Lesson No. 1: Introduction to Hybrid Genre Writing


Here is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, erased, blacked out by a reader’s magic marker. She has kept what is useful to her, and done away with the rest. Some might call this gesture irreverent, disrespectful, or even destructive. But writers do the same thing every day. When crafting a story or a poem, one selects the elements of convention that are useful, discarding the rest. Every poem, every story, and every essay is a deconstruction (and revision, and erasure) of the work that came before it. We select the parts of convention we wish to preserve, and there’s nothing disrespectful about it. It’s merely the writer’s job.

In my opinion, this erasure is useful for thinking about hybrid genre work for several reasons. First of all, you are selecting the aspects of genre convention that you wish to work with, and blacking out the rest. And even when working in hybrid forms, genre is still present in much the same way that Fitzgerald’s text is still visible beneath the black markings of the erasure. When we see a short story, for example, we expect a certain type of narrative arc. For the writer, these readerly expectations are material, knowledge you can use to surprise the reader and make them think. This is one of the primary goals of the course. Even when working in the most experimental modes, the ghosts of tradition, literary history, and genre convention will haunt your work. Just as the reader of the text shown above expected a pristine, unbroken narrative, your readers will come to your hybrid work with preconceived ideas about how stories unfold. In this class, we will work on using these readerly expectations to your advantage, making readers think, showing them new possibilities within received forms, and fostering more open-minded reading practices. Lastly, like the individual who erased Gatsby, you will select only the elements of tradition that are useful to you, forgetting the rest, or better yet, inventing the rest.

Hybrid Genre Writing: A Spectrum

Hybrid work can have elements of poetry, nonfiction, scholarship, fiction, or any combination thereof.

What does the term hybrid mean, exactly? For the purposes of this course, hybrid writing is any type of literary work that utilizes the resources of more than one traditional genre category. Here are some definitions and representative authors to help you get a sense of the range of hybrid genre work that exists in today’s literary landscape.

Lyrical Fiction: This term often refers to fiction (in novel or story form) that draws from the stylistic repertoire of poetry. Fiction that uses alliteration, assonance, consonance, and the repetition of sounds more generally, to create meaning. Fiction that relies on recurring imagistic motifs for structure and coherence, rather than narrative in the traditional sense. Lyrical prose frequently uses these poetic devices to heighten narrative suspense, and to elicit even more of an emotional response from the reader than the narrative itself could. The techniques of poetry supplement, create, and drive narrative in lyrical fiction. If you’re looking for some enjoyable examples available online, Carol Guess, Joanna Penn Cooper, Kelly Magee, Matt Bell and Molly Gaudry are a few well-known contemporary authors working in this tradition.

Lyric Essay: This term frequently refers to creative nonfiction that draws from the resources of poetry. Lyric essays, like creative nonfiction, draw their inspiration from the events of real life. But, like lyrical fiction, they frequently use the stylistic devices of poetry to elicit an emotional response from the reader. The lyric essay tradition is rich with imagistic motifs, fragmentation, and recursive narrative structures. The story folds in on itself, returning to images, ideas, and language from earlier in the text, often in a different context. Much like poetry, the lyric essay takes the imagery surrounding an experience (think of everyday objects, love tokens, mementos…), then inscribes it and reinscribes it with myriad possibilities for interpretation. Meaning accumulates, gathering around the detritus of a past experience. Unlike conventional prose works, which have a linear structure, lyric essays will circle around the same object or experience, which gains significance with each tangential orbit. Some contemporary practitioners of lyric essay include Maggie Nelson, Julie Marie Wade, and Eula Biss. If you’re interested, all three writers have work freely available online.

Creative Literary Criticism: There’s a great deal of hybrid genre work that questions the boundaries between “critical” and “creative” writing. After all, these distinctions seem arbitrary, and reflect larger power structures within the literary community and in the academy. Those in power decide what can be counted as “scholarship.” Perhaps the best known example of this type of writing is Jenny Boully’s The Body: An Essay, which we’ll look at later in the course. In this collection, Boully takes an academic form of writing (footnotes) and fills it with content that doesn’t seem academic at first glance: personal narratives, aestheticized language, and even descriptions of dreams. By using form in such a way, Boully calls our attention to the artificiality of the categories that we impose upon language. Indeed, personal experience, beauty, and the unconscious mind call all be brought to bear on theoretical debates. Other practictioners of creative scholarship include Kristy Bowen, Thalia Field, Spring Ulmer, and Carla Harryman.

