Courses for Fall 2021

Please note that the course selection period concludes Tuesday, September 14th.


English 010.301    Intro to Creative Writing: Writing Asian American Lives    Piyali Bhattacharya   TR 10:15-11:45 

English 010.302    Intro to Creative Writing: Fiction and Memoir    Weike Wang    M 10:15-1:15   


English 010.303    Intro to Creative Writing: Memoir and Creative Nonfiction    Carmen Machado    MW 3:30-5:00


English 010.304    Intro to Creative Writing: Sports Narratives   Jamie-Lee Josselyn    M 1:45-4:45  
 

English 010.305    Intro to Creative Writing: Extreme Noticing    Sam Apple    T 5:15-8:15


English 010.307    Intro to Creative Writing: Poetry and Memoir    Laynie Browne    W 1:45-4:45


English 110.401    Writing for Television    Scott Burkhardt    W 5:15-8:15


English 112.301    Fictional Friendships: Writing Ardor and Amity    Piyali Bhattacharya    TR 1:45-3:15  


English 112.302    Fiction Writing Workshop: Flash Fiction    Carmen Machado    MW 12:00-1:30 
 

English 113.301    Poetry Writing Workshop    Rachel Zolf    T 1:45-4:45


English 114.401    Playwriting    Anne Marie Cammarato    F 12:00-3:00

 
English 115.301    Advanced Fiction Writing    Max Apple    T 1:45-4:45
 

English 115.302    Advanced Fiction Writing: Autofiction    Weike Wang  M 1:45-4:45   


English 116.401    Screenwriting    Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve    M 1:45-4:45   


English 116.402    Screenwriting    Scott Burkhardt    W 1:45-4:45   


English 116.403    Screenwriting    Scott Burkhardt    R 5:15-8:15   


English 117.301    The Arts and Popular Culture    Anthony DeCurtis    R 1:45-4:45  


English 121.301    Writing for Young Adults    Nova Ren Suma    W 1:45-4:45


English 129.401    Across Forms    Rachel Zolf, Sharon Hayes    W 1:45-4:45


English 130.401    Advanced Screenwriting    Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve    W 1:45-4:45  


English 135.301    Creative Nonfiction Writing    Max Apple    R 1:45-4:45 


English 138.401    Writing Center Theory and Practice    Stacy Kastner   

TR 10:15-11:45


English 144.301    I Was a Teenage Monster: Coming of Age in Speculative Writing    Jeff T. Johnson    W 3:30-6:30


English 145.301    Advanced Nonfiction Writing: Xfic    Jay Kirk    M 5:15-8:15   


English 151.301    Translating Laughter    Ahmad Almallah    R 10:15-1:15


English 158.301    Advanced Journalistic Writing: Journalistic Storytelling    Dick Polman    M 1:45-4:45


English 162.301    Political Journalism: The Biden Era    Dick Polman    W 1:45-4:45


English 165.301    Writing through Culture and Art    Kenneth Goldsmith    R 3:30-6:30

  

Descriptions

English 010.301
Intro to Creative Writing: Writing Asian American Lives
Bhattacharya
TR 10:15-11:45

Kids know more about dinosaurs than they do about Asian Americans.” So says Dr. Karen Su, founding director of PAACH (Pan-Asian American Community House) at Penn, and though she’s talking about children’s literature, her sentiment might apply to adults, too. Who are the Asian Americans? What does it mean to be non-Black POC in this country? How do religion, ethnicity, gender, class, nationality, and immigration status define this group? How do we discuss all this while being inclusive of both “us” and “them”? This course will explore these questions through the lens of an introductory fiction, nonfiction, and poetry creative writing workshop. We’ll follow the traditional workshop format of critiquing each other’s short stories, essays, and poems in class, along with close reading works by authors as established as Jhumpa Lahiri, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Amy Tan, and as contemporary as Lisa Ko, Bushra Rehman, Ocean Vuong, and Mira Jacob. We’ll use these texts as springboards to examine representations of identity, inclusion, and exclusion, and we’ll be invited to consider these representations in the media around us as well as in our local communities. Finally, we’ll think through how we can contribute to discussions of these topics with our own artistic voices. 


