Introduction to Creative Writing: Poetry and Fiction
Ahmad Almallah MW 12-1:30pm
This introductory workshop explores the main tools of writing poetry and fiction. Thematically, we’ll be reading a number of different examples to learn why poets such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Sylvia Plath turn to fiction as a way to revitalize their poetic practice, and why novelists such as Herman Hesse and Herta Müller turn to poetry. And we’ll read writers who work in both genres, such Zbigniew Herbert and Salim Barakat. Students will learn to use the main tools of fiction, such as characterization, dialogue, and description, as well as the forms of poetry, such as sound, image, and enjambment. The workshop also aims at encouraging a philosophical exploration of the border between reality and imagination in the form of writing poems and short fiction pieces.
Introduction to Creative Writing: Fiction and Essay
Sam Apple T 5:15-8:15pm
The scene—a contained moment or event that takes place within the larger structure of a story, essay, or piece of long-form prose—is a fundamental building block of creative writing. In this workshop-style class, we'll focus on both fiction and nonfiction techniques with an emphasis on how to write well-paced scenes with sharp dialogue and compelling action. Students will participate in weekly scene-writing exercises and also learn how to weave scenes together to form complete short stories and personal essays. Weekly assignments will include critiquing the work of fellow students and reading selected stories and essays.
Introduction to Creative Writing: Fiction and Memoir
Abbey Mei Otis M 1:45-4:45
This introductory level course explores prose narratives on the spectrum from the invented to the remembered. We will write and read works that offer a variety of answers to the question, “Did this really happen?” (Definitely not, maybe, sort of, definitely yes, not yet.) We will read a range of flash fiction, fairy tales, magical realism, speculative memoir, and personal essays, as we try to discern what kinds of truths are most resonant, and how to contain them within the stories we create. Through weekly writing exercises students will hone the skills of imagining, remembering, and close observation. Within our class we will consider what it means to belong within a writing community, as we push each other to become more curious and nuanced observers of the world around us.
Introduction to Creative Writing: Sports Narratives
Jamie-Lee Josselyn M 1:45-4:45
Sports 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, as well as throughout history, sports provide a crucial platform for social, political, and cultural issues via circumstances both on and off the court, field, or track. A key question we’ll ask throughout the semester is: how can storytelling enable us to leave sports better than we found them?
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 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 develop their own sports stories, we will be joined by in-class guests and we will read the work of impactful storytellers like Toni Cade Bambara, Roger Angell, John McPhee, Leslie Jamison, Hanif Abdurraqib, Mirin Fader, 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, Simone Biles, Kevin Love, and Colin Kaepernick. And, of course, we’ll watch Rocky.
Introduction to Creative Writing: Writing Asian American Lives
Piyali Bhattacharya TR 1:45pm-3:15pm
“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. This course is cross-listed with Asian American Studies 1200.
Syd Zolf T 1:45-4:45
There’s a reason Plato banned poets from his utopian Republic: poetry is wild, uncontainable, ungovernable. The poetic is a feral force acting on and in language to upend fixed ideas and categories, ways of thinking and seeing. In the poetry lab, we’ll perform experiments to help you explore and expand your poetic potential. Students are welcome in the workshop no matter what your experience with the poetic has been. You can even be a prose writer or an artist interested in working with the force of the poetic to improve the rhythm, diction, sound, and arrangement of your writing. In this course, you’ll read and respond to a wide 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. Cross-listed with Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies.
Interventionalist Tactics: Writing Off the Page
Kenneth Goldsmith R 1:45-4:45
This class functions on one very simple premise: you will be required to write anywhere except for on the page. By studying the theory and practices of situationism, graffiti, and culture jamming, we will explore ways of detourning traditional methods of writing into an act imbued with alternative modes of social, political, and aesthetic value: language as a medium and method of disruption and displacement; language as a way of upending normative modes of discourse and reception; language that insists on social interaction. You may intervene subtly or grossly, loudly or silently; your work may be visible or invisible, obviously blatant or subtly imperceptible. You may write between the cracks of sidewalks, on the leaves of trees, beneath puddles of water, or across the internet; you may shout from the rooftops of buildings or set up a short-range radio station to broadcast locally; you may jam frequencies, plant internet memes, or alter Wikipedia entries. Anything goes, as long as it’s not on paper.
