Bassini Writing Apprenticeships

Background and description

A major goal of the College of Arts & Sciences is to promote advanced research, mentorship and apprenticeship experiences especially during the student's junior and senior years. CPCW's writing apprenticeships project was created in 2003 to meet this goal.

Each year during the spring semester, the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing hosts three or four writing apprenticeships. Members of the faculty affiliated with Penn's writing programs sponsor one apprenticeship each. The apprenticeships are one full semester in duration. Students chosen to be CPCW apprentices will receive one course credit (English 199). Sophomores, juniors and seniors are eligible to apply, although juniors and seniors will be given strong preference.

The apprentice and his or her faculty mentor will work together on a project that is at the heart of the mentor's work as a practicing writer and/or as member of a professional writing community. The apprenticeship is not an "independent study," nor a time for the student to write a creative or critical thesis; the goal of the program is to feature advanced problem-solving of the sort writers face when they take on a major project, an in-depth consideration of actual writing practices, an introduction to one of the great variety of writing-related projects writers undertake.

Each apprentice and his or her mentor will create their own expected outcomes and guidelines (including evaluation of any practical and written work to be assigned) for the student's work in this unusual "course."

A Daily Pennsylvanian article on our apprenticeships project is available here.

And read a blog entry by Beth Kephart describing her experience with her 2006 apprentice.

Writing apprenticeships are made possible through a generous grant from Reina Marin Bassini (CW72 GED72) and Emilio Bassini (C71 W71 WG73).

2015 apprenticeships

In the spring term of 2015, three members of the writing community are each taking on one apprentice. The four students awarded the apprenticeships will be enrolled in a course (English 199) that can be counted:

The three writing community members taking on apprentices during the spring of 2015 are:

If you wish to be considered for the appointment as a CPCW Writing Apprentice for the spring of 2015, please write to apprentice@writing.upenn.edu and send the following information:

First preference will be given to seniors and juniors. Deadline for applications is October 17, 2014.

Dick Polman's apprenticeship

Dick writes, "For my Spring semester apprenticeship, applicants must have a strong interest in political journalism. The apprentice will learn how to stay on top of the fast-breaking political news, how to spot timely story ideas, how to recognize political trends, and how to most effectively research valuable material online. The apprentice will help me work on my daily political blog, National Interest (at newsworks.org/polman), and will have the opportunity to write guest commentary pieces on the class website that's featured in my spring-semester Political Commentary course. I will edit those guest pieces; the editing process will provide more learning opportunities."

Karen Rile's apprenticeship

Karen Writes, "I am looking for an editorial apprentice for Cleaver Magazine, an independent literary magazine that shares poetry, fiction, flash (prose that is 500 words or less), nonfiction, and visual art. Cleaver is a quarterly magazine, so your apprenticeship will focus on the March and June 2015 issues. Please take time to familiarize yourself with the magazine before applying.

As an apprentice you will have your hand in every facet of the editorial, production, and publicity work. Editorial duties include reading and voting on submissions; soliciting work from targeted poets and writers; working with writers on manuscript revisions; and copyediting/proofreading of work for the quarterly issue. Production duties will vary according to your software skills. Publicity duties include writing pieces for our Editors' Blog and helping out with social media. You will also write a book review (or more, if you like) of a new release from a small press. In addition, I have a couple of independent projects in mind that you might want to choose from.

The best candidate will be well-organized and dependable with excellent writing, editing skills, and communication skills and a strong interest in literary magazine publishing. If you're a skilled poet or fiction writer, that's a plus, but it's not necessary to be accomplished in all genres. I am more interested in your taste and your editorial skills than your poetry-writing skills. Experience in editing and publishing is an excellent qualification, but not is required. Likewise, experience with web design, particularly Wordpress platform, would be nice, but is not necessary."

Avery Rome's apprenticeship

Avery Writes, "In addition to my teaching, I am a freelance editor whose projects come from different areas, fiction and non-fiction. My work depends on a deft reading of the writer as well as his or her text. For the spring it looks as if I will be editing at least two books, one a biography of a powerful politician and the other a medical malpractice saga. Each of these will require not just the streamlining of narrative, but also building a strong collaboration with the author, deriving a strategy to bring forth the best in the manuscript, and backstopping on research, tone and presentation. I also regularly team up with a playwright in New York and help a local food cupboard with media outreach. Other assignments are likely to appear. A valuable apprentice would be nimble and curious, a self-starter who loves playing with language and has an interest in interacting with creative, sometimes anxious authors. He or she will participate in every aspect of what I do and come to know the back-stage process of how literary creations come together."

2014 apprenticeships

Kathy DeMarco's apprenticeship (Jackie Duhl)

Kathy Writes