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The Legacy of the Storyteller in Writing
Tuesday/Thursday 3:00 – 4:15 pm / SHC #28
Instructor: Michael Thomas PhD.
Office hours:
Tuesday/Thursday - 1:15-3:00 pm and arranged

Phone: 277-3662, 573-1656 (Cell)


COURSE DESCRIPTION: There is something about stories and story-telling that is fundamental to the human condition. There is simply no way to over-emphasize the importance of narrative to successful communication. In politics, commerce, entertainment, science, religion, and even sports, people communicate with colleagues and with the public at large using stories, narratives that lend drama and credibility to their endeavors, making those endeavors memorable and engaging. Writing is, essentially, the graphic representation of speech. Writers are the people who tell the stories that influence and inform modern societies.

This seminar examines the work of writers telling powerful, effective stories. This seminar will involve close, critical consideration of writings that use stories to influence and inform. We will explore the techniques the authors use to make their stories credible and resonant. Students will be applying those techniques to their own writing via assigned writing projects. In sum, students will read outstanding, effective writing while improving their own. The course will mimic, to some extent, the workshop approach that professional writing programs use. An all day writing retreat will complement a mix of settings for seminar meetings.

1) King, Stephan, On Writing
2) Flaherty, Francis, The Elements of Story
3) William Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Style
These books are, each in its own way, reference books. Stephan King’s book explains the principles of good writing in a clear, concise, and entertaining way mostly focusing on fiction. Francis Flaherty's book focuses similarly on non-fiction. Students should read these books for pleasure, inspiration and tips. The Elements of Style is the slender classic that has helped generations of writers produce lucid and precise prose. Students should read it for pleasure and keep it close at hand for guidance.

3) The reading emphasis will be on fiction and nonfiction with a strong narrative component, touching lightly on other forms such as poetry, drama, and film scripts. There will be selections from works by the instructor, selections from Edward Abbey, leslie Silko, Jane Smiley, Larry McMurtry, Joy Harjo, E.A. Mares, Aldo Leopold, John Nichols, William deBuys, James Hillman, Tony Hillerman, Margaret Atwood, Lewis Thomas, Diane Nyad, Gay Talese, Gary Smith, Maureen Dowd, Natalie Angier, Charles Bukoski, Richard Feynman, Ellen Gilchrist, Raymond Chandler, Oliver Sacks, Douglas Adams, and others. In lieu of providing a photocopied reader (and charging students for copy expenses, instructors will post reading assignments in downloadable form on the Wiki. To some extent, assignments will be based on each student’s needs and interests. Students should download and print the assigned readings or read the assignment on a computer monitor, taking extensive notes. Students must bring the downloaded, printed assignments and/or the extensive notes mentioned above to class on the days devoted to discussion of those assignments. Instructors will check to see that students are complying with this imperative.

REQUIREMENTS/GRADES: Grades are based on evaluations of Six one page reaction papers (5 x 5= 25 points), a five page short story, narrative-based non-fiction piece or narrative work in another medium. (15 points/due Oct.16), and an eight page narrative-based story, etc. (20 points/due Nov. 29) Ten minute presentation (15 points), attendance at three lectures or similar events (10 points – all or none, see below), plus an assessment of participation (15 points).
A - 85-100, Cr - 55-84, Ncr - 54 points or less.

ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION: This is a discussion class. Students are expected to attend all sessions, including the writer's retreat (9:00-5:00 on Satuday, Nov. 10) and to participate in a decorous and courteous manner in discussions. Students who miss class for any reason will lose participation points. A student who does not attend a particular session cannot contribute to the discourse. This is true whether the student is ill, grieving, or acting on a whim. There is no way to “make up” for missed classes and no way for students who are not present to participate. Students will, therefore lose 3 points per absence up to 15 points. Although students cannot makeup missed classes, extra credit opportunities will allow students to bolster their point totals or recoup points lost to missed classes or low scores on assignments If, however, a student misses more than six times, instructors will use the drop option. Again, an absence is an absence. Instructors will assume that any student unfortunate enough to miss class has a good reason.