The Translation of Poetry/The Poetry of Translation
Taije Silverman and Ahmad Almallah M 1:45-4:45
In this class we will study multiple translations of famous poems by major world poets such as Shu Ting, Gabriela Mistral, Mahmoud Darwish, Anna Akhmatova, Aimé Césaire, and Dahlia Ravikovitch. The curriculum will be tailored to the backgrounds of students who enroll, and all are welcome. Alternating between creative writing workshops and critical discussions, the course will also study the political and geographical frames that shape each text. For example, our translations of Aimé Césaire will be informed by his scholarship on colonialism, and a sense of China's Cultural Revolution will contextualize translations of Shu Ting. Conversations about history will become conversations about poetry. While essays on translation theory by writers including Borges, Keene, Carson, Benjamin, and Bakhtin will shape our approaches, this course will center around the practice of translation. Using multiple translations of major poems, we will create our own new versions, sometimes writing parallel texts and adaptations, too. Assignments will also include an oral presentation, an exchange of letters with a classmate, and a short creative essay.
Abbey Mei Otis W 5:15pm-815pm
Science fiction as a genre is full of contradictions. It is seen as a literature specifically of Western, scientific, empirical culture, but it also resonates uniquely with marginalized experiences. It is denigrated as lowbrow and nonliterary while also being held up as the “literature of ideas.” It is a site of rich experimentation and also commercialization. In this class we will grapple with these contradictions as craftspeople, seeking to situate ourselves within the history of the genre in order to push our imaginations in new directions. We will focus on craft concepts particular to SF—worldbuilding, extrapolation, defamiliarization—as well as those more general to prose narratives—scene and structure, tension, pacing, voice, and point of view. We begin from the position that content is inseparable from aesthetic, that language is as important to the vitality of “genre” writing as to any other literary mode. Additionally, we will consider how SF has been shaped by the people both within its community (readers, fans) and without (literary gatekeepers, scientists, tech entrepreneurs). We will explore the idea of literary genres and labels as something porous, fluid, insufficient but also essential. Throughout the semester students will write in a variety of science fictional and speculative modes, seeking to answer the question: if science fiction is the narrative of the future, then how do we create the science fictions necessary to bring the world we want into being?
I Was a Teenage Monster: Coming of Age in Speculative Writing
J †Johnson R 5:15pm-8:15pm
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.
Advanced Fiction Writing: Short Fiction
Max Apple T 1:45-4:45pm
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.
Fiction Workshop: Friends and Frenemies
Piyali Bhattacharya TR 3:30pm-5pm
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.
Journalistic Writing: Exploring the Genre
Matt Katz M 5:15pm-8:15pm
Journalism is the practice of asking a simple question—What’s happening in the world around us?—and turning that answer into a story. The form journalism takes has always changed dramatically amid technological innovations. News about World War II arrived via radio and newspaper; TV brought visual images of the Vietnam War; the internet opened up new avenues of content delivery, blurring lines between the audio, written, and visual forms of traditional media and upending how outlets like The New York Times and NPR deliver news. Journalists for legacy media outlets continue to tell critically important and compelling stories, but their reporting is increasingly displaced by podcasts and WhatsApp, TikTok and Substack. This disruption means a wider array of stories are being told in a multitude of interesting ways, but it also makes deciphering accurate information from partisan falsehoods far more complicated.
In this class, we will explore the implications of journalistic disruption for civil society and democratic institutions. Required reading and listening will be high-quality journalism that holds true to the core tenets of news reporting: to give voice to the voiceless, hold the powerful to account, and connect communities. This workshop-based course explores what makes a good news story, including gathering facts, interviewing, writing ledes and kickers, and crafting narratives. And it examines how journalism is practiced in various media, including newspapers, TV, magazines, digital outlets, social media, and podcasts. While it’s geared toward building savvy and sophisticated news consumers in an increasingly complex and multidimensional media environment, students will also apply what they’ve learned and act as journalists by doing research, conducting interviews, and writing articles. Students will be required to create short audio stories that include recorded sound, basic editing techniques, and effective story structure.
Creative Nonfiction Writing
Max Apple R 1:45-4:45pm
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.
Cooking with Words
Gabrielle Hamilton T 1:45-4:45pm
This writing workshop, taught by eminent New York Times Magazine food columnist and restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton, will be devoted to the topic of food, although it is not, strictly speaking, a course on food writing. Instead, we will read a manageable and engaging syllabus of writers who have used food in their work—writers who may include John Berger, KD Lang, and Ogden Nash—and then craft our own original writing about non-food topics through food. Have you ever spent the night in jail and eaten the bologna sandwich and warm half-pint of milk they leave for you in the holding cell? Let’s go at that story through the bologna sandwich. Ever ended a friendship over the way they spoke to the waitress who delivered the food? Hidden your lunch at school so no one would tease you about what was in your lunchbox? Overspent on a bottle of wine to prove to the clerk you “knew what you were doing”? We’ll use the food story as the catalyst for the larger story, with a focus on getting the “weight” and the “freight” of each aspect of the story just right.
