017); Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions (2017); Matthew Desmond, Evicted (2016); Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015); Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk (2015); Simon Winchester, Pacific (2015); Roxane Gay, Hunger (2014); Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction (2014); Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (2014); Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways (2012); Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012); Kevin Young, The Grey Album (2012); Eula Biss, Notes from No Man's Land (2009); Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (2007); Kate Braverman, Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles (2006); Timothy Smith, The Worst Hard Time (2006); David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster (2005)


This course takes its inspiration from the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, a biennial award established in 2005 by Graywolf Press in support of innovative, boundary-testing new writing. "Whether grounded in observation, autobiography, or research," Graywolf notes, "much of the most beautiful, daring, and original writing over the past few decades can be categorized as nonfiction." By reading together from this body of work, including a few winners of the Graywolf Prize specifically, we will think expansively about what contemporary nonfiction, and the pursuits that demand it, may contain. What defines "literary" nonfiction in particular, and what makes it—to quote from Graywolf's own mission statement—"essential to a vital and diverse culture"? At a moment in time when reality (what is "true") may be increasingly hard to communicate, what literary leaps of faith seem nevertheless to permit its telling? We will also discuss the communal aspects of literary nonfiction, including its openness to diverse forms of expertise and knowledge creation; the Graywolf Prize famously does not expect writers to have finished their works at the moment of submission, leaving room for mentorship and collaborative revision over time.

Research papers for this course may themselves test the boundaries of the genre they examine. Students are encouraged to approach their culminating projects as literary manuscripts and should be prepared to think about the role their writing might take in the world upon completion. Students will additionally have the opportunity to develop and propose a community writing project to be funded by the 2019 Chancellor's Community Partnership Fund—a philanthropic resource that supports transformative partnerships between university affiliates and members of the greater Berkeley community. Prelinmary CCPF applications are due at the end of fall semester each year, which means interested students will be able to participate as full collaborators in a grant-writing process that includes attendance at a fall semester campus and community mixer.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Fall, 2018
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
166/2 Special Topics: Alfred Hitchcock Bader, Julia
166/3 Special Topics: Journeys: British World-Building, c. 700-1700 Miller, Jasmin
166/4 Special Topics: "this morning's minion": Sonic Mysticism in Gerard Manley Hopkins and Emily Dickinson Stancek, Claire Marie
Spring, 2018
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
166/1 Special Topics: Comedy & Violence Flynn, Catherine
166/2 Special Topics: Romantic Science Goldstein, Amanda Jo
166/3 Special Topics: Classical & Renaissance Drama Knapp, Jeffrey
166/4 Special Topics: Marxism & Literature Lye, Colleen
166/5 Special Topics: Emily Dickinson Shoptaw, John
166/6 Special Topics: Speculative Fiction Jones, Donna V.
Summer, 2018
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
166/1 Special Topics: Speculative Fictions, Possible Futures O'Brien, Geoffrey G.
166/2 Special Topics: Games of Thrones, Medieval to Modern Strub, Spencer
Fall, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
166/3 Special Topics: Black Science Fiction Serpell, C. Namwali
166/4 Special Topics: Writing Poetry and Nonfiction, Writing as Social Practice Giscombe, Cecil S.
Spring, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
166/1 Special Topics: Marxism and Literature Lye, Colleen
166/2 Special Topics: Studies in Literature and Environment (Shelter and Weather) Francois, Anne-Lise
166/3 Special Topics: Slavery and Conspiracy Wagner, Bryan
166/4 Special Topics: Literature in the Century of Film Goble, Mark
166/5 Special Topics: Modern Irish Literature Falci, Eric
Fall, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
166/1 Special Topics: Aesthetics and the Environment in the Eighteenth Century Picciotto, Joanna M
166/2 Special Topics: Vladimir Nabokov Naiman, Eric
Spring, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
166/2 Special Topics: Elizabethan Renaissance: Art, Culture, and Visuality Honig, Elizabeth

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