Danielle Dutton

Professor of English
Co-Director, Center for the Literary Arts
Pronouns: she/her
PhD, University of Denver
research interests:
  • fiction writing
  • experimental fiction
  • image and text
  • literature and the environment
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1122
    • One Brookings Dr.
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
    image of book cover

    As a core member of the creative writing faculty, Professor Dutton teaches graduate and undergraduate fiction writing workshops as well as a variety of creative-critical courses that emphasize cross-genre and interdisciplinary approaches.

    Dutton is the author of the novels Margaret the First and SPRAWL. Her first book was the hybrid prose collection Attempts at a Life. She also wrote the text interpolations in Richard Kraft’s collage narrative Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera and the illustrated nonfiction chapbook A Picture Held Us Captive. Her next book, Prairie, Dresses, Art, Other, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press.

    In 2009, Dutton co-founded the acclaimed feminist press Dorothy, a publishing project. The press was named for Dutton’s great aunt Dorothy Traver, a librarian who drove a bookmobile through the backroads of Southern California, delivering books to rural desert communities. Over the past decade, Dorothy (which Dutton runs with her husband, Martin Riker) has published an eclectic array of titles that have gone on to receive national attention, from Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi's Whiting Award-winning novel Fra Keeler to The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington and Renee Gladman's Ravickian series. The press offers internships to Washington University students.

    Dutton holds a PhD from the University of Denver, an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Before joining the faculty at Wash U in 2011, she was the book designer at Dalkey Archive Press and an instructor in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.

    Recent Courses

    Fictions of the Anthropocene (co-taught with Dr. Melanie Micir)

    How can writers approach a topic as vast as the Anthropocene, the sixth great age of mass extinctions in which human industry has become a catastrophic environmental force? How can our writing reflect and reimagine what critic Timothy Morton has called “hyperobjects”: concepts or entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions (climate change, plutonium, Styrofoam, the Everglades, etc.) that we have a hard time describing them? How can the “slow violence” of climate change or the tangled networks of global capitalism be represented in narrative or poetic forms? Can something written in human language ever give a just voice to non- human species? Is there a way to write about the ongoing environmental crisis of the Anthropocene that also preserves space for human agency—and perhaps even hope? This class is co-taught by members of the literature and creative writing faculties; our thinking will be hybrid and eclectic, and you will be invited to practice both critical and creative writing throughout the course. We will engage work by writers and artists such as Karen Tei Yamashita, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Wanuri Kahiu, Cecilia Vicuña, Ursula K. Le Guin, Amitav Ghosh, Donna Haraway, Jeff VanderMeer, etc. The final weeks of the course will be devoted to workshopping your own creative and/or critical writing of the Anthropocene.

      Fiction and the Visual

      In this class we’ll explore intersections of prose/fiction and the visual, from illustrated manuscripts to stories about visual artists and visual art by writers. We’ll look at excerpts, essays, novels, drawings, collage, and/or paintings by people like Renee Gladman, Mariko Nagai, Sofia Samatar, W.G. Sebald, Francis Bacon, Paula Rego, and John Keene. How might a story act like a photograph or move like an installation? How might forms of visual art--a diptych, the nude--inspire the forms in which we write? Throughout the semester, students will create writing that is in some meaningful way steered or shaped by the visual (be that description, ekphrasis, illustration, a story about standing in front of a painting in a museum trying to decide if you should kiss your date, etc.). Our investigation will be driven less by a thesis than by a generative inquiry into the many ways a purposeful intersection of art forms can open up expressive possibilities.

        Intro to Fiction Writing

        Fiction 1 serves as an introduction to writing fiction, and as any writer will tell you: to write well you must also read well. Therefore, in addition to attending to your own stories, we’ll read an array of published stories—from Herman Melville's 19C "Bartleby, the Scrivener" to Octavia Butler's 20C "Speech Sounds" to stories by young writers working today—seeking to understand how and why they work. This might sound like a simple task, but I’d like to suggest that it’s actually hard to do. We often read as consumers (thumbs up/thumbs down), but working to get inside something to try to understand it (be it a painting, a novel, or another person’s way of thinking), means opening ourselves to this new thing and the ways in which it might change us. It requires generosity, curiosity, and patience. You’ll likely encounter writing in here that you find frustrating, as well as work you immediately like, but your visceral response, while natural, is not ultimately what we’re after. Our aim is to figure out what makes stories work, what their words, sentences, or paragraphs are doing to us as we read. In short: we will read as writers, looking at the choices different writers have made within the short story form. On a practical level, we’ll talk about elements of fiction—plot, character, setting, etc.—and you’ll experiment with these in your writing.