Advanced Nonfiction Writing: Narrative Nonfiction
Buzz Bissinger R 5:15-8:15pm and F 1:45-4:45pm (every other week)
This is a course for students who love the written word and desire to advance their ability to write and craft narrative nonfiction. Writing will be emphasized, and so will avenues of storytelling through such components as creating a narrative spine, building a dramatic plot, character development, scene-setting, and use of quotes without compromise of facts. Students must be willing to do reportage, since narrative nonfiction cannot exist without it. There will be heavy concentration on writing assignments and workshopping. We will also examine the works of authors such as Katharine Boo, Lillian Ross, Gay Talese, David Foster Wallace, Truman Capote, John Hersey, JR Moehringer, and Buzz Bissinger (instructor), the author of three bestselling books, including Friday Night Lights and most recently The Mosquito Bowl. Bissinger has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair for nearly three decades and is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Students who have taken this course have gone on to such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Bloomberg, Forbes, and Fortune. Class attendance and participation are essential.
The course will meet on Thursdays 5:15-8:15 and Fridays 1:45-4:45pm on the following days: August 31; September 1, 14, 15, 28, 29; October 10, 11, 26, 27; November 9, 10, 30; and December 7. The instructor will be available for one-on-one discussions during the week of October 23 and always available by email.
Advanced Nonfiction Writing: Xfic
Jay Kirk M 5:15-8:15pm
This advanced creative nonfiction workshop lets students publish their final pieces on Penn’s online literary journal Xfic. Xfic is an innovative nonfiction journal for undergrad writers who want to test the boundaries of longform and earn course credit in English 3353. The type of stories Xfic most wants to publish are ones where the writer is in pursuit of immediate experience. Reality as it unfolds before your eyes. Then, in workshop, we will take the raw material of experience and transform it into compelling narrative through innovative and experimental techniques. Xfic seeks writers seeking new ways to discover meaning, who seek to be more daring, more performative, more excellent, more virtuosic, funnier and weirder, and, most of all, who seek to directly engage and invent reality at the same time. Come and join us! XFic is sponsored by the Kelly Writers House and the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania. For questions about the class, please contact Jay Kirk at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dick Polman W 1:45-4:45
We’ll be reading and workshopping some of our most adventurous, pioneering nonfiction reporter/writers. At the same time, we’ll also shepherding semester-long projects that are due during exam period. The so-called “New Journalists” have thrived ever since the iconoclastic 1960s—the era when the craft was first developed and practiced. The term itself is very imprecise—the “New Journalists” were fiercely independent of each other, employing a wide range of reportorial and stylistic techniques not previously seen in American nonfiction—and their styles differ. But they’ve shared one fundamental trait. In the words of Marc Weingarten, who authored a book about the original New Journalists (The Gang that Wouldn’t Write Straight), they’ve all aspired to practice “journalism that reads like fiction” yet “rings with the truth of reported fact.” We’ll closely parse some of their work, not because they are products of long-distant eras, but precisely because their novelistic techniques—narrative storytelling, dramatic arcs and scenes, structural cliffhangers, shifting points of view, author’s voice, dialogue as action—are routinely employed by the best long-form journalists today. Indeed, many contemporary journalists take these techniques for granted, perhaps unaware of their origins. But this is not just a reading course. The ultimate goal is for each student to take the best of these techniques and use them in the reporting and writing of a long-form nonfiction piece that is due at the semester’s end. Each student will nurture one project from September to early December. And during the semester, we will schedule the time to workshop these works in progress—with class feedback and feedback from the instructor, functioning as an editor would.
The Arts and Popular Culture
Anthony DeCurtis R 1:45-4:45pm
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.
Syd Zolf and Sharon Hayes W 1:45-4:45pm
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. Cross-listed with Fine Arts. Permission to enroll is required; please email a short description of your interest in the class to email@example.com.
