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Master of Arts Integrated Studies (MAIS) 617

Creative Nonfiction (Revision 3)

**Note:Students in Group Study courses are advised that this syllabus may vary in key details in each instance of the course. Always refer to the Moodle site for the most up-to-date details on texts, assignment structure, and grading.**


Master of Arts - Integrated Studies 617: Creative Non-Fiction will examine a writing genre that has gained in author and reader popularity over the past twenty-five years, and which, according to some commentators and literary historians, has its roots in the eighteenth century.

As a genre, creative non-fiction falls under many names: literary journalism, narrative history, the literature of reality, subjective non-fiction, intimate journalism, fictive or fictional memoir, immersion journalism, participatory journalism, the New Journalism, literary non-fiction, Gonzo Journalism, prophetic journalism, and-a personal favourite from Canadian writer Myrna Kostash-full-tilt boogie journalism. For many practitioners, it is known simply as plain, old CNF.

One useful description is found in editor Lynne Van Luven's anthology from 2000, Going Some Place: Creative Non-fiction Across Canada. "You will see that the genre includes poetic personal journals, meditations, memoirs, activist personal reportage, autobiography, personal essays on being an outsider, historical and literary travelogues, tributes to a particular person, celebrations of a distinctive place, and explorations of the past. Creative non-fiction can be a vehicle of investigation, rumination, discovery, and mourning."

Many readers and writers see the genre as a bastardized combination of fiction and non-fiction. It employs the fiction writer's tools of the trade in exploring what was once considered a standard approach to writing non-fiction and memoir. Where previously a writer could examine a subject in an objective, third-person, chronological fashion, creative non-fiction allows certain taboos in writing style, viewpoint and research to enter and expand the convention of the non-fiction realm. In many ways, the style of feature journalism as it is currently published owes a debt to creative non-fiction for raising expectations of writer and reader alike.

In short, creative non-fiction is true storytelling in that it permits reader involvement, and in many cases, a close identification with the writer. Structurally, it moves beyond mere chronology to allow the writer and reader to explore a narrative that contains the story arcs, symbolism, characterization and depth one might find in fiction.

For strictly conventional readers and journalists, however, creative non-fiction can be seen as an abomination that attempts to keep a foot in the camps of fiction and non-fiction, and fails to honour either.

The course will examine the glories and the pitfalls of the genre from an historical and sociological perspective, with examples from literary works, serial magazines, newspapers, journals and anthologies.

Course Objectives

Students who have completed MAIS 617: Creative Nonfiction, should be able to:

  1. determine why writers adopt creative nonfiction as an approach to expression and storytelling, and why readers are drawn to the genre
  2. describe the role of social consciousness and its function in literature and journalism
  3. discriminate between the New Journalism, conventional journalism, and conventional storytelling
  4. distinguish between memoir and fictive or fictional memoir
  5. explain the terminology of the genre—for example, creative nonfiction, literary journalism, literary nonfiction, participatory journalism, subjective nonfiction, New Journalism, gonzo journalism
  6. value the role of the genre as a practical versus artistic endeavour
  7. understand the reader’s role: the tension between truth and fiction, and how to read, how to believe, how to interpret
  8. recognize and execute the elements of storytelling—the nuts and bolts of execution, writing, and publishing in the genre—characterization, setting, point of view, tension, theme, dialogue, format, and narrative thrust and movement
  9. explain why and how a particular piece of creative nonfiction works or fails
  10. recognize the flaws and pitfalls in creative nonfiction as a genre.

Student Evaluation

To receive credit for this course, students must participate in the online activities, successfully complete the assignments, and achieve a final mark of at least 60 per cent. Students should be familiar with the Master of Arts—Integrated Studies grading system. Please note that it is students' responsibility to maintain their program status. Any student who receives a grade of "F" in one course, or a grade of "C" in more than one course, may be required to withdraw from the program.

The following table summarizes the evaluation activities and the credit weights associated with them.

Activity Weighting
Online Participation 25%
Book Review 20%
Presentation 20%
Term Paper 35%
Total 100%

Course Materials

The course materials for MAIS 617: Creative Nonfiction include the items listed below. If you find that any items are missing from your course package, please contact the Course Materials Production department at Athabasca University as soon as possible. You may call Athabasca University, toll-free, from anywhere in Canada or the United States at 1-800-788-9041 and ask to speak to someone in Course Materials Production (ext. 6366). Students in the Edmonton and Calgary dialling areas are asked to call the university's offices in those centres to connect with the automated attendant, and then dial the four-digit extension. You may send email to, or write to Course Materials Production at Tim Byrne Centre, 4001 Hwy 2 South, Athabasca AB T9S 1A4.


  • Bowling, Tim. The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture. Gibsons Landing, BC: Nightwood Editions, 2007.
  • Kerrane, Kevin, and Yagoda, Ben, eds. The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
  • Miller, Brenda and Paola, Suzanne. Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.
  • Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. London, England: Penguin Books, 2002.
  • Van Luven, Lynne, ed. Going Some Place: Creative Nonfiction Across Canada. Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2000.

Athabasca University Printed Materials

Reading File: The Reading File contains selected articles from various sources that are required reading for this course.

Athabasca University Online Materials

Course Home Page: You will find Course Information (including the Assignment File and other pertinent information) at the top of the course home page. You will also find your Study Guide presented unit by unit online. You will find your assignments and links to submit your work to your professor on the course home page.

Athabasca University Library: Students are encouraged to browse the Library's Web site to review the Library collection of journal databases, electronic journals, and digital reference tools:

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 3, January 6, 2014.

Last updated by MAIS; 08/05/2014 13:51:13