Monday, September 03, 2007

Providing a "critical essay" for a creative nonfiction program

mshea writes:

The idea of writing a critical essay on something in my desired field (creative non-fiction) is killing me. I don’t have any old college papers that qualify. Any pointers?

I'm sorry... I don't exactly know how to go about answering this question because I'm unsure what you mean by "a critical essay on something in my desired field (creative non-fiction)." Are you talking about the writing sample that you're going to submit to a creative nonfiction program? Or about the sample of academic writing that you need to submit in order to apply for a teaching assistantship (as is the case with some programs)?

If you're talking about the writing sample for a creative nonfiction program, an old academic college paper is not the thing to submit. Think memoir, think biography, think literary journalism. If you're talking about the academic essay you need to submit to apply for a TA position... I'm not sure why you'd think none of your old college papers qualify; don't you have anything written for a humanities course that could demonstrate the proficiency of your prose and sharpness of your critical thinking skills?

Hope this helps--I've been trying to answer this not having a very clear picture of what the question was; maybe you can elaborate.

9 comments:

Vince said...

I think what he's talking about is a paper of critical theory--the kind of thing you typically write in a non-creative English or Lit class, an essay applying Lacan's (or whatever) theories to a specific memoir, for example.

Most Ph.D. creative writing programs and a few MFA programs (WMU is one, I think) request a critical sample as well as a creative one.

mshea said...

Beyond the writing sample and personal statement one school I’m considering asks for a “Critical Essay: No more than 1,000 words, giving their response to a work of literature in their concentration written and published within the past ten years.”

L. said...

If you don't already have anything that qualifies, I'd go ahead and write something from scratch. Given the specs for this requirement, pick a contemporary novel that you've enjoyed reading and write four pages of criticism responding to it.

Vince said...

You're probably going to have to start from scratch on this one. This is an extra (CW M.F.A.) admissions requisite to assess each applicant's scholastic aptitude and ability to write a strong academic paper.

Erika D. said...

A number of MFA programs ask you to submit an essay focused on (or "responding to") a work in your genre, but they're not necessarily looking for a traditional "academic" paper based on researching (and quoting from) literary scholars' work on the chosen text (1,000 words would be pretty paltry for that). They may instead be looking for something that shows how you "read like a writer," how you can analyze a text on your own in this respect, describing "what works" (and perhaps even what doesn't work so well) and focusing on craft elements. Although it's very fiction-focused, you might want to take a look at Francine Prose's recent book, Reading Like a Writer. Hope that helps.

Anna said...

Good advice from l., vince and erika--yes, write something new, and let it be an analysis of what works/doesn't work (craft-wise) in a work that you've recently read.

P.S. If I remember correctly (from doing that database research) this is Columbia, no?

mshea said...

Indeed, anna, this is a Columbia requirement … Thanks again for the good advice on my two questions. (Where can I get this “database” that’s so much discussed? I can provide a receipt for Tom’s book … heh … michaelrshea at hotmail.)

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