Division of Interdisciplinary Inquiry: Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
Professional Title: MFA Creative Writing Faculty
Areas of Academic Focus and Expertise: Nonfiction
Representative List of Recent Courses Taught: Distance-Learning Courses:• Creative Writing I-IV • Craft and Reflection I-III• Graduating Seminar Preparation• Creative ThesisResidency Seminars:• Character Interruptus• Memory and Imagination: Re-seeing a life
Education: B.A. History, University of California; Shiller College, London; Oxford University, Fellowship, St. Anthony’s College. Studied 19th-century European history w/ Dr. Harold Shukman
Representative List of Recent Publications / Exhibitions: Books:A Brief History of Diaries: From Pepys to Blogs (2011)Leaving a Trace (2002)The Hidden Writer (1998)Anthologies: To Mend the World. I’ve Always Meant to Tell You: Writers on FathersEssays, Articles, Reviews: The New York Times Book Review, O (Oprah) Magazine, The Nation, Agni, Ms. Magazine, Mirabella, among other national publications.
Teaching Philosophy: My first book, The Hidden Writer (Doubleday), won the PEN/Jerard Award for nonfiction. Here's what you need to know: I was so terrified and perfectionist a writer beforehand that a writer friend told me to submit a chapter to a national contest. "Just to get moving," she said. And so I did. Of course I didn't include a return self-addressed stamped envelope. Why do that? It was only coming back. When I got the call with good news, something happened - I began to trust what's now become the core of my teaching process: shatter isolation. Connect. A community of skilled writers, lead by a creative mentor, will save you years. Literally. Question: do you prefer to spend ten years working alone at home or on weekends or spend two years with others who will help you shape that manuscript into being?
My teaching philosophy: passing on the things I wish someone had taught me. Passing on the craft and confidence that I, like every writer, have developed on our own as we've produced books.
For me, unlocking process is the key to producing. Process and product cannot be separated. In teaching nonfiction, I help identify the story or crucial angle that's hidden deep in the subject matter. That means helping students get to the core of their project and hone craft. For memoir writers, my focus is on how to shape narrative, frame scenes, advance the storyline through dialogue and concrete sensory detail. I began my writing career as a literary journalist, publishing essays, profiles and long travel pieces. I bring those hands-on journalistic and magazine skills to students who already have a long nonfiction project in mind or who are writing essays for what might eventually be a collection.
I won the James Conway Award for the teaching of memoir and nonfiction at Harvard. But it's the publication rate of Lesley's nonfiction students, both current and grads, that's perhaps the true proof of the nonfiction faculty's teaching skills. To have a student listed in Best American Essays, or have his piece read on NPR, or have her first book acceptance is why we teach. It's why teaching is a pleasure: it creates a community of writers helping one another, a network that continues long after the degree is awarded.
My first editor, a noted writer of seven books, was then in her early 70s. ‘The best advice I can give you,’ she told me, ‘is that a writer's confidence never entirely comes. But it can be learned.’ That's why I teach writing. As Eudora Welty said: all serious daring starts within.Awards: PEN Special Citation for distinguished nonfiction; Harvard University's CUE award for excellence in teaching, 1991, 1990, 1985, 1983; Harvard University's James Conway Award for Distinguished Teaching of Writing, 1995.Past Affiliations: Harvard, Wellesley, Bunting Summer Institute.
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