Experimental Nonfiction for Non-Experimental Writers
What does it mean for writing to be experimental? The great writer Margaret Atwood defines it as writing "that sets up certain rules for itself . . . while subverting the conventions according to which readers have understood what constitutes a proper work of literature." In making its own rules, a lot of the old rules have to be tossed out, of course, and so this master class provides a few examples of the most innovative works in the area of creative nonfiction, whether personal essay, lyric essay, narrative nonfiction, or journalism. We’ll look at a wild and gutsy array of passages, old and new, that dare to be different. We'll also generate experimental nonfiction of our own through a series of exercises.
Porochista Khakpour is the author of the forthcoming memoir Sick (Harper Perennial, May 2018), and the novels The Last Illusion (Bloomsbury, 2014)—a 2014 "Best Book of the Year" according to NPR, Kirkus, Buzzfeed, Popmatters, Electric Literature, and more — and Sons and Other Flammable Objects (Grove, 2007)—the 2007 California Book Award winner in “First Fiction,” a Chicago Tribune’s “Fall’s Best,” and a New York Times “Editor’s Choice.” She is currently writer-in-residence at Bard College, adjunct faculty at Columbia University, and visiting faculty at VCFA's MFA program.
“Utterly original and compelling, Porochista Khakpour’s THE LAST ILLUSION weaves Iranian myth with very contemporary American neurosis to create a bittersweet poetry all its own. This ambitious, exciting literary adventure is at once grotesque, amusing, deeply sad—and wonderful, too.”
“THE LAST ILLUSION deftly, unexpectedly, blends Persian myth with modern life, and with the perils and pleasures of magic. In a gripping, sinuous, sometimes explosive voice, Porochista Khakpour tells us a story like no other, with a protagonist like no other—and there is not a reader who will not remember him always.”
“THE LAST ILLUSION is a book full of hard-fought wonders, harsh and yet full of grace, with a touch of myth, and an abundance of love. A haunting novel that lingers long after the last page.”
“Magical and hysterical, each sentence more beautiful than the next, THE LAST ILLUSION proves Khakpour a novelist-dazzler on the magnitude of an Aimee Bender or a Jonathan Lethem. The English language has a new master tickler and it is laughing out loud.”
“Khakpour’s elegant, mysterious, hilarious novel contains the most intriguing and inventive collection of heartbreaking characters you’ll ever meet: a mystic in search of a religion, a magician with only one trick, and of course, Zal, the feral boy who just might be a bird. Powerful, passionate, essential work!”
“Funny and haunting, bridges the distance between ancient myth and the modern world. As much a coming-of-age story as it is a clear-eyed account of our contemporary lives, this is a work of pure imagination.”
“This novel confirms Khakpour as one of our best new satirists, partly because she is never as moving as when she is entirely sincere.”