Courses for Spring 2023

English 3011.301, Intro to Creative Writing: Poetry and Memoir, Laynie Browne, T 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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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: Hoa Nguyen, Renee Gladman, 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.

English 3014.301, Intro to Creative Writing: Fiction and Essay, Sebastian Castillo, M 5:15pm-8:15pm 

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This workshop-style class is an introduction to the pleasures of writing prose, both fiction and nonfiction. Students will read essays and short stories from a wide variety of genres, forms, and traditions, and respond with their own essays and short stories. They will also learn how to generate brand-new material, discuss fiction and nonfiction texts in a critical way, and access the fount of creativity within themselves. We will talk about the craft of writing, and will perform periodic in-class exercises. No prior creative writing experience is necessary, but students must be willing to participate, revise their work, take risks, and be generous with themselves and others.

English 3024.301, Intro to Creative Writing: Imitations and Writing in Form, Ahmad Almallah, MW 12pm-1:30pm 

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What is a cento? An essay? A short story? How do you go about writing one? How can writing a sonnet or a piece of dialogue both be an exercise in bringing the poetics of language to the forefront? How can the imitation of literary forms be a way into improving your writing? How does writing “a terrible sonnet” sound to you? This course works around the idea of imitation as a way of constructing generative practices of writing by setting limitations. We’ll begin by looking at examples of poetic forms and their imitations in pre-modernist and modernist works and their use of form. Eventually we’ll work on writing our own imitation and how to use them or break them into any style, including prose.

English 3026.301, Intro to Creative Writing: Writing Real Science, Weike Wang, M 10:15am-1:15pm 

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In this course, students will read and write fiction and nonfiction with an eye for science research. Most if not all fiction and nonfiction requires some kind of research. Our readings will explore how writers can incorporate knowledge and facts into their prose without compromising craft (the how). While research is ubiquitous to writers, science is rarely found in creative writing without being conflated with science fiction—which this course will touch on, but will not be our main focus. Instead, this course will explore ways to bring real science into our pieces and make them fun, exciting and fresh. The first half of the semester will be dedicated to reading and mini workshops of a short piece (2-3 pages). The second half of the semester, each student will work towards a longer piece (7-10 pages), to be workshopped. Students do not need a science background for the course, though an interest in science, creative writing and craft will prove helpful.

English 3028.301, Introduction to Creative Writing: Breath and Movement, Amber Rose Johnson, R 3:30-6:30pm

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This workshop style class will combine creative writing exercises and guided movement practices that draw our critical attention to breath and breathing, at a time when both have become highly politicized. In the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, widespread environmental racism, and the echo of the terrible refrain “I can’t breathe,” we will use these class sessions to engage with poetry, prose, and performance that will help us pay more attention to our bodies, our breath, and our sense of lived-in liberation. Throughout the semester, we will engage with visiting artists and practitioners who will guide us through movement practices including breath-focused meditation and intentional walking, and students will produce their own creative writing or movement scores. Our syllabus will prioritize the experiences and perspective of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous peoples, and people of color more broadly. 

English 3029.301, Intro to Creative Writing: Through the 1619 Project, Taije Silverman, TR 12pm-1:30pm 

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This introductory creative writing workshop offers an opportunity to hone creative writing skills through the revelatory framework of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project, with its entrance into our nation’s history through the year kidnapped African people arrived in what would become the United States. Studying the particular ways language functions (and the particular ways it fails) to express our own origin stories, students will read work by brilliant contemporary poets and essayists—including Hanif Abdurraqib, Claudia Rankine, Felicia Zamora, Danez Smith, Cathy Park Hong, Ari Banias, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Claudia Rankine—and listen to the 1619 Project podcast, in order to investigate and describe our experiences of home and identity. In addition to in-class exercises, students will write, workshop, and revise poems and short prose throughout the semester. Through our study of this country’s foundations and present tense, we will explore narrative registers, hone craft, and engage the fraught marriage between personal and collective histories. 

