In writing, voice is a metaphor. Writers borrow qualities of speech, song, screams, whispers, grunts, and yelps—and translate them into sustained patterns of language that enable readers to perceive the presence of a writer’s personality, self, or sensibility. But voice isn’t simply a metaphor. It integrates the sounds of language with grammatical, stylistic, and organizational techniques. Broadly defined, literary nonfiction includes literary journalism, lyric or personal essays, memoir, graphic nonfiction, and experimental biography. Creative nonfiction tells true stories using literary techniques. The elements of craft involved rely on voice: Scene, dialogue, exposition, narration, observation, imagery, commentary, reflection, structure. The same goes for the ethics and epistemology of writing about real people and events: Truth, subjectivity, memory, commitment, responsibility, sources. Voice is fundamentally related to self, but not identical to it. It’s a partial and mutable expression of a writer’s personal and public identities, of consciousness and persona.
In this course, we’ll explore the variety of tools and conventions writers use to build, establish, and assert their voices depending on the forms they’re writing. Voice is a rangy topic, in theory as much as practice. At every stage, we’ll also consider how voice intersects with other elements of nonfiction writing.