Advanced Nonfiction Writing

A seminar and workshop with the theme “At Home in America.” Students consider the varied ways in which modern American literary journalists write about place, and address the theme themselves in both reportorial and first-person work.

Fall application due by noon on August 16.

Please read the description below, paying special attention to sections highlighted in bold, some of which describe exceptions to the standard application procedure.

The purpose of this course is to examine and attempt good nonfiction writing through the microcosm of setting. How do we see America (whether urban or rural, east or west, rich or poor) as home? We will attempt to dismantle some of the traditional barriers between academic reading and pleasure reading as we discuss works by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joan Didion, Ian Frazier, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, John McPhee, and others. Students will write four pieces (two first-person, two reportorial), the last of which is a substantial profile reported in New Haven, outside the Yale campus, on someone found in the Greater New Haven Yellow Pages. They will also critique each other’s work both orally and via email. Each student will have at least six individual conferences with me, most of them an hour long, to discuss and edit his or her work.

English 469 has no prerequisites, which means that you may apply even if you have no reporting experience. I’m more interested in the grace of your writing style and the sound of your voice. The class is usually a mix of seasoned journalists and creative writers. Fiction writers, playwrights, and essayists bring valuable gifts to our table. Though most 469ers have been juniors and seniors, I have accepted an occasional sophomore. Graduate students shouldn’t apply (sorry); freshmen should wait.

Students who wish to apply to English 469 should submit the standard Application for Writing Courses on the English Department Website by noon on Wednesday, August 16.  Please note the following special instructions for English 469 applications:

1. The standard application specifies “a” writing sample. Ignore that! I can assess your work better if you submit two samples, totaling about 5-15 double-spaced pages. (The total length may exceed that, but if it does, please mark the sections to which I should pay particular attention.) You may even submit three samples if one is very short (for instance, a Daily Themes one-pager, in which case please note the prompt).

2. If possible, your samples should belong to the same genre we’ll be reading and writing (“non-non”–nonacademic nonfiction). Essays, literary journalism, and personal essays would all be appropriate. (If fiction is your strength, one but not both of your samples may be a short story. Similarly, if you’re a playwright, one sample may be a scene from a play. The other sample should be non-non.) Be sure to choose pieces that give your literary style a thorough airing.

3. Your “statement of purpose” should be a note to me that explains some things your samples don’t. The application suggests “a paragraph,” but you are welcome to write as long a note as you wish. For instance: Why do you want to take the class? What would you contribute to it? What writing experience and honors have you accumulated? (I’ll still consider you if the answer is None and None.) What are you majoring in? (English majors will receive no special preference.) Is there anything else that might help me understand you as a writer or a person? Your note need not be conventional; it should sound like you.

If you have questions about English 469 before you apply, or after you hear about admission and are wondering if it’s the right class for you, you’re welcome to write me ( Two veterans of last year’s class have also volunteered to field them. Elena Saavedra Buckley ( came to 469 with reporting experience; Mae Mattia ( came from a creative writing background but survived without difficulty.

Admitted students will be notified about a week before the first class. Please be ready to respond with a yea or nay so that wait-listers can be swiftly admitted. The roster will be complete (and brief reading assigned) before the first class on August 31.

Undergraduate Course #: 
Th 2:30pm-5:20pm
WR, Hu