J.C. Cloutier and Rob Berry TR 10:15-11:45am
This course is a creative writing workshop in the inexhaustible art of making comics. Open to both beginners and enthusiasts alike, the seminar will expose students to the unique language of comics and allow them to create their own stories in the medium. Through essential critical readings, practical homework, and lab assignments, students will develop an understanding of how text and sequential images create a unique kind of reading experience and storytelling. Over the course of the semester, students will take on a variety of roles in the making of comics (writing, illustrating, page layout, inking, character creation, and more), read groundbreaking comics theory and criticism, analyze now-classic and experimental comics, adapt a variety of prose and verse genres into comics and, ultimately, create a longer graphic narrative project as a group. Although this is not intended as a course in drawing, all students will be expected to explore comics storytelling through the combination of words and cartoons (don’t worry, stick figures are fine!). In-class reviews will give students direct insight into how certain choices of composition affect the storytelling process. During the first half of the semester, the course will rigorously combine theory and practice, navigating through a slew of different genres (e.g. poem, short story, journalism, memoir, etc.) and how these can be transmogrified into comics form. The second half will be dedicated to the production of the longer comic project.
Kathy DeMarco Van Cleve M 1:45-4:45pm
Cross-listed with Cinema & Media Studies.
Scott Burkhardt W 1:45-4:45pm
Cross-listed with Cinema & Media Studies.
Scott Burkhardt W 5:15-8:15pm
Cross-listed with Cinema & Media Studies.
Kathy DeMarco Van Cleve W 1:45-4:45pm
Cross-listed with Cinema & Media Studies.
Writing for Television
Scott Burkhardt R 5:15-8:15pm
Cross-listed with Cinema & Media Studies.
Anne Marie Cammarato TR 10:15-11:45am
Cross-listed with Theatre Arts.
Brooke O’Harra MW 12pm-1:30pm
In this course, students will write for theater and performance. Writers in the class will take cues from myriad experimental playwrights and performance artists who have challenged conventional ideas of what a script should look and sound like. Students will be asked to challenge how narrative is constructed, how characters are built, and what a setting can be. This class will push beyond the formal structures of the well-made play script and address how writers explore and reinvent form and language as a means for radical change in the field of performance. Some playwrights we will read include Gertrude Stein, Suzan-Lori Parks, Maria Irene Fornes, Robert O’Hara, Bryna Turner, Amina Henry, Kristen Kosmas, and Toshiki Okada. This class is ideal for playwrights, performers, screenwriters, and writers of experimental fiction. Cross-listed with Theatre Arts.
A Slice of Life: Memoir Writing
Kathryn Watterson R 5:15-8:15pm In person
This memoir workshop will shine light on the human experience as viewed through your personal lens. Memoir usually, but not always, is written in first-person from the author’s point of view. It is distinct from autobiography in that it’s not meant to tell a complete life story that’s chronologically and historically accurate. Instead, a memoir usually focuses on a significant aspect of your life, such as a relationship or a pivotal moment. During workshop sessions, you will identify the stories in your life that matter most to you. We will use meditation and visualization to help you access and write about these key events. We’ll discuss how description, dialogue, and action bring them to life on the page. Rough drafts and revisions will allow you to achieve the level of connection and introspection you intend. We will also find inspiration through books and stories by authors who exemplify the art and heart of personal narratives. We’ll see how memoir can illuminate larger cultural themes - from the inhumanity of war, to racism, misogyny, and economic inequality - as viewed through lived experiences. We will understand why the more individualized the story, the more universal it becomes. In our sessions, listening, full-participation discussions, in-class writing exercises, meditations, stretching and movement, visualizations, and peer review, workshops become vital experiences. The workload requires a daily practice of free writing, weekly personal responses to assigned readings, films and speakers, and ongoing work on two to three short personal essays/stories. We’ll make adjustments in the schedule, as needed, to keep the workload at a comfortable and flexible pace. If you have questions or concerns, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Feldman T 5:15pm-8:15pm Online course
This course will investigate craft elements such as characterization, voice, world-building, conflict/tension, plot and narrative structure. How do we use these craft fundamentals in our own writing? When, if ever, do we disregard them? In our examination of craft tools, we’ll read and analyze contemporary fiction written by authors such as James Baldwin, Elif Batuman, Jhumpa Lahiri, Yiyun Li, Edna O’Brien, Helen Oyeyemi and George Saunders. In addition to reading and analysis, this course will feature intensive group workshops during which we share and discuss our works-in-progress with one another. This course will encourage students to write freely and to experiment with style, structure and content; it is open to writers of all levels of experience, including beginners.