Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) 617

Creative Nonfiction (Revision 4)

**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.**


MAIS 617: Creative Nonfiction is a hybrid course in which students will have a chance to do both literary criticism and creative work. Some assignments will allow students to choose between analytical and creative options.The original version of this course, much of which survives in this current offering, was described by its author, Gordon Morash, as a literature survey course. Recent revisions have made it possible to engage in the course as either a reader or a writer.

Creative nonfiction falls under many names. Depending upon the author’s intention, the publication and the readership, creative nonfiction can be and has been called literary journalism, narrative history, the literature of reality, life narrative, writerly nonfiction, subjective nonfiction, intimate journalism, fictive or fictional memoir, immersion journalism, personal narrative, participatory journalism, the New Journalism, literary nonfiction,

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."

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.


  1. The first assignment, a review (1,200 words maximum) of work of a creative nonfiction author of your choice, is due after the fourth week of the course.
  2. The second assignment, a presentation and moderation of discussion, requires you to post an analysis of a work of creative nonfiction or a piece of creative writing of your own. Moderation includes answering the posts of your classmates to continue the conversation surrounding your presentation and discussing the issues that arise. In essence, you are directing the class for that week—answering questions and comments from your classmates, moving the discussion to other related subjects, being the resident expert on your chosen topic. Your professor is relegated to an observer’s position.
  3. The final assignment is your Term Paper. In it you will be required to write a piece of creative nonfiction that reflects everything you’ve learned about creative nonfiction, in theory and practice. This can be a memoir, or an immersion paper, or something else, as long as it is “nonfiction that reads like fiction.”

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—Interdisciplinary 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 20%
Review 15%
Presentation and moderation of discussion 25%
Term Paper 40%
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.


  • Gutkind, Lee. You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between. Boston: Da Capo Press/Lifelong Books, 2012.
  • Kerrane, Kevin, and Yagoda, Ben, eds. The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
  • Mowat, Farley. People of the Deer. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012 (1951).

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 4, January, 2017.