 

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English 010.302
Intro to Creative Writing: Fiction and Memoir
Wang
M 10:15-1:15

In this course, students will read contemporary fiction writers who are blending the genres of fiction and memoir. Students will be introduced to the craft of writing through discussions on plot, character, dialogue and voice. Students will also be encouraged to explore different kinds of fictional writing from flash to ‘pseudo-memoir’ to the short story. The first half of the semester will be dedicated to short exercises (1-2 pages) and mini workshops.  The second half of the semester, each student will work towards a longer piece (8-12 pages) to be workshopped.  There will be weekly response papers (1-2 pages) to the readings.

 

 

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English 010.303
Intro to Creative Writing: Memoir and Creative Nonfiction
Machado
MW 3:30-5:00

This workshop-style class is an introduction to the pleasures of the writing nonfiction. Students will read in a wide variety of subgenres, forms, and traditions (including memoir, criticism, lyrical and hermit-crab essays, and travel- and food-writing) and respond creatively with their own work. They will also learn how to mine their experiences and memories, do family-based historical research, generate brand-new material, discuss published and unpublished nonfiction in a critical way, and access the creative, playful side of their psyche that so many people leave dormant. We will talk about the craft of nonfiction and do periodic in-class exercises. No writing experience is necessary, but students must be willing to participate, revise their work, take risks, and be generous with themselves and others.

 

 

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English 010.304
Intro to Creative Writing: Sports Narratives
Josselyn
M 1:45-4:45

We use sports to shape our lives as individuals, as families, and as communities. Whether a runner completing a marathon for charity, a high school hopeful’s quest for a scholarship, or a pro team clinching — or falling short of — a title, the highs and lows of an athletic journey, when combined with literary devices, insightful reflection, and occasionally just the right amount of indulgence, make for stories that teach and inspire. Even those of us who are true amateur athletes, exclusively spectators, or even sports skeptics can tap into the emotions that sports evoke. And as we have seen recently, sports provide a crucial platform for social, political, and cultural issues via circumstances both on and off the court, field, or track.

Over the course of the semester, students in our workshop will compose a personal essay from the perspective of an athlete or fan, a reported piece on an athlete, team, or sporting event, and a short story that centers around athletics. For their final project, students will complete a longer piece in one of these modes, along with a revision of an earlier draft. As students work on their own sports stories, we will be joined by several in-class guests and we will read the work of impactful storytellers like Grantland Rice, Toni Cade Bambara, Roger Angell, John McPhee, Leslie Jamison, Bill Simmons, and Penn’s own Buzz Bissinger, Sam and Max Apple, and Dan McQuade. We will also look to professional athletes whose words and gestures have made an impact like Kathrine Switzer, Mary Cain, Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe, and Colin Kaepernick. And, of course, we’ll watch Rocky.

 

 

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English 010.305
Intro to Creative Writing: Extreme Noticing
Sam Apple
T 5:15-8:15

In the words of novelist Alice LaPlantte, “our first job as writers” is “to notice.” We all notice the world around as we make our way through each day, but “noticing” as a writer is different. Whether working on fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or any other genre, the writer has to pay attention to the very small, to zoom in on the specific detail or insight that can make even the most mundane moment feel entirely new. Noticing in this way is a skill that, like most skills, is developed with practice. In this class, we’ll practice paying attention to the small with weekly writing prompts and take occasional “noticing excursions” around campus. Along the way, we’ll review student writing as a group and read works by great contemporary noticers, including Karl Ove Knausgaard, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ben Lerner, and Miranda July. Questions? Contact me at samapple@gmail.com.

