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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2021/2022

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: English Studies

ENGL45130: Creative Nonfiction

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2021/22


  • Students must hold a good BA degree in English or a related subject to be eligible for entry onto the MA programmes in the Department of English Studies


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • enable students to produce original creative nonfiction with a full, advanced awareness of the technical and aesthetic choices made in the process of writing
  • enable students to read and analyse creative nonfiction both critically and with a writer's eye, i.e. with a particular sensitivity toward narrative architecture, voice, style, etc
  • introduce students to the array of techniques, styles and traditions available to the writer of creative nonfiction
  • enable students to draft and edit creative nonfiction at an advanced level. Students will have the opportunity to experiment in each of the three subfields covered by the course: memoir, biography, and essays / journalism
  • introduce students to the writing workshop format and enable them to systematically and constructively critique original works of creative nonfiction by their peers
  • analyse at an advanced level both the creative writing of students and selected work by established writers, revealing close reading as a method for learning how to write, and creative writing as a means of understanding literary texts


  • This module will provide students with both a historical and critical knowledge of, and a practical training in, creative nonfiction. The nine sessions cover the three key forms of the genre—memoir, biography, and the essay—as well as variants and hybrids thereof.
  • Students will read a selection of published creative nonfiction (mostly from the late 20th and 21st centuries), with a view toward writerly craft and technique.
  • Many seminars will include a workshop component, in which students read and critique (in writing and / or in person) each other’s work. The workshop format is designed to give students an understanding of how their work is read and received; they may then incorporate such feedback into their edits. For each piece of student writing discussed in a workshop, a short written critique may be submitted by all students other than the author. Students can expect to have a minimum of two pieces of writing discussed.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will acquire a historical, critical and technical knowledge of the major forms of creative nonfiction
  • Students will gain practical experience of producing original creative nonfiction
  • Students will acquire a critical awareness of and descriptive vocabulary for the various styles, techniques and traditions that characterize creative nonfiction
  • Through the workshop element, students will gain practical knowledge of how readers respond to their work--and how to respond constructively to that of their peers.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Critical skills: the close reading and analysis of texts
  • Creative writing skills: the application of the student’s critical skills to their own practice
  • An ability to compose original literary works and delineate their aims
  • An ability to demonstrate knowledge of a range of critical approaches
  • The ability to articulate written and spoken criticism of fellow students’ work, and expresses this evaluation in the appropriate technical, analytical terms
  • An ability to articulate knowledge and understanding of concepts and theories relating to literary studies o Advanced awareness of literature as a medium through which values are affirmed and debated
Key Skills:
  • Practice of writing creative nonfiction
  • A capacity to analyse critically
  • Skills of effective communication and argument
  • An advanced ability to articulate constructive criticism in a teamwork setting; general team-working skills
  • An independence of thought and judgement, and ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others
  • Sophisticated skills in critical reasoning and problem solving
  • Information-technology skills such as word-processing
  • Professional conduct skills, e.g. observing professional academic standards, including correct referencing of sources
  • Professional organisation and time-management skills

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Workshop seminars: enable students to develop and demonstrate advanced conceptual abilities and analytical skills in the close reading and analysis of texts; encourage peer-group discussion and skills of effective communication and presentation; promote awareness of diversity of interpretation and methodology.
  • One-to-one meetings with students: each student will receive at least two 15-minute one-to-one sessions in which they will receive feedback on their work-in-progress; in addition, their formative assessment will take the form of a further 30-minute one-to-one meeting in which 2000 words of their creative nonfiction will be discussed. These sessions will encourage students to reflect critically and independently on their work
  • Coursework: the portfolio will be assessed in the light of the following criteria: control of grammar, style and structure; originality (of theme/plot/voice); narrative flow; sophistication of conception and execution; expressiveness and imagination; ability to put the theoretical knowledge gained from the course into practice; ability to establish and achieve artistic goals. The self-critique offers students an opportunity to express their aesthetic decisions in the context of the work and contexts discussed in the course, and to reflect on the development of their own creative practice
  • Feedback: the written feedback that is provided after the assessed portfolio and self-critique will allow the students to reflect on their creative work and gain a more objective sense of its value, potential, theoretical assumptions, and how successful it was in fulfilling its goals.
  • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for a one-to-one tutorial.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 fortnightly 2hrs 18
One-to-one tutorials 2 15 mins 0.5
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
Formative assessment consultation 1 30 mins 0.5
Preparation and Reading 271
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Portfolio Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Portfolio 6,000 words of original creative nonfiction; plus 2,000-word self-critique 100%

Formative Assessment:

A formative Portfolio of 2,000 words of creative nonfiction will receive written and one-to-one feedback from the tutor. This material can then be revised by the student, and submitted as part of their summative essay.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University