Nonfiction Writing Program: More Information

In 1997 the Department of English charged Lawrence Stanley and Elizabeth Taylor to assess the department's writing curriculum and, based upon this assessment, to set up a complete and coherent program of writing instruction.

Our first task was to transform a disorganized assortment of courses into a semi-autonomous state-of-the-art writing program tailored to serve both the academic needs of Brown students and their professional aspirations for the future.

Within a year, we had designed a completely new curriculum broader than traditional composition courses. Instead, we combined academic scholarship with courses in journalism and various forms of nonfiction that help students pursue careers as writers within the sciences and social sciences as well as the humanities.

Within a community of fellow writers, students can now progress from introductory to advanced nonfiction writing courses.

The Nonfiction Writing Program offers three levels of academic writing courses. ENGL0900, the introduction to academic writing, is neither basic nor remedial; rather, it introduces students to the rigor and discipline of critical reading and writing at the university level and thereby brings them into the intellectual life of the academy. ENGL1030 is a research essay course, which takes students through all the phases and processes of formulating a subject and the terms of inquiry and leads them through library research. ENGL1140 is an advanced academic writing class intended for students who want to explore the theoretical suppositions and practices of cultural analysis (emphasizing the literary, but not to the exclusion of other fields of study).

The demand for creative nonfiction has steadily increased. The introductory course familiarizes students with narrative structures of creative nonfiction and with its various subgenre: the personal essay, memoir, literary journalism, science writing, travel writing, historical narrative, and other forms. Here the program also offers three levels of courses.  Students can then pursue a specific subgenre in an advanced writing seminar. We now have a clearly established progression from introductory to advanced writing classes out of which we have built up a body of genuinely advanced writers.

Journalism supplements the program's other offerings with intermediate and advanced courses. Students get first-hand, professional-level experience as they work with full-time journalists. This instruction has had a direct impact on student publications (The Brown Daily HeraldThe College Hill Independent) and productions such as Brown Student Radio. It has also had a constructive impact on the teaching and learning of creative nonfiction and academic writing; in journalism, students learn how to research and construct story outside the traditional paradigms of academia.

Students can choose a track in Nonfiction Writing within the English concentration. They can also apply to do an honors project in creative nonfiction, journalism, or cultural analysis. The Nonfiction Writing track now attracts more than 20% of the concentrators in English, thus broadening and deepening the mission of the Department of English.

--Lawrence K. Stanley and Elizabeth S. Taylor