English 3100.301, Poetry Workshop, Ron Silliman, W 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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Poetry is where the personal is always political, especially when it’s not. Often described as “the art of language,” poetry is the oldest literary genre, one that can be practiced in thousands of different ways; it is both the most traditional of art forms and the one most given to innovation. This class will both examine the constituent elements that come together to make a poem as well as sample the many types of expression and social investigation poetry makes possible: sonnets, performance poetry, documentary, visual poetry, conceptual writing, found language, prose poems, haiku, collaboration. Students will write poems weekly, build a personal anthology of poems important to them, maintain a journal, etc. There will be a lot of reading. Prior experience with poetry is not a requirement; nor is a major in English.

English 3111.301, Experimental Writing, Kenneth Goldsmith, R 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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It's clear that long-cherished notions of creativity are under attack, eroded by file-sharing, media culture, widespread sampling, and digital replication. How does writing respond to this new environment? This workshop will rise to that challenge by employing strategies of appropriation, replication, plagiarism, piracy, sampling, and plundering as compositional methods. Along the way, we'll trace the rich history of forgery, frauds, hoaxes, avatars, and impersonations spanning the arts, with a particular emphasis on how they employ language. We'll see how the modernist notions of chance, procedure, repetition, and the aesthetics of boredom dovetail with popular culture to usurp conventional notions of time, place, and identity, all as expressed linguistically.

English 3120.401, The Translation of Poetry/The Poetry of Translation, Taije Silverman, TR 10:15am-11:45am

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“Human words have no main switch. But all those little kidnaps in the dark.”—Anne Carson

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 Paul Celan. The curriculum will be tailored to the backgrounds of students who enroll, and all are welcome.

Alternating between creative writing workshops (to critique and revise our own translations of the poems) and critical discussions, the course will also include presentations on the political and geographical frames that shape each text. For example, our translations of Aimé Césaire will be informed by his scholarship on colonialism. Translating Osip Mandelstam’s “Stalin Epigram” will bring us to Soviet Russia’s forced famine in Ukraine. Discussions of Israel and Palestine will surround our translations of Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch, or of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Informal and dynamic history classes will form the undercurrent of our formal poetry class. 

Through poems, essays on translation theory, and our own ongoing experiments, this course will celebrate the ways in which great poetry—written in Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew, French, Hindi, or Russian—underscores the fact that language itself is a translation. In addition to poetic translations, assignments will include an oral presentation, an exchange of letters with a classmate, and a short creative essay. This course is cross-listed with COML 3120.

English 3201.301, Flash Fiction, Weike Wang, M 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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This writing workshop is devoted to the shortest forms of fiction. Short-form fiction is any story under 1,000 words. We will consider the art of condensation, brevity, sudden stories, and microfiction. We’ll read a large array of arresting work written in both English and in English translation. Assigned readings will include the writing of Lydia Davis, Rivka Galchen, Amy Hempel, Vi Khi Nao, Garielle Lutz, Can Xue, Russell Edson, Daniil Kharms, and several others. The majority of our workshops will focus on creating our own very short stories through a variety of styles and approaches. Students will be responsible for writing four pieces throughout the semester to be workshopped by their peers, as well as weekly responses.

English 3208.301, Advanced Fiction Writing: Short Fiction, Max Apple, T 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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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. Permission to enroll is required. Please submit a brief writing sample to maxapple@gmail.com.

English 3214.301, Points of View: Writing Polyvocal Fiction, Piyali Bhattacharya, T 5:15pm-8:15pm 

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What makes a piece of fiction “voicey”? What does it mean for us as writers to be inside our character’s voice? How do we switch into the voice of a different character in the same piece of fiction? How much page time does a character need in a story with multiple voices? Do characters experience the same event from different points of view, or do they examine different events in kaleidoscopic perspectives? This polyvocal fiction workshop will interrogate how we write one story from the point of view of two or more characters. Our characters might all speak in the first person, or one may be in first while another is in third. We might have two narrators, each speaking for the other. The list of possibilities is long. But most importantly, we will look at a story from inside the mind of more than one person in it. We will then decide how that story might be told by each of those people. To set ourselves some examples, we will read for class works by Jacqueline Woodson, Elizabeth Acevedo, Jennifer Egan, Tommy Orange, and Lisa Ko, and workshop our own original writing. 

