Fiction can provide one of the deepest and most direct paths toward genuine empathy, making it a powerful tool to engage with the central political and social crises of our world. There is a tension inherent in writing political fiction, of course: so much of politics is built off of familiar polemics, while good fiction is allergic to predictability and talking points. In this workshop, we will hold onto that tension, while delving into the unique power fiction holds for grappling with political issues of the past, present and future.
We will discuss questions including: How do fiction and politics overlap, and how do they diverge? What are the the potential pitfalls of writing political fiction? How do we avoid didacticism and pedantry, while diving head-first into moral and political issues that do not lend themselves to "neutrality" or "objectivity"? How do we ensure that our fiction is not flattened by worn-out political tropes? How do we strive to write political fiction that is as surprising, subversive, strange and expansive as any great work of fiction should strive to be?
This six-week workshop is best suited to writers with past workshop experience. “Political fiction,” in this context, need not be a novel about a corrupt senator or a short story about the Mississippi Freedom Summer: the scope of political fiction is much broader than that, and can include any novel or short story with political weight, as defined by the author. In this course, we will study modern political novels by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Leni Zumas and Hari Kunzru, as well as James Baldwin and Lore Segal, and others; short stories by writers including Maxine Beneba Clarke and Nafissa Thompson-Spires; and the work of poets Reginald Dwayne Betts, Ocean Vuong and more, to ask what we, as fiction writers, can learn from our first cousins, the poets. We will workshop participants' writing, whether in the form of short stories or novel chapters, and work to build an encouraging, creative and thoughtful micro-community of readers and writers throughout the process of this course. Participants will leave this course with both theoretical inspiration and practical tools as they continue on their paths of writing fiction that is both politically relevant and excellent.
- Instructor and peer feedback on one fiction submission (novel chapter or short story)
- One 1-on-1 conference via Skype or phone with instructor to get more personalized and direct feedback about your work.
- Familiarity with the work of modern masters of political fiction (and a few poets as well!)
- Confidence in navigating the world of writing good political fiction
Week 1: Welcome, introductions, establishing reading and writing goals, community expectations, and workshop and submission schedules.
Week 2: Reading voraciously and closely (Learning from the masters) / Workshop 1
Week 3: Writing wildly and recklessly (Learning from the poets) / Workshop 2
Week 4: Giving voice to our agenda’s enemy (Loosening the grip of didacticism) / Workshop 3
Week 5: Editing unsentimentally (Looking at our work from the outside) / Workshop 4
Week 6: Tying it all together (Where do we go from here?) / Workshop 5
Moriel Rothman-Zecher is the author of the novel Sadness Is a White Bird, which was a recipient of the National Book Foundation’s ‘5 Under 35’ Honor, and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. Moriel is the recipient of a 2017 MacDowell Colony Fellowship in Literature, and his essays and poetry have been published in The New York Times, The Paris Review’s “The Daily,” Haaretz, ZYZZYVA, Electric Literature, The Common, and elsewhere. He lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, with his wife, Kayla, their daughter, Nahar. Read more at TheLefternWall.com and follow him on Twitter @Moriel_RZ.
“While offering an unusually political coming-of-age novel, Rothman-Zecher frames the conflict in human terms. Passionate, topical, and thoughtful, this heartbreaking tale is vital reading for anyone who cares about the future of this part of the world.”
''Moriel Rothman-Zecher is a piercing observer and a relentless interrogator who peels back layers of pain to lay bare the difficult truths of his homeland, and the heavy price paid by those for whom love trumps hatred.”
“Rarely does one come across a debut novel as artistically accomplished, politically unsettling, and emotionally unflinching as Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s SADNESS IS A WHITE BIRD."
“Moriel Rothman-Zecher is not only a brilliant writer, he’s the finest editor I have had the privilege of working with. His ability to tease out the heart of a piece of fiction or nonfiction is matched by his compassion and generosity of spirit. He’s simply wonderful.”
“Moriel taught a series of creative writing workshops for a group of students in a music dialogue program I facilitated. Moriel was an amazing addition to our program--he really energized our students, taught new skills, and helped them explore new ways of creative expression. I noticed the way that Moriel would gently encourage students, helping each one to feel seen and taken seriously--and I was amazed at how comfortable some of the quieter students were to share their work with the group. We also laughed a lot--the mix of humor, clarity, and depth opened up new pathways for learning and connecting as individuals and as a group.”
“I loved Moriel's workshops. Moriel is someone who knows how to break down artistic concepts into digestible pieces anyone can understand and can bring out creativity in the shyest of participants. The workshop impacted me deeply.”