King, “What Writing Is” pp103-137: Tues 8/28 (Analytic Reaction Paper optional)
King, “On Writing” pp 137-249: Tues 9/4 (Analytic Reaction Paper optional)
Flaherty, The Elements of Story: Tues 9/11: pp 1-97 (Analytic Reaction Paper optional)
Flaherty, The Elements of Story: Tues 9/18: pp 101-274 (Analytic Reaction Paper optional)

Reaction papers will be due on the first day that we discuss a given assignment. Students can hand in extra reaction papers for extra credit.

OUTCOMES/GOALS: Students who complete this seminar should be able to critically examine readings, and discourse on the topics those readings engage. They should be able to write short effective, defensible essays on thse topics. They should also be able to apply narrative methods to their writing They should be able to undertake and produce sound research. They should be able to present effective oral reports based on class assignments and/or their research. Their expressive skills (writing, speaking, discussing) should improve and they should be able to see connections across disciplinary lines and apply the narrative and analytic techniques that the readings introduce. Through the seminar they should increase their capacities to collaborate effectively. They should end the seminar with a more profound understanding of the story as a human universal and as an effective means of influencing and informing others.


1) All Legacy students are required to attend three lectures or cultural events (art gallery openings, plays, musical performances, poetry readings, etc.). The UHP sponsors a number of lectures that will meet this requirement. These include, the Carruthers Chair Lecture, The UHP Renowned Scholar Lecture, A UHP Faculty on Campus Lecture, and lectures for other UHP seminars that are open to the public. The UHP will sponsor at least three lectures each semester. There are, of course, lecture programs in other UNM departments and in the community at large. Students may use any UHP sponsored lecture to meet this requirement. Ask the instructor about other lectures or events like dramatic performances, poetry readings, showings of topical films, etc. that may meet this requirement. To complete this assignment, students must turn in a one page reaction paper. These papers will not be graded. Students in this seminar will earn ten points for attending three lectures. These are all or none points. Students attending one or two lectures will earn no points. Students can earn 1.5 extra credit points for lectures or sanctioned events they attend beyond the three required.

2) All students should have an e-mail account and UNM e-mail address (available free through CIRT) by the second class meeting. I will be addressing all of my e-mail to your wiki addresses or/and UNM addresses. Likewise, please use your wiki address or your UNM account in communicating with me and your fellow class members. I will NOT be sending e-mail postings to gmail, yahoo, msn, aol, hotmail, or any other e-mail address. I have had students change addresses as many as five times in a semester. Again, I will post e-mail to the wiki addresses and the UNM addresses and no others.

3) Students should sign up for the UHP listserve. That way the UHP can pass along useful information and announcements. To sign up: 1) Address an e-mail to 2) Leave the subject line blank. 3) The body of the message should be one line that reads:subscribe uhon-L first name last name 4) send it.

Example: subscribe uhon-L michael thomas

4) Students should become members of the Legacy of the Storyteller Wiki ( All documents relevant to the seminar will be on the wiki for perusal online or in downloadable form. Students may also use the wiki for communicating with one another and the instructor, uploading assignments and stories, etc.

5) Read the Assignment Guidelines. Every year I am amazed to find students making errors and losing points because they do assignments without reading the assignment guidelines. All professional writing involves guidelines. Editors encountering submissions that do not follow the pertinent guidelines do not read them..

6) This is the first paragraph of the UNM Policy on Academic Dishonesty:
“Each student is expected to maintain the highest standards of honesty and integrity in academic and professional matters. The University reserves the right to take disciplinary action up to and including dismissal against any student who is found guilty of academic dishonesty or otherwise fails to meet the standards. Any student judged to have engaged in academic dishonesty in course work may receive a reduced or failing grade for the work in question.”

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On June 9, 1973, Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. "He ran so fast, he left his shadow behind."
On June 9, 1973, Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. "He ran so fast, he left his shadow behind."

Guidance and inspiration from the consumate athlete...

Other Winners:

William Strunk
William Strunk
E.B. White
E.B. White

Kurt Vonnegut
Dr. Oliver Sacks

Aldo Leopold
Larry McMurtry

Denise Chavez
Frank McCourt

Ed Abbey
Susan Glaspell
Susan Glaspell

Ellen Gilchrist
Margaret Atwood

Francis Flaherty
Francis Flaherty

Raymond Chandler
Stephan King