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Creative Writing - Nonfiction Faculty Spotlight

Nonfiction Faculty David Lazar


Professor David Lazar

“The essay has always been where my heart is,” says David Lazar. “I’ve always believed that the possibilities of the nonfiction essay have just begun to be explored.”

Lazar has been on the forefront of that exploration for decades. Before establishing the Creative Nonfiction program at Columbia in 2010, he spent 16 years teaching at Ohio University, where he founded one of five creative nonfiction doctoral programs in the country. He is the author of numerous books—including The Body of Brooklyn, Michael Powell: Interviews, and Conversations with M.F.K. Fisher—and edited a seminal anthology titled Truth in Nonfiction, in which over twenty essayists explore historical and contemporary issues of the genre.

The curriculum in this program is a real balance between the literary, the creative, and the theoretical in ways that will provoke and support our students in both their creative work and their professional lives.

Although he has an affinity for the essay, the program Lazar designed covers a broad range of nonfiction approaches, including memoir, prose poetry, nonfiction film, and hybrid works that combine genres. Students also explore the theory of nonfiction and work closely with faculty to develop their own voice and style. “The curriculum in this program is a real balance between the literary, the creative, and the theoretical in ways that will provoke and support our students in both their creative work and their professional lives,” says Lazar.

The program’s broad preparation in both the theory and practice of nonfiction writing is enhanced by the opportunity for students to work as readers and editors on the College’s nationally distributed literary journals, including the quirky and unconventional Hotel Amerika—of which Lazar is the editor—and The South Loop Review, which showcases non- linear narratives, blended genres, illustrated essays and narrative photography. “We give our students a lot of strong models for what a literary life can offer.”

The program’s broad preparation in both the theory and practice of nonfiction writing is enhanced by the opportunity for students to work as readers and editors on the College’s nationally distributed literary journals.

Lazar knows first-hand what it means to make a career out of a passion for writing, and believes Chicago is an ideal incubator for emerging authors. Originally from Brooklyn, he recognizes Chicago as an approachable city that is “diverse, lively, and open to the arts.”

So what kind of student can take advantage of all that his Creative Nonfiction program has to offer? Lazar jokes, “My ideal student wants to read 12 hours a day and write 12 hours a day.” He then adds, sincerely, “I am looking for a student who is extraordinarily dedicated, someone who is engaged with the body of literature related to nonfiction and the ideas that it presents.” He is not disappointed with what he finds at Columbia: “Phillip Lopate once wrote that essayists don’t get made until their mid-30s or 40s,” he says, “but I continue to find wonderful young essayists in their 20s.”

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