Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Ira Shor


David Reynolds

Committee Members

Talia Schaeffer

Subject Categories

Art Education | Creative Writing | Fiction | Other Rhetoric and Composition


Creative Writing, Fiction, Pedagogy, Teaching, Textbooks, MFA


Imaginary Subjects: Fiction Writing Instruction in America, 1826-1897 is a study of the confluence of commercial, educational, and aesthetic developments behind the rise of instruction in fiction-writing. Part I ("The Predicament of Fiction-Writing") traces fiction-writing instruction from its absence in Enlightenment-era rhetoric textbooks to its modest beginnings in magazine essays by Poe and Marryat, and in mid-century advice literature. Part II ("Fiction-Writing in the Classroom") notes the rise of fiction exercise from early Romantic-era primers upwards into mid-centuryhigh-school level textbooks, and from there into Harvard composition exercises; this coincided with an increasing emphasis by author advocacy groups on writing as alearnable craft, culminating in full-fledged professionally-oriented instruction at the University of Chicago in the 1890s. Part III ("The Literary Advice Industry") traces the late nineteenth-century development of advice bureaus, "School of Fiction" magazine departments, and how-to periodical and guidebook literature. Their emphasis on teaching women, who were still largely unable to access higher education, remains an insufficiently studied influence on the later Creative Writing movement. An epilogue suggests further directions for research and notes how Creative Writing instruction, particularly at the graduate level, has since drifted far from its origins in both professional how-to advice and in experiential education.