 

 

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English 010.307
Intro to Creative Writing: Poetry and Memoir
Browne
W 1:45-4:45

This is a course for students who are interested in exploring a variety of approaches to creative writing, including poetry, memoir, and hybrid texts. Readings will include poetry and memoir, and will represent various approaches to writing from life, including works by: Sawako Nakayasu, Marosa Giorgio, Gertrude Stein, Harryette Mullen, and Lyn Hejinian, among others. Students will be encouraged to discover new territory, to cultivate a sense of play, to collaborate, and to unhinge conventional assumptions regarding what is possible in writing.

 

 

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English 110.401
Writing for Television
Burkhardt
W 5:15-8:15

This is a workshop-style course for those who have an interest in writing for television. The course will consist of two parts: First, students will develop premise lines, beat sheets and outlines for an episode of an existing television show. Second, students will develop their own idea for a television series which will culminate in the writing of the first 30 pages of an original television pilot.

Students will be admitted on the basis of an application by email briefly describing their interest in the course and their experience as a writer to course instructor email: Scott Burkhardt. This course is cross-listed with CIMS 117.

 

 

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English 112.301
Fictional Friendships: Writing Ardor and Amity
Bhattacharya
TR 1:45-3:15

How many kinds of love exist among friends? What is the difference between friendship and romance? In what ways do the ideals of femme, masc, trans, and cis complicate friendship? What are sisterhoods and what are bromances? What is a frenemy? In what ways do we dissolve the boundaries between queer friendships? And what role does family play in making friends: that is, can one ever dilute blood? What do race and class have to do with ardor and amity? How do we define our friends outside and inside our communities? This fiction workshop will explore not only how we experience friendship, but also how we write it. We will examine novels famous for their takes on friendship (Toni Morrison’s Sula, Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, Tanwi Nandini Islam’s Bright Lines, Nicole Dennis Benn’s Patsy, Justin Torres’s We the Animals) and interrogate the sticky, blurry lines between friendship and love, between loyalty to a person and loyalty to a community. We’ll also be writing our own short stories, creating characters who have to make difficult decisions because of their friendships and particularly because of relationships that teeter on the edge of fidelity and fondness. 

 

 

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English 112.302
Fiction Writing Workshop: Flash Fiction
Machado
MW 12:00-1:30

Keats called poetry “infinite riches in a small room,” and the same can be said of short-short-form fiction. Where does the art of fiction fit into this age of condensed information? Short-form fiction (also called flash fiction, sudden fiction, or microfiction—stories under 1,000 words) is more than just “really short stories.” Every word in a piece of microfiction is the proverbial ant, carrying fifty times its own weight. In this course, we will learn how to deliver plot, character, mood, and epiphany in the most succinct way possible, and explore what a story truly needs to be a story. Students will read short-short narratives from a variety of traditions, do prompt-based exercises, submit weekly stories of their own for workshop, and explore how the resurgence of the short form has coincided with technology’s integration into every facet of our lives.

 

 

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English 113.301
Poetry Writing Workshop
Zolf
T 1:45-4:45

There’s a reason Plato banned all poets from his utopian Republic: poetry is wild, uncontainable, ungovernable. The poetic is a force that upends not just language but all fixed ideas and categories. In this course we’ll explore your poetic potential. Students are welcome in our language lab no matter what your experience with the poetic has been. You can even be a fiction or creative nonfiction writer—or an artist—interested in working with the force of the poetic and improving the rhythm, diction, sound, and arrangement of your work with language. In this course, you’ll read and respond to a range of poetic works, write every week, be workshopped by your peers, and work on a poetic portfolio that is just as wild as you can be.

 

 

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English 114.401
Playwriting
Staff
Cammarato
F 12-3

This course is designed as a hands-on workshop in the art and craft of dramatic writing. It involves the study of new plays, the systematic exploration of such elements as storymaking, plot, structure, theme, character, dialogue, setting, etc.; and most importantly, the development of students' own short plays through a series of written assignments and in-class exercises. Since a great deal of this work takes place in class - through lectures, discussions, spontaneous writing exercises, and the reading of student work - weekly attendance and active participation is crucial.

