For Spring Quarter 2021, I will be teaching Writing About Spirituality for Stanford Continuing Studies. The course runs 10 weeks, March 29-June 4. Registration opens February 22. Full course information, including the syllabus, can be found here.


For Winter 2021, I am teaching Mastering the Personal Essay for Stanford Continuing Studies.

Past Classes

For Fall 2020 I taught Form and Theory of the novel for Stanford Continuing Studies’ Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing. You can read more about the program here.

For Winter 2019, I taught Writing About Spirituality for Stanford Continuing Studies. Course description:

Our spiritual experiences stir our most urgent desire to communicate. We burn to share the questions and convictions that draw us to a reality beyond our limited selves. But how do we work with language to contain the ineffable? How do we write about spirituality without oversimplifying infinite complexities? How can our writing reach those who already share our beliefs and those who don’t? In this course, we will read the work of inspiring spiritual writers who represent a wide range of faith traditions, from the reflections of Protestant memoirist Christian Wiman to the Dharma talks of Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön to the contemplative journals of Muslim poet Kazim Ali and the instructive essays of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. During our first six weeks, we will alternate between “reading weeks,” in which we deeply examine and contemplate our model texts, and “writing weeks,” in which we draft new work. During our final month, each student will workshop a longer essay or spiritual memoir. By reading published spiritual writers closely, we will find new ways to point to a greater truth in our own work.

I taught in Stanford Continuing Studies’ Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing for Fall quarter 2019. You can read more about the program here.

Other past Stanford Continuing Studies classes:

Creative Nonfiction: Finding the Universal in the Particular

June 24-August 30

Memoir, essay, or first-person reportage—all creative nonfiction is rooted in a daily habit of noticing the “beloved particulars,” then digging inward to discover how those particulars can evoke what we might risk calling “the universal”—an archetypal experience that almost any reader can relate to. In this welcoming, highly exploratory course, we will play with nonfiction forms ranging from the lyric to the narrative. Voice, point of view, structure, form—all of the essential, recurring terms of the writing life will be introduced as we discuss works by such writers as Stuart Dybek, Grace Paley, Joan Didion, and Amy Tan, and post short weekly assignments for feedback. Each student will also draft and workshop a longer piece of writing. We will practice really seeing, being open and receptive (“sneaking under the fence of interpretation,” as Deborah Eisenberg called it) and dropping defenses, especially those we hide from ourselves, to find truths that can show us the transcendent in the particular. After all, as Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Wouldn’t it be better for you to discover a meaning in what you write than to impose one? Nothing you write will lack meaning because the meaning is in you.”


Spring 2019

The Creative Nonfiction Book: Find Your Truth, Shape Your Story

How does truth differ from mere fact in creative nonfiction? And how do we find and give form to the deeper truths that compel readers to compulsively turn pages? In this course, we will use Vivian Gornick’s craft book, The Situation and the Story, to help examine the personal story you are trying to tell, and to discover how you can best tell it. Reading contrasting personal essay and memoir excerpts by Jo Ann Beard, Alexandra Fuller, and Susan J. Miller, as well as two full memoirs, we will explore how writers of creative nonfiction use fiction techniques to pull the reader into an emotional world much deeper than surface factuality. Through weekly writing exercises, we will experiment with new ways to hone and house the truths that can sustain book-length nonfiction. Each student will workshop a section of their book-inprogress for constructive feedback. In the later weeks, we will also talk about routes to publication and hash out ethical quandaries, such as the fallibility of memory and the eternal worry: “What will my family think?”

This course is for students with a book already in progress, as well as for those just starting out. This is the second course of the two-quarter sequence, “The Creative Nonfiction Book.” Creative nonfiction is a fast-growing genre that includes memoir, essays, biography, and writing on such topics as art, science, and history. For those who want to write a book of creative nonfiction, these courses (offered in Winter 2019 and Spring 2019) will provide invaluable instruction and a supportive community. While these courses build upon one another, each course can be taken independently as well.

Rachel Howard, Author

Rachel Howard is the author of a memoir about her father’s unsolved murder, The Lost Night, and a novel, The Risk of Us. Her personal essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Gulf Coast, O, The Oprah Magazine, Berfrois, The New York Times “Draft” series, and elsewhere. She received an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College.
Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Vivian Gornick, The Situation and the Story, any (ISBN 0374528586)
(Required) Marilyn Abildskov, The Men in My Country, any (ISBN 1587294494)
(Required) Alison Smith, Name All the Animals (ISBN 9780743255233)

Click here for more information, and to register.