Danielle Dutton

Danielle Dutton

​Associate Professor of English
PhD, University of Denver
research interests:
  • fiction writing
  • narrative forms
  • experimental and hybrid prose/fiction traditions
  • image and text
  • Modernism
  • literature and place
  • literature and the environment

contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1122
    One Brookings Dr.
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

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.

Danielle Dutton is the author of a collection of hybrid prose pieces, Attempts at a Life, the novels SPRAWL and Margaret the First, and (with artist Richard Kraft) the collaborative collage project Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera. Her writing has appeared in international venues such as Harper’s, BOMB, The Guardian, The Paris Review, and The White Review.

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.

    On Eros

    Beginning with Anne Carson on Sappho (“Eros once again limb-loosener whirls me”), we’ll read a wide variety of texts, some that thoughtfully circle eros-as-concept, others that go straight for the mad guts of desire—from Barthes’ "The Pleasures of the Text" to Maggie Nelson’s "Bluets" to novels by James Baldwin and Marguerite Duras. We’ll consider questions of (and for and against) beauty and pleasure in the texts we read. What forms might desire necessitate? What is the eros of reading itself? There will be occasional in-class creative exercises throughout the semester, and at the end of the term students will present and workshop new writing (of any genre) that engages with the erotic.

      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

          • "These Bad Things" at Guernica
          • "Sixty-six Dresses I Have Read" at Fence
          • "Top 10 Books About Wild Women" at The Guardian
          • Excerpt from SPRAWL at Places Journal
          • Excerpt from Margaret the First at Catapult
          • "A Conversation with Danielle Dutton" by John Vincler at Music & Literature
          • "Shared Curiosity: An Interview with Danielle Dutton" by Abram Foley at ASAP

          From our podcast:

          Hold That Thought Podcast

          A Room of One's Own

          In 2010, VIDA—Women in Literary Arts—found that between 3 to 5 men were being published or reviewed for every one woman that appeared in leading magazines. Danielle Dutton discusses what these numbers mean to her and the poetics of suburbia in her novel, SPRAWL. In the second half of the episode, Vincent Sherry explores the life and literary opinions of Virginia Woolf.

          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.