 

 

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English 115.301
Advanced Fiction Writing
Max Apple
T 1:45-4:45

The class will be conducted as a seminar. Every student will write four stories during the semester; each story will be discussed by the group. The instructor will, from time to time, suggest works of fiction that he hopes will be illustrative and inspirational but there will be no required books. Attendance and active class participation are essential. Permit from the instructor is required. Please submit a brief writing sample to maxapple@gmail.com.

 

 

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English 115.302
Advanced Fiction Writing: Autofiction
Wang
M 1:45-4:45

Often what we write can feel close to home. Our characters and events, some firmly rooted in the real. But what is the overlap between writer and character? Writer and story? In this course, students will study the modern tradition (and trend) of autofiction, or fictionalized autobiography. We will read writers such as Li, Cusk, Heti, Nunez, Hempel, and Galchen, among others, and study autofiction in both short and long forms. In our discussion, we will attempt to pull apart the layers that go into a truthful story that is also a lie. Throughout the semester, students will have a chance to write autofiction of their own. Each student will be expected to turn in 4 short pieces (5-6 pages) that will culminate in a final portfolio of work.  There will be weekly response papers (1-2 pages) to the readings. 

 

 

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English 116.401
Screenwriting
DeMarco Van Cleve
M 1:45-4:45

This is a workshop-style course for those who have thought they had a terrific idea for a movie but didn't know where to begin. The class will focus on learning the basic tenets of classical dramatic structure and how this (ideally) will serve as the backbone for the screenplay of the aforementioned terrific idea. Each student should, by the end of the semester, have at least thirty pages of a screenplay completed. Classic and not-so-classic screenplays will be required reading for every class, and students will also become acquainted with how the business of selling and producing one's screenplay actually happens.

Students will be admitted on the basis of an application by email briefly describing their interest in the course to the instructor: Kathy DeMarco Van Cleve. This course is cross-listed with CIMS 116.

 

 

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English 116.402
Screenwriting
Burkhardt
W 1:45-4:45

This is a workshop-style course for those who have thought they had a terrific idea for a movie but didn't know where to begin. The class will focus on learning the basic tenets of classical dramatic structure and how this (ideally) will serve as the backbone for the screenplay of the aforementioned terrific idea. Each student should, by the end of the semester, have at least thirty pages of a screenplay completed. Classic and not-so-classic screenplays will be required reading for every class, and students will also become acquainted with how the business of selling and producing one's screenplay actually happens.

Students will be admitted on the basis of an application by email briefly describing their interest in the course to the instructor: Scott Burkhardt. This course is cross-listed with CIMS 116.

 

 

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English 116.403
Screenwriting
Burkhardt
R 5:15-8:15

This is a workshop-style course for those who have thought they had a terrific idea for a movie but didn't know where to begin. The class will focus on learning the basic tenets of classical dramatic structure and how this (ideally) will serve as the backbone for the screenplay of the aforementioned terrific idea. Each student should, by the end of the semester, have at least thirty pages of a screenplay completed. Classic and not-so-classic screenplays will be required reading for every class, and students will also become acquainted with how the business of selling and producing one's screenplay actually happens.

Students will be admitted on the basis of an application by email briefly describing their interest in the course to the instructor: Scott Burkhardt. This course is cross-listed with CIMS 116.

 

 

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English 117.301
The Arts and Popular Culture
DeCurtis
R 1:45-4:45

This is a workshop-oriented course that will concentrate on all aspects of writing about artistic endeavor, including criticism, reviews, profiles, interviews and essays. For the purposes of this class, the arts will be interpreted broadly, and students will be able—and, in fact, encouraged—to write about both the fine arts and popular culture, including fashion, sports and comedy. Students will be doing a great deal of writing throughout the course, but the main focus will be a 3,000-word piece about an artist or arts organization in Philadelphia (or another location approved by the instructor) that will involve reporting, interviews and research. Potential subjects can run the full range from a local band to a museum, from a theater group to a designer, from a photographer to a sculptor.