English 3215.301, The Art of Fiction, Karen Rile, R 3:30pm-6:30pm 

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Is it art, or is it craft? Truth is, it’s both. In this generative, interactive workshop we’ll investigate literary fiction technique through a series of directed prompts designed to unfetter your imagination and bring your fiction writing to the next level. Through weekly creative assignments, you will produce a portfolio of work ranging from quirky experiments to fully realized stories. Course readings from a diverse selection of contemporary fiction will illustrate varied approaches to the techniques we’ll explore. Every week you will read, write, react, and workshop in a supportive, inclusive environment. This class is appropriate for fiction writers of every level. Come prepared to take creative risks as you deepen your art and advance your craft.

English 3256.301, Advanced Writing for Young Adults, Nova Ren Suma, W 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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This is an advanced workshop-focused course for students who would like to spend the semester writing a YA novel. Through constructive critique and a workshop style that gives each writer agency and a voice in discussion of their own work, we will engage with ongoing chapters of students’ novels throughout the semester. Students will be workshopped more than once, and though the aim won’t be completing a whole manuscript, significant and exciting progress will be made. Required reading will consist mainly of classmates’ manuscripts, and the only assignments will be maintaining a regular writing practice to make progress on your own novel, brief weekly written critiques for your peers, and a final project consisting of revised opening pages and a future query letter. A guest author visit may also be arranged. Active class participation and regular attendance is essential to make this class work. All YA genres are welcome and celebrated, from realism to speculative fiction, and those writing YA-crossover (sometimes called New Adult) are also welcome in this class. Permission to enroll is required. Please send an email describing your interest in this class and your experience writing YA fiction to Nova Ren Suma at nrsuma@sas.upenn.edu.

English 3303.301, Narrative Nonfiction: The Art of Experience, Jay Kirk, W 5:15pm-8:15pm 

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Every work of nonfiction is a writer’s attempt to reconstruct experience. But experience can be an elusive thing to capture: a strange hybrid of the highly subjective and the more tangible zone of perceptible fact. How do we strike a balance in narrative nonfiction? For one, we employ the same devices that we already use to navigate our way through the world—that of our senses. The more vivid the details of sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound, the more immersed the reader will become in the author’s re-created world of words. But what of the more abstract, less concrete sixth sense of thought? After all, it is our mind that perceives and finds the subjective meaning in experience. In this narrative nonfiction writing workshop, we will look at craft, literary technique, the mechanics of building vivid and powerful scenes, discuss the role of story-logic, and the importance of hard fact-checking. Yet, the student is also urged to pay close attention to their own internal narrator, and to be mindful of the intuitive (and unconscious) powers at play in their writing. Each week we will review classics in the genre, do in-class writing exercises, go on periodic “experiential” assignments, and explore how the art of playing around with the raw material of everyday life (i.e., “reality”) can make for great and unexpected stories.

English 3352.301, Advanced Creative Nonfiction: Look In; Look Out, Lise Funderburg, M 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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In this advanced creative nonfiction workshop you will enlist essay and memoir genres to explore connections between the personal and the universal. Your direct experiences matter … but why? Here’s a chance to write your way to understanding, clarity and resonance. We’ll experiment with narrative stance and form (such as lyric, hermit crab, braided, and epistolary), and you’ll write. A lot. Three longer essays and a handful of shorter ones that will be generated by guided freewrites. Most of these will be revised at least once. Aside from general guidance, the subject matter of your work is open and up to you. Take advantage of the city that surrounds you. The questions and answers you’ve stumbled across. The way life has surprised you, perplexed you, held you captive, set you free, made you LOL.

