English Ph.D. Dissertations


Teaching Them to Fish: Creative Nonfiction as a Toolkit for Transfer

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English/Rhetoric and Writing

First Advisor

Sue Carter Wood (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Catherine Cassara (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

William Albertini (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Committee Member)


As its title suggests, this dissertation explores how creative nonfiction (CNF) writing is uniquely suited to teach writing as a strategy to assess and address different rhetorical contexts, thus giving students the tools to harness the experience of past compositions to meet the challenge of future ones. By synthesizing the tenets of CNF pedagogy (as espoused by Bishop, Bradway, Hesse, and Root), the objectives of first-year composition (FYC) instruction (as defined by professional organizations in the Composition and Rhetoric field such as the NCTE and the WPA), and the recommendations of transfer theory (as described by proponents from Perkins and Salomon to Bergmann and Zepernick), my project posits a CNF-infused course design that highlights the personal and professional relevance of FYC by teaching writing as an adaptable skill.

After providing an overview of the project and surveying its theoretical influences, Chapter One locates the pedagogical potential of creative nonfiction, which I argue results from its ability to be grounded in both the real and the reflective. Chapter Two suggests how the genre can utilize this metacognitive capability to build a bridge between past, present, and future writing by emphasizing parallels between the features of CNF writing (reflection, veracity, emotion, voice/style, and narrative structure) and commonly agreed-upon FYC objectives (critical thinking, research, argument, audience awareness, and organization). Chapter Three then explores the former’s ability to teach the latter by outlining transfer theory, which studies the extent that writing skills can transcend contexts. This sets the stage for Chapter Four, which puts theory to practice in the form of the aforementioned FYC course design that explicitly teaches for transfer by using CNF’s different subgenres to model different contexts, and then using the aforementioned parallels to highlight similarities and differences between contexts. Finally, Chapter Five summarizes my conclusions, acknowledges the limitations of this study, and suggests avenues for the further research and development of like-minded pedagogies.