 

 

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English 121.301
Writing for Young Adults 
Suma
W 1:45-4:45

Young adult literature is powerful, inventive, and worthy of respect—and those writing it have enormous potential in their hands. Part workshop and part seminar, this class will explore the craft of YA literature through creative assignments and readings of texts by both giants in the field and emerging voices, and discussions of student work in a constructive environment. Students will focus on craft concerns crucial to writing about and for teens, such as: voice, point of view, immediacy, pacing, and opening hooks, and we will look beyond straightforward prose into forms such as epistolary and verse novels and other experimental mashups. Students will create writing of their own that pushes the boundaries of form and content, drawing on some of the many possibilities in YA literary fiction such as blurred genres, retellings, and issues of identity and self-discovery. Authors we will study as inspirations and models may include Elizabeth Acevedo, Libba Bray, Malinda Lo, Samantha Mabry, Kekla Magoon, Jennifer Mathieu, Anna-Marie McLemore, Emily X.R. Pan, Randy Ribay, Nicola Yoon, and Ibi Zoboi. Come ready to challenge any preconceptions you may have about YA literature and examine what some believe is its greatest potential: to offer young readers a vehicle for recognizing themselves, and for reflecting and even transforming the world around them. Students will write short pieces throughout the semester as well as the opening chapters of their own YA novels. They will produce a final portfolio of creative work that showcases their unique YA voice, with potential for further exploration beyond the confines of this class. 

 

 

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English 129.401
Across Forms
Zolf, Hayes
W 1:45-4:45

What if a poem spoke from inside a photograph? What if a sculpture unfurled a political manifesto? What if a story wasn’t just like a dance, but was a dance—or a key component of a video, drawing, performance, or painting? Many artists employ writing in their practices, but may not look at the texts they create as writing. And many writers have practices that go beyond the page and deserve attention as art.

In this course, which is open to all students interested in art and writing, regardless of experience, students will develop multiple creative projects that integrate the forms, materials, and concerns of both art and writing. As a class we will employ critique and workshop, pedagogic methodologies from art and writing respectively, to support and interrogate cross-pollinations between writing and art practices. We will also study a field of artists and writers who are working with intersections between art and writing to create dynamic new ways of seeing, reading, and experiencing.

This course is cross-listed with Fine Arts 315/615. Permission to enroll is required; please submit a short description of your interest in the class to zolfr@writing.upenn.edu.

 

 

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English 130.401
Advanced Screenwriting
DeMarco Van Cleve
W 1:45-4:45

This is a workshop-style course for students who have completed a screenwriting class, or have a draft of a screenplay they wish to improve. Classes will consist of discussing student's work, as well as discussing relevant themes of the movie business and examining classic films and why they work as well as they do. Classic and not-so-classic screenplays will be required reading for every class in addition to some potentially useful texts like What Makes Sammy Run? Students will be admitted on the basis of an application by email. Please send a writing sample (in screenplay form), a brief description of your interest in the course and your goals for your screenplay, and any relevant background or experience.

Students will be admitted on the basis of an application by email briefly describing their interest in the course to the instructor: Kathy DeMarco Van CleveThis course is cross-listed with CIMS 130.

 

 

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English 135.301
Creative Nonfiction Writing
Max Apple
T 1:45-4:45

Each student will write three essays and the class will offer criticism and appreciation of each. There will be some discussion of and instruction in the form, but the course will be based on the student writing. Attendance and participation required.

 

 

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English 138.401
Writing Center Theory and Practice
Kastner
TR 10:15-11:45

This course is intended for capable writers who possess the maturity and temperament to work successfully as peer tutors at Penn. The course emphasizes the development of tutors' own writing through the process of collaborative peer-criticism, individual conferences, and intensive sessions on writing, from mechanics to style. The class meets twice weekly; tutors also work two hours weekly in the Writing Center or elsewhere, and confer regularly in small groups or one-on-one meetings with the instructor. Tutors are required to write five short papers, eight one-page peer reviews, and two responses to readings. Additionally, students keep a journal and give two class presentations.