Reading Assignments | Types of Hybridity

Lyrical Fiction

G.C. Waldrep, “Stigmatic Affection”

Richard Siken, “War of the Foxes”

Matt Bell, “The Girl in the Golden Hood”

Lyric Essay

Eula Biss, The Balloonists

Creative Literary Criticism

Kristy Bowen, “algorithms” and “footnotes to a history of

Jenny Boully, The Body

Writing Assignment | Erasing (or Inventing) Genre

Begin by choosing a form of writing that’s decidedly uncreative. This can be anything, from an advertisement to a footnote. Here are a few possibilities:

• Footnotes to a Book of Your Choosing
• A Glossary
• Endnotes
• An Appendix
• Job Listing
• Job Application Letter
• Conference Presentation
• Abstract for a Scholarly Paper
• An Encyclopedia Entry
• An Advertisement
• An Etiquette Guidebook
• A Travel Guide

Choose any form that interests you, but it should be a form of writing that readers expect to be practical. A type of writing that usually does its job, nothing less, nothing more.

Prompt & Example

Once you’ve chosen your form, make a list of elements that a reader will expect to find. For example, if you’ve chosen “Job Application Letter,” you know a reader would expect to find a list of credentials, an applicant’s name, his or her contact information, and perhaps some information on how the writer meets the qualifications of the job. After you’ve considered the components of this type of writing, decide which ones to keep, and choose which ones to discard. For the Job Application Letter, you might keep the letter format, but not include the applicant’s credentials. Once some of the elements of the genre have been discarded, think about what you will put in their place. For this assignment, I’d like you to insert some unexpected element (whether it’s content, sound, imagery, fragmentation, unconventional grammar, etc.) into this practical form of writing that you’ve chosen. Consider carefully what the reader will expect, and what they won’t expect. How can you use what’s familiar to surprise them?

Here’s an example: Robert Miltner’s “Hope is a Feathered Thing”


Kristina Marie DarlingKristina Marie Darling is the author of eighteen books, which include VOW, PETRARCHAN, and SCORCHED ALTAR: SELECTED POEMS AND STORIES, 2007-2014, which is forthcoming from BlazeVOX Books. Her writing has been described by literary critics as “haunting,” “mesmerizing,” and “complex.” Poet and Kenyon Review editor Zach Savich writes that her body of work is a “singularly graceful and stunningly incisive exploration of poetic insight, vision, and transformation.”


Week 4: Applying for Artist Grants Continued

Week 4:  Applying for Artist Grants Continued

An Anatomy of Grant Applications

If a grant agency is interested in your proposal, these are the materials they typically request:

  • Formal Letters of Recommendation.
  • Proof of Eligibility (for regional grants especially, the funding source may request proof of residence in a given city or state).
  • Budget and List of Anticipated Expenses.
  • Works sample.

When thinking about how to compile all of these materials, there are several similarities to the artist residency applications we discussed in weeks one and two.  First, make sure that the work sample relates to the project proposal, showing that you have technical expertise to execute the proposed project.  The process of assessing material from your references or letter writer will be fairly similar as well.  They are more often character references than anything else. Grant agencies frequently use references to make sure that you are trustworthy, accountable, and ethical (as these are important considerations when awarding substantial amounts of money). 

Application Dossiers:  More Tips (& a Horror Story)


  • Many writers make the mistake of choosing a reference who does not know them well at all, but is a very well known person in that field. They usually anticipate that a big name will impress the selection committee.  When juries  check references, though, one of the questions most frequently asked is “How long have you known the applicant?”  With that in mind, choose someone whose accomplishments you respect, but also someone who knows you well enough to do justice to your project, ability, and character.
  • A good percentage of applicants use former teachers as references.  If you are self taught, or graduated from your MFA awhile back, don’t panic that you don’t a have professors to list as references.  You may also list colleagues, friends who are arts professionals, your publisher, editors you’ve worked with in the small press, individuals with whom you’ve collaborated, etc.  Be sure to ask them first, however, and provide enough information about your project so that they can speak to its merits.  I typically supply my references with an up to date C.V., copy of the work sample, and a copy of the application. 
  • If you’re requesting a formal letter, give your letter writer at least one month lead time.  


  • Grant agencies are most likely to approve small reasonable requests for funds than larger amounts. The reason for this is that there are many artist applying for these grants, and funds are scarce.  So request only what you need and can justify in the application.

As promised, the horror story…

I have a close friend who is a very accomplished poet.  He has won numerous awards for his work, and completed not one, but two, M.F.A. degrees from top-flight programs.  His first book was reviewed widely, and was a finalist for a major award.  A few years ago, he applied for a grant, thinking that his credentials would set him apart.  He was so confident that his application would be approved that he requested $70,000.00 in his initial letter of inquiry. The grant agency returned his materials promptly with a form rejection enclosed.   

And a happy ending…

Artists do get grants, more often than people realize.  Don’t make unreasonable requests, though, as these could potentially take away from the opportunities available to artists much needier than yourself.   If you’re reasonable, professional, and do your research, you’ll be surprised and delighted to find people who believe in your project as much as you do.


