Course Syllabus

The Space Between: Writing from Photographs

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Explore the rich possibilities of drawing on photographs that intrigue, haunt, or prompt forgotten memories and experiences.

Often, as nonfiction writers, we start with memories and experiences. But memories are incomplete—and can be inaccurate. For this reason, writers sometimes rely on photographs as a type of evidence or proof. But a photograph is a complicated artifact—an object, an image, a memory touchstone. Drawing on photographs that intrigue, haunt, or prompt forgotten memories, this course explores the rich possibilities of the space between photograph and experience.

This course will offer new approaches for students at all levels—from those looking for inspiration to those working through an ongoing project. Plus, writing from photographs can make the work of starting a piece of writing easier by giving you a concrete moment to describe, reflect, and expand on. Description is both showing and telling, and the process of describing can open up a whole world.

How it works:

Each week provides:

  • writing prompts and/or assignments
  • discussions of assigned readings and other general writing topics with peers and the instructor
  • written lectures and a selection of readings

Some weeks also include:

  • opportunities to submit a full-length essay or essays for instructor and/or peer review (up to 3,500 words)
  • optional video conferences that are open to all students in Week 2 (and which will be available afterwards as a recording for those who cannot participate)

Aside from the live conference, there is no need to be online at any particular time of day.
To create a better classroom experience for all, you are expected to participate weekly in class discussions to receive instructor feedback on your work.

Week 1: Images and Stories

We will look at how writers find stories in photographs and consider how the simplicity of a photo can prompt a variety of writerly paths. Through directed prompts, you will experiment with low-stakes writings inspired by your own photographs.

Week 2: Incomplete Photographs

A photograph is as much about what it captures as what it leaves out. In this second week, students will explore and experiment with turning a self-selected photograph from image to scene. In this process, we will consider the particulars of description, voice, and writerly presence.

Week 3: Finding the Focus

Like the focus of a camera lens, a personal essay asks us to make decisions about the details and subject of a piece. In this week, you will explore ways of using focused and nuanced details to expand and give depth to the writing you have been developing.

Week 4: Expanding the Writing

Moving from image to draft is a process of development and refinement. A draft of the essay will be due this week. We will address how to find the strengths of the essay and approaches to revision in preparation for sharing with the larger group.

Week 5: Critique and Revision

The final week offers students a chance for group feedback; insights and ideas from peer readers will provide suggestions for giving the writing a more solid frame and focus. We will also discuss possible publication opportunities for the individual essays as well as tips for pitching a short-form personal essay.