 

 

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English 144.301
I Was a Teenage Monster: Coming of Age in Speculative Writing
Johnson
W 3:30-6:30

This writing workshop explores representations of adolescence, growing up strange, and becoming other. How can fantastic exaggeration and conceit accurately represent coming-of-age experiences and the trials and tribulations of teenhood? How does becoming a monster map onto becoming an adult? How can we draw from cross-media representations of teenage monsters to write our own monsters? What do the monsters we make say about our societal and cultural concerns? We’ll examine monstering in TV, film, comics, novels, and poems, building on references students already have on hand. We will also read and discuss monster theory. Along the way, we will write and revise our own speculative stories, poems, or essays of the strange and the monstrous.

 

 

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English 145.301
Advanced Nonfiction Writing: Xfic
Kirk
M 5:15-8:15

This advanced creative nonfiction class gives student writers the chance to earn course credit and get published at the same time in Penn’s newest online literary journal -- XFic. Taught by award-winning longform “gonzo” journalist, Jay KirkXFic is devoted to innovative, boundary-defying nonfiction. While toying with the conventions, and inventing as we play, though, we will also look hard at the fundamentals of successful storytelling. Students will learn to pitch, develop, and edit stories, and each piece will be crafted with the end-semester goal of publication. The class itself will take the form of a workshop/weekly editorial meeting, where we will discuss the “art of experience,” and learn to report unflinchingly on that ever elusive entity known as reality. Each student will be assigned an editorial role, so if you’re enrolling, definitely take a look at the website masthead and let either Jay Kirk, or this year’s managing editor, Chelsey Zhu, know what position you might be interested in. And let us know if you already have any story ideas in mind!

 

 

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English 151.301
Translating Laughter
Almallah
R 10:15-1:15

While this course will deal with the history and theory of translation at large, the practical aspect of the course or the workshop component of it will focus on translating humor from various texts and mediums. We will begin by examining the history and theory of translation by focusing on examples of translating humor from Arabic such as Michael Cooperson’s recent translation of Maqamat in Imposters and by delving into English versions of the Arabian Nights  by Lane, Burton, and Haddawy. We will also read some of the theory on translation and parody by Borges, Venuti, Benjamin, Bakhtin, and others as we also examine translations of specific passages in the Arabic text and how they manifest themselves in literary translations and visual translations. This will give us a chance to broaden our definition of translation and to look at movies and their subtitles, cartoons, graphic novels, and comics. Students will be required to choose from similar texts and mediums for their translation projects and presentations during the semester, and to submit a final paper reflecting on their texts and translation practices. Knowledge of another language is necessary but students are welcome to discuss the possibility of creating a version from previous translations—granted they are available. Finally we will set workshops to present, share, and examine the effects of our translations together.

 

 

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English 158.301
Journalistic Storytelling
Polman
M 1:45-4:45

The key issue: “How does the writer hook the reader, and how does the writer keep that reader hooked to the end?” English 158 is about mastering the mechanics of effective nonfiction narrative storytelling. Imagine that you are writing general-interest feature articles for a general-interest publication or website: What are the best ways to put the reader into your story? What are the elements that make a piece work? What are the elements of a good opening? When is it better to “show” as opposed to “tell”? When is it best to use first, second or third person? When is it best for the writer to use your own voice—or keep that voice at a distance? When is it best to use humor, and when to avoid it? When is it best to use anecdotes and scenes—both of which are staples of narrative storytelling? What are the “universal” themes that exist between the lines? We’ll work in different genres: observational pieces, profiles, personal pieces, long-form third-person pieces—and guest professionals will visit to share their expertise. An editor of mine used to say, “Good writing can be nurtured, cultivated, and encouraged.” That’s what I try to do. And I always say, “Journalistic writing is the most fun you can have working hard, and the hardest work you can do while having fun.”