          Selected Work Online

          Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera

          Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera

          "Here Comes Kitty is a dark circus of the very best kind: bright 'damage' on every page. It pierces the heart with its mixture of love and going. I am honored to speak in support of such an extraordinarily brilliant book." —Bhanu Kapil

          "Monumental incongruities—dazzling composition. Richard Kraft and Danielle Dutton have created a riot of images and words. The exuberance is contagious. A delight. A must." —Rosmarie Waldrop

          "Here Comes Kitty reaches out in all sorts of ways like a compendium of the postmodern without pretentiousness which—despite combining humor, the erotic, the gothic, the wry, the popular and the sophisticated—tells a tight tale with wild invention and makes you want both to turn the pages and dwell on the images." —Tom Phillips

          Margaret the First: A Novel

          Margaret the First: A Novel

          Winner of an Independent Publisher's Book Award Gold Medal for Historical Fiction

          Margaret the First dramatizes the life of Margaret Cavendish, the shy, gifted, and wildly unconventional 17th-century Duchess. The eccentric Margaret wrote and published volumes of poems, philosophy, feminist plays, and utopian science fiction at a time when “being a writer” was not an option open to women. As one of the Queen’s attendants and the daughter of prominent Royalists, she was exiled to France when King Charles I was overthrown. As the English Civil War raged on, Margaret met and married William Cavendish, who encouraged her writing and her desire for a career. After the War, her work earned her both fame and infamy in England: at the dawn of daily newspapers, she was “Mad Madge,” an original tabloid celebrity. Yet Margaret was also the first woman to be invited to the Royal Society of London—a mainstay of the Scientific Revolution—and the last for another two hundred years. 

          Margaret the First is very much a contemporary novel set in the past. Written with lucid precision and sharp cuts through narrative time, it is a gorgeous and wholly new approach to imagining the life of a historical woman.

          S P R A W L

          S P R A W L

          Finalist for the Believer Book Award

          “Rereading SPRAWL in the new edition—a novel that remains unlike anything I’ve read before—made me recall the sensation of first reading Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. Like The Waves, SPRAWL radically reorients the reader to what the narrative space of a novel can be and do, and, most memorably, how that can feel. Consisting of a single paragraph spanning more than a hundred pages, the strange bakelite surface of the novel’s prose creates a retro-futurist scene. Is the novel set in a 1950s white-picket-fenced suburbia made ever stranger? or is it set in an ecologically doomed near-future? At its center is an impressionistic portrait of a couple consisting of the narrator and her husband, Haywood, but this is treated less as a plotted narrative drama of a relationship and more like a David Attenborough documentary studying the mating and nesting rituals of a particular specimen pair of the aspirational white middle class (if Attenborough were an alien observer). The novel is imbued with deep observational analysis (consumption as competition, even sport; the economics of homemaking and desire).” —John Vincler, Music & Literature

          Inspired by a series of domestic still lifes by photographer Laura Letinsky, Danielle Dutton's absurdly comic and decidedly digressive novel Sprawl chronicles the mercurial inner life of one suburban woman (the dissolving marriage, the crumbs on the countertop, the drunken neighbor careening into the pool, the dead dog on the side of the road), constructing surprising taxonomies that rearrange the banalities, small wonders and accoutrements of contemporary suburban life.

          Attempts at a Life

          Attempts at a Life

          Fiction. Operating somewhere between fiction and poetry, biography and theory, the stories in ATTEMPTS AT A LIFE do what lively stories do best, creating worlds of possibility, worlds filled with surprises. Like the "experiments in found movement" one character conducts (in "Everybody's Autobiography"), Dutton's stories find movement wherever they turn, each sentence a small explosion of images and anthems and odd juxtapositions. This is writing in which the imagination (both writer's and reader's) is capable of producing almost anything at any moment, from a shiny penny to an alien metropolis, a burning village to a bright green bird. "Danielle Dutton's stories remind me of those alluring puzzles where the pool is overflowing and emptying at the same time. Dutton's answer? That the self is a rush of the languages of storytelling and moments of helpless intimacy"--Robert Gluck.