Creative nonfiction is an art form that calls on both the literary techniques of fiction and the reporting strategies of journalism. In addition to writing, we’ll use class exercises and discussions of readings to address technical issues such as narrative/thematic tension, transition, character development, dialogue, point of view, characterization, imagery, structure, tone, style, and how to research your life. Through careful attention to your work as well as that of your peers, expect to become a stronger writer, a better reader, and an enthusiastic reviser.

English 3408.301, Long-Form Journalism, Dick Polman, M 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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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 January to early May. 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.

English 3410.301, Writing from Photographs, Paul Hendrickson, M 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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A creative writing course built entirely around the use of photographs, and the crafting of compelling nonfiction narratives from them. The essential concept will be to employ photographs as storytelling vehicles. So we will be using curling, drugstore-printed Kodak shots from our own family albums. We will be using searing and famous images from history books. We will be taking things from yesterday’s newspaper. We will even be using pictures that were just made by the workshop participants outside the campus gates with a disposable camera from CVS or with their own sophisticated digital Nikon. In all of this, there will be one overriding aim: to achieve memorable, full-bodied stories. To locate the strange, evocative, storytelling universes that are sealed inside the four rectangular walls of a photograph. They are always there, if you know how to look. It’s about the quality of your noticing, the intensity of your seeing.

Writers as diverse as the poet Mark Strand and the novelist Don DeLillo and the memoirist Wright Morris have long recognized the power of a photograph to launch a story. In this course we are going to employ memory and imagination to launch our stories, but most of all we are going to make use of fact: everything that can be found out, gleaned, uncovered, dug up, stumbled upon. Because first and last, this is nonfiction, this is the art of reported fact. So a lot of this class will go forward using the tools and techniques of journalism: good, old-fashioned reporting and research, legwork. And turning that reporting into writing gold. A photograph represents time stopped in a box. It is a kind of freeze-frame of eternity. It is stopped motion, in which the clock has seemed to hold its breath. Often, the stories inside photographs turn out to be at surprising odds with what we otherwise thought, felt, imagined.

Say, for instance, that you hunger to enter the photographic heart of this youthful, handsome, dark-haired man—who is your father—as he leans now against the gleaming bumper of a 1965 red-leather, bucket-seat Mustang. It was three decades before you were born. The moment is long buried and forgotten in your collective family’s past—and yet in another way, it is right here before you, on this photosensitive surface. Whether the figure in the photograph is alive or deceased, you are now going to try with all of your writing and reporting might to “walk back in.” Almost literally. You are going to achieve a story about this moment, with a beginning, middle, and end.

“Every great photograph has a secret,” a noted critic once said. An essayist for Time magazine once wrote: “All great photographs have lives of their own. But sometimes they can be false as dreams.”

English 3411.301, The Arts and Popular Culture: The Beatles, Anthony DeCurtis, R 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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Magical Mystery Tour: Discovering Inspiration and Your Own Creativity in the Music of the Beatles

This course will focus on the music and lives of the Beatles as sources of creative inspiration. The course will, in part, take its shape based on the interests of the students who enroll in it. While Beatles obsessives — you know who you are — are, of course, welcome, if you are new to their music and simply curious about how this iconic band might inspire your own creative activity, you are more than welcome as well. Your adventurousness and willingness to take a deep dive into their work is all that is required.

We will listen to and discuss Beatles songs, watch documentaries about the group, explore their influence across the arts and culture, and meet critics and artists who have engaged them and their work in meaningful ways. To that degree, the course will be more impressionistic than strictly schematic — that is, we will follow various threads in the Beatles' work as they emerge and our fascination guides us. The goal is for us to achieve an understanding of the band and its individual members that is as visceral as it is intellectual.