 

 

 

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English 162.301
Political Journalism: The Biden Era
Polman
W 1:45-4:45

Ben Bradlee, the legendary editor of The Washington Post, once said that political journalism is “the first rough draft of history”—an opportunity to report and write about the tumultuous civic life of this nation as it happens in real time.

Indeed, national politics is a 24/7 staple on streaming sites, on social media, and in the minds of tens of millions of Americans who struggle to make sense of the noisy news overload. Political journalists have a great challenge: seemingly by the hour, they are tasked with making smart judgments, supporting their analyses with empirical reportage, and communicating those judgments in clear language. They have to cut through the clutter and engage the reader—smartly, and entertainingly—in a climate where journalists are still derided in some circles as “enemies of the people.” And in this era of “alternative” facts, even the dictionary definition of “truth” is widely under assault.

Political journalists are tasked with holding the new Biden administration accountable—properly so, as traditional watchdogs—while still seeking to cover the Trump movement-in-exile without amplifying its misinformation. Students in this course will get a taste of these challenges, while tackling some broader issues, such as: is objective “both sides” journalism up to the task of watchdogging an era when democracy itself is under serious threat?

So this course could not be more timely.

Only true “junkies” of national politics—and those who aspire to write about it—are likely to love this course, which challenges students to write in two formats that are often difficult to delineate: “news analysis” (which assesses the meaning of events, without editorial advocacy) and “commentary” (an opinion column). Students who are passionate about writing and politics will track the national news week by week and write timely posts that will be workshopped in class.

At a time when Americans are more awash in political news than ever, the goal of this course is to help students master the craft of writing clear, responsible, incisive, substantive, and engaging political journalism—and backing it up with factual research/reporting. The hope is that students can develop their “earned voice” via effective writing, effective reporting, and, above all, effective thinking.

 

 

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English 165.301
Writing through Culture and Art
Goldsmith
R 3:30-6:30

The greatest unfinished book of the twentieth century was philosopher Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project which, when finally published decades after it began, was nearly 900 pages of notes, annotations, and anecdotes about Paris, which Benjamin called, the "capital of the nineteenth century." The book was a sort of anti-history, focused less on the typical recordings that define a period--wars, politics, and economics--than it was on daily life: theater, cabarets, brothels, shopping, advertising, food, and entertainment, slathered with a dose of twentieth-century concerns like surrealism, modernism, and psychoanalysis. The result was an urban "history" unlike any other ever written, more of a dreamscape that doubled as literature.

In order to write it, Benjamin spent fifteen years in libraries, copying out passages from books in longhand that he found interesting, then organizing them by subject. Before he could finish the book, Benjamin killed himself, fleeing the Nazis. And, after the war, when it was finally published exactly as Benjamin had left it, scholars pondered whether this collection of notes was intended as a new kind of radical literature or whether it merely a study for a more conventional work of philosophy. We'll never know.

For this year-long class, given in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, we'll attempt to rewrite The Arcades Project for colonial Philadelphia, America's capital of the eighteenth century. Using Benjamin's identical methodology, we'll immerse ourselves in the city's vast archives, libraries, and museums, seeking out and copying down those ephemeral bits of culture and daily life that we find interesting. Then, as a group, we'll stitch them together into a massive collage, writing an epic, 900-page prose poem of the city of Philadelphia unlike any other that's ever been written.

Part American history, part archeology, part anthropology, part art history, and part literature, this class will touch on collaborative ways of constructing alternative narratives. Using information management of as  our guiding poetic device, this class will engage with the intensive archiving and research practices that resonate with the way we parse  information in the digital age. Not only will we have the vast historical resources of Philadelphia at our fingertips, but we'll also have full access to the collections, treasures, and curatorial staff of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The class will culminate in a lavish publication of our work.

 

 

 

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