Reading Assignment:  Ways to Stay in the Loop

What is the most common reason that people don’t get grants?  They missed the deadline.  Here are some links to open calls, newsletters, and websites that are continuously updated and describe various funding opportunities for arts professionals:

Fund for Writers:  http://fundsforwriters.com/

Poets and Writers:  http://www.pw.org/grants

Art Deadline:  http://artdeadline.com/

And few grants that are well kept secrets…

Word Riot Travel Grants:  Kicking The Small Press Into High Gear:  http://wordriot.us/travel-grants/

Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences:  http://www.awesomefoundation.org/


Kristina Marie DarlingKristina Marie Darling is the author of over twenty collections of poetry. Her awards include two Yaddo residencies, a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, and a Visiting Artist Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome, as well as grants from the Whiting Foundation and Harvard University’s Kittredge Fund. She is currently working toward both a Ph.D. in English Literature at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo and an M.F.A. in Poetry at New York University.

Week 3: Applying for Artist Grants

Week 3:  Applying for Artist Grants

Artist Grants:  An Introduction

Yes, there are the artist grants that everyone knows about:  NEA, Guggenheim, MacAurthur, etc.  But there are many grants that aren’t as highly sought after, which emerging artists have a much better chance of obtaining.  Why don’t people know about them, then?  They don’t do their research, and it’s as simple as that.  With that in mind, here are some resources which will help you research the grants that are best suited to your budget and proposed project:

The Database Database:  Grantspace.org has culled a selection of resources, which include the organization’s own list of opportunities for individual artists, searchable databases of foundation grants to individuals, webinars, and online training modules.  Click here:  http://grantspace.org/tools/knowledge-base/Individual-Grantseekers/Artists/funding-for-individual-artists

The Database of Databases:  Another list of resources, which includes descriptions and hyperlinks.  Click here:  http://artgrants.blogspot.com/

Michigan State University Libraries:  A fairly comphrehensive list of grants to individuals.  Click here:  http://staff.lib.msu.edu/harris23/grants/3arts.htm

Specialized Grants:  You may qualify for special grants based on race, gender, ethnicity, geographic location, etc.  For a list of some more specialized grants, click here:  http://www.womenarts.org/funding-resources/sourcesforindividualartists/

Crafting the Perfect Cover Letter:  Some Tips

Many grants, such as the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation, ask for an initial letter of inquiry, which describes the project, its scope, the budget, and your credentials for undertaking the project.  The purpose is for the foundation to get to know you a bit, and ascertain whether or not it’s a potential match, before they ask you to send additional materials.  The materials requested at this stage are often much more comprehensive, and may include as many as six letters of reference. 

As you draft this initial letter of intent, here are the questions you’ll need to address: 

  • How much money are you requesting?
  • What is the nature of project for which funds are being sought? You’ll want to include a brief (100-200 word) description, similar to the one you drafted for your residency application. 
  • How does the project support the grant agency’s mission? To address this question, you’ll need to see if the funding source to which you’re applying has a mission statement.  Sometimes they can be quite specialized, such as the Kittredge Fund, which is aimed at artists in the early stages of a promising career, or the Elizabeth George Foundation, which makes grants to novelists who are unpublished.  You’ll want to situate your proposed project in relation to the grant agency’s existing mission. 
  • Why are you the one who is best suited to carry out this project? You’ll want to give details about your credentials, which may include formal training that relates to the project, publications in the genre you’re proposing to work in, awards, honors, recognitions, etc.
  • How will funds be used? Many applicants use this part of the letter to mention artist residencies, writing conferences, and workshops they wish to attend, and explain how they will assist with the completion of the project.     

Reading Assignment:  The Do’s and Don’ts

How to Write a Grant Proposal:  http://www.artistsnetwork.com/articles/business-of-art/how-to-write-a-grant-proposal

How Not to Write a Grant Proposal:  http://chronicle.com/article/How-to-Fail-in-Grant-Writing/125620/


Writing Assignment:  Show Me the Money

From the funding options you listed in your Discussion Assignment, choose two. Then write two cover letters, each for a different grant opportunity.  If you’re unsure how to structure the letter, take a look at the sample cover letter (below) or simply use the bullet point list above, devoting one paragraph to each bullet point question. 

Sample Cover Letter:  http://media.kaboom.org/docs/documents/pdf/Fundraising_sample_cover_letter.pdf


Kristina Marie DarlingKristina Marie Darling is the author of over twenty collections of poetry. Her awards include two Yaddo residencies, a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, and a Visiting Artist Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome, as well as grants from the Whiting Foundation and Harvard University’s Kittredge Fund. She is currently working toward both a Ph.D. in English Literature at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo and an M.F.A. in Poetry at New York University.