The class will do some analytic writing, and each student will make at least one presentation. However, students who are so inclined will be encouraged to pursue their own creative work — which is to say that, in consultation with the instructor, short stories, songs, poems, plays, visual art, or videos inspired by the Beatles will be acceptable projects to complete the course's requirements. You will be allowed a great deal of freedom in charting your own independent course, in other words, as appropriate to our subject and the gifts their work has given to us all. As Sgt. Pepper assured us, “A pleasant time is guaranteed for all.”

English 3412.301, Advanced Writing Projects in the Arts and Popular Culture, Anthony DeCurtis, R 10:15am-12:15pm

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This advanced course in writing about the arts and popular culture (interpreted broadly) is limited in enrollment and focuses on a semester-long project that each student defines in consultation with the instructor. The course will be run something like a group independent study, in which students pursue their specific, personal projects and share their work on an ongoing basis with the class as a whole. Ideally, students will informally serve as each other’s editors, sharing suggestions, sources, approaches and encouragement. Occasional meetings of the full group will concentrate on issues relevant to all aspects of arts-and-culture writing, while meetings with individual students will focus and help realize the individual projects that will constitute the course’s main work. Most typically, the semester-long project will be a lengthy feature (6,000+ words) of the sort that regularly appears in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine or Rolling Stone, among other publications. Other approaches to the project, however, will certainly be considered. Readings for the course will be geared specifically to the interests of the students who have been selected, and will be drawn from relevant work that is appearing at that time in journalistic publications. Ideally, applicants will have already taken English 3411 with the instructor, but that is not a firm prerequisite and other students should absolutely feel free to contact the instructor for more information. Permission to enroll is required. Please send an email describing your interest to ADeCurtis@aol.com.

English 3417.301, Political Journalism, Dick Polman, W 1:45pm-4:45pm

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How do journalists who cover national politics meet the challenge of writing factually and truthfully—when there is no longer a general public consensus about what constitutes fact and truth? Journalists today are tasked with the traditional job of holding people in power accountable (starting with the Biden administration)—while also writing responsibly about the Trump-inspired movement that imperils democracy itself. These challenges are being exacerbated by Trump-allied candidates’ growing unwillingness to engage with mainstream media outlets. Students in this course will write frequent timely pieces—opinion columns and news analyses—while confronting some broader issues: Is traditionally “objective” journalism up to the challenge? Is it feasible to provide “balanced,” “both sides” coverage when one of the major parties is led by a former president who seeks to undermine traditional democratic values? Is it possible to write critically of lies and misinformation without being labeled “partisan”?

English 3422.301, Advanced Writing Projects in Long-Form Nonfiction, Paul Hendrickson, S

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An advanced course in long-form nonfiction journalistic writing for a select group of experienced and self-starting student writers. (Ideally, each accepted member will have already taken one or two nonfiction seminars within the creative writing program.) The goal will be to tailor a reporting and writing project to your interest, one you may have long wished to take up but never had the opportunity. It could be a project in the arts. It could be a profile of a person or place. It might be documentary in nature, which is to say an extremely close-up observation of your subject. (An example: think of a hospital chaplain at Penn, going on his dreary, redemptive, daily rounds, to visit the sick and anoint the dying. What if you were there, for most of the term, as unobtrusively as possible, at his black-clad elbow?) The group will meet at to-be-determined intervals. In between, the enrollees will be pairing off and in effect serving as each other’s editor and coach and fellow (sister) struggler. When we do assemble as a group, we will be reading to each other as well as discussing the works of some long-form heroes—Didion, Talese, Richard Ben Cramer, one or two others you may not have heard of. In essence, this is a kind of master course, limited in enrollment, and devoted to your piece of writing, to be handed in on the final day. It will be in the range of 25 to 30 pages, something above 8,000 words. The course presumes a lot of individual initiative and self-reliance. Permission to enroll is required. If you’re interested, please email phendric@english.upenn.edu and suggest your qualifications.

English 3423.301, Planet on the Brink: Climate and Environment Journalism, Peter Tarr, T 1:45pm-4:45pm 

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This course is for students who care about “the fate of the earth,” and who want to try their hand at formulating relevant publication-quality fact and opinion pieces. Those students include: STEM students who are writing-curious; journalism students interested in sci-tech writing; and prose writers who care about using facts to tell urgently important stories. We'll tackle urgent topics that regularly command today's headlines, such as: global warming (should we risk geoengineering the climate?); “the 6th Extinction" (should we try to save every endangered species?); and preventing the next pandemic (should researchers be allowed to augment non-virulent viruses to learn how to defeat them should they mutate?). Inaction on issues that threaten life in the world your generation is now inheriting may be due, partly, to the difficulty of formulating coherent opinions about corrective courses of action. One way to avoid the “deer-in-headlights” non-response is to learn enough facts to formulate compelling, persuasive opinions.  This course gives you the chance to do precisely that—while improving your writing skills.  You will also work on a semester-long reporting project of profiling a scientist, doctor, or researcher who is involved in sci/tech/fate-of-the-earth issues. 

English 3426.301, The Art of Editing, Julia Bloch, R 10:15am-1:15pm 

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This course takes a critical and practical approach to the art of editing. Is the editor simply a “failed writer,” as T. S. Eliot claimed, or is good editing the key to a writer’s clarity and integrity? In addition to exploring theories and histories of the red pen, we will consider a few case studies of editorial interventions, such as Ezra Pound’s excisions and revisions of Eliot’s The Waste Land, Marianne Moore’s five-decade quest to revise a single poem, and the editor who was discovered to have invented Raymond Carver’s distinctive narrative style. We will immerse ourselves in the technical aspects of editing, covering such topics as the difference between developmental and line editing, the merits of MLA and Chicago style, proofreading in hard copy and digital environments, and when to wield an em dash. Students will gain practical copyediting experience, learn about a range of different levels of editorial interventions, and investigate the politics of language usage and standards, reading from literary texts such as Gloria Anzaldúa’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary, and Dohra Ahmad’s Rotten English anthology to ask crucial questions about what “standard English” really means. This course counts toward the Journalistic Writing Minor.

English 3502.301, Writing and Borders, Ahmad Almallah, MW 10:15am-11:45am 

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This workshop is about experiments in writing that exceeds the limits of form: when the drive to put down experience in poems spills out into prose, or when the borders provided for the experience seem to hold for the moment, only to collapse the moment after. This particular writing drive seeks to occupy space, not in the real sense, but in the abstract—where the insider goes out, and the outsider hides in. This ever-acting dichotomy in writing poems is often brought out in times of personal crisis, but most distinctly in times of conflict and war (and where the lines and borders on the ground need to be drawn clearly, the disillusionment with the human self provides a most fertile ground for breaking out of the poem, for seeking the poetic outside defined lines). We will explore the possibilities of these statements in our own experimentations in achieving form in a poem, and then breaking out of it in prose. We will be guided in this process by some of the following texts: 1. modern rewritings of The Iliad, such as War Music by Chris Logue and Memorial by Alice Oswald; 2. autobiographies such as The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster and The Words by Jean-Paul Sartre; and 3. the poems and prose of poets such as W. B. Yeats, Zbigniew Herbert, Paul Celan, and Mahmoud Darwish.

English 3517.401, Plague Lab: Writing through Infection and Affliction, Annie Seaton, W 10:15am-1:15pm 

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How do we write through a plague? How do we make sense of it and ourselves? Do plagues also super-charge creativity? Is it a coincidence that so many famous literary works seem driven by pandemics? In this creative writing class we will begin with the question of how plagues make and disrupt meaning. We’ll start with ancient and classical examples: from Homer’s Iliad to Boccaccio’s Decameron, pandemics inspire upheaval and revelation. Oedipus Tyrannus seeks to solve the riddle of a social disease: Oedipus’s contact tracing leads to self-mutilation. In English 3517, our own plague laboratory experimentation, we will juxtapose literary texts with found cultural objects, including artworks, films, and performances. In addition to canonical examples, we’ll explore off-center, anti-colonial, and non-Western literary and popular culture works. Our lab will also investigate reactionary, paranoid, and cult-like pandemic meaning-making: theories conflating 5-G transmission and vaccines, for instance, and the persistence of xenophobic viral “origin stories.” We will use these examples to ask questions about our own “plague”: does Covid-19 represent a break with social norms and expectations? Does a work like Octavia Butler’s Parable help us understand whether our current pandemic began with Covid-19, or was already forecast in what Butler terms the “Pox”? We will perform our own archival assemblage and collective work of evidentiary gathering:—the CDC refers to epidemiologists as “disease detectives,” so how might we as writers do our own detective work? Students will be encouraged to produce across a number of genres including poetry, fiction, memoir, zines, double-blind studies, sculpture, installation, performance, or found object scavenging.

Please note that MLA courses are generally not open to Penn undergraduates. For information about the MLA program, visit the College of Liberal and Professional Studies.
English 9001.640 Finding Voice: Perspectives on Race, Class and Gender, Kathryn Watterson
Wednesdays 5:15pm-8:15pm

Our voices as writers take shape in the complex ground of our inner landscapes, seeded by our lives as children, our family dynamics and myths, and the social and cultural world that impacts us. In this writing workshop, we will explore the influence of “identity”—primarily race, class, gender and sexuality—as well as laws and systems of power and privilege, on the ways we convey our personal truths to the world. Students will read a variety of authors— including Frederick Douglass, Audre Lorde, Leslie Marmo Silko, Thandeka, Angela Davis, Dorothy Allison, James Baldwin, Jimmy Santiago Baco, and Amy Tan— to gain insight into how other writers build narratives to make sense out of the progression of their lives. Students will conduct interviews, do research, writing exercises and visualizations to generate ideas, and to develop and revise personal essays, articles and opinion pieces. In addition to in-class exercises, meditation and movement, students will be asked to a maintain a daily practice of free-writing; write responses (2-3 pages weekly) to assigned books, essays, stories, documentaries, and field trips; participate in workshop discussions and peer review, and write and revise two to three stories/essays (4-5 pages) during the semester.

English 9010.640: Writing for Young ReadersNova Ren Suma
Online, Thursdays 5:15pm-8:15pm

This course is for those who want to begin writing a novel aimed at an audience of young readers. During the online semester, we will meet in Zoom for reading discussions of novels and workshops of student writing, and will also make use of small group work and asynchronous creative tasks such as writing prompts. Writing assignments will lead students to explore ways of creating fully dimensional young protagonists, crafting authentic young voices, and generating ideas that will speak to young readers. Our spotlight will mainly shine on the promising world of YA, but we will also discuss middle-grade (MG) writing for younger readers and the hallmarks and differences between the categories. Reading will consist of novels as well as excerpts and craft articles. Student writing will be workshopped and shared in peer critique throughout the course. The ultimate goal will be to write the opening chapters of a unique and engaging YA or MG novel and complete a polished revision for the final project. 

English 9009.640: Creative Research: A Writer's Workshop, Jay Kirk
Mondays 5:15pm-8:15pm

Many writers think of research as a “task” that is somehow separate from writing. In truth, it’s as much a part of the process as waiting for le mot juste, and requires the same level of creativity, whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction. Research is not only what you do to “get started,” but remains key whether you’re just brainstorming or are already immersed in your sixteenth draft. Research is much more than gathering material and filling in the blanks. It is the process of discovering your material at its deepest source. In this 6-week course, students will adopt a mindset of discovery and experiment as we explore a variety of innovative research methods, from how to interview an expert, how to ask better questions, and how to mine end notes, to finding truth in serendipity and honing the fine art of looking right under your nose.