The University of Iowa Online

Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction

A free course from The University of Iowa
You have the opportunity to sign up for a statement of accomplishment for $50.00.
This course has concluded.

On May 15, 2017, the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa will open Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction, a free massive open online course. This creative writing MOOC will focus on writing about identities, communities, and social issues in fiction and nonfiction. There is no cost to enroll; registration is completely free for all participants. No writing experience is required. This MOOC welcomes writers of all communities and identities. To sign up, click the Sign Up button at top right!


This MOOC will:

  • Encourage you to write both fiction and nonfiction
  • Encourage you to explore the intersections between these two genres
  • Encourage you to explore the intersections of individual, community, and global identities
  • Encourage you to examine the effect of current social issues on individual, community, and global identities
  • Foreground the principles of short and long-form fiction
  • Foreground the principles of three forms of nonfiction: literary journalism, memoir essay, and personal essay
  • Support your experience of creative and cultural exchange with writers around the world!


Professors Christopher Merrill and Venise Berry will lead you through this course. Christopher Merrill is Director of the International Writing Program and University of Iowa Professor of English; he has published six collections of poetry, five works of nonfiction, and many works of translation. His new work Still Life with Dogwood has just been published. Venise Berry is Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa; she is the author of four novels as well as four books on African-American representation in film.


Our contributing authors, who will share their craft principles and advice with you during the class videos, hail from around the world and across the United States. Each offers a unique perspective on the writing process. We are honored to present their voices here.


The teaching team, who will work directly with you online regarding the class videos, readings, and writing assignments, are alumni of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and other prestigious MFA programs with substantial publication records and exceptional teaching expertise. They will log into the course website at different times of day and night so that you will be able to interact with them from any time zone in the world.


Every Thursday, we will post a set of new materials: videos recorded by our professors and contributing authors (including captions, transcripts, and audio files), readings, writing assignments, and discussions led by our teaching team.

Every Thursday, you can respond to these materials by: completing and posting a writing assignment; adding your thoughts and questions to the discussions, giving feedback on writing assignments, and receiving feedback on your own assignment.


You can participate at any time of day or night. We will post new materials every Thursday. But you can access them anytime after they have been posted. This MOOC site will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you can work at your own pace, on your own schedule. However you choose to participate, we welcome you. Come when you can and enjoy working with your teaching team and your classmates.


We offer an optional certificate of completion for a fee of $50.00 USD. The certificate is a way for you to earn formal recognition for your work. You do not have to pay for the certificate to sign up for the MOOC or to participate; every part of the MOOC is free.

In order to earn the certificate, you have to meet certain completion requirements. So if you think you would like to earn the certificate, make sure you review these requirements when this MOOC opens on May 15.


You will need a computer or mobile device with a stable internet connection that will support your participation. If you would like to take this course but do not have reliable internet access, please contact us at We will try to facilitate a local MOOC access group where you live.


Opening DateMonday, May 15 at 12 pm Central Daylight Time (GMT-5)
Orientation DaysMonday, May 15-Thursday, May 18: Orientation materials posted
You can access orientation materials anytime after they are posted
Block A: Weeks 1 and 2
Theme: Development of identity in community
Craft topics: Voice and setting in fiction and literary journalism
Thursday, May 18: Week 1 class materials posted
Thursday, May 25: Week 2 class materials posted
You can access class materials anytime after they are posted
Block B: Weeks 3 and 4
Theme: Identities on the move
Craft topics: Structure in fiction, the memoir essay, and the personal essay
Thursday, June 1: Week 3 class materials posted
Thursday, June 8: Week 4 class materials posted
You can access class materials anytime after they are posted
Block C: Weeks 5 and 6
Theme: Connecting and expressing identities
Craft topics: Research, detail, and descriptive imagery in all forms
Thursday, June 15: Week 5 class materials posted
Thursday, June 22: Week 6 class materials posted
You can access class materials anytime after they are posted
Farewell DaysThursday, June 29-Monday, July 3: Farewell materials posted
You can access farewell materials anytime after they are posted
Closing DateMonday, July 3 at 11:59 pm CDT

To sign up, click the Register button at top right. We look forward to working and writing with you soon. Onward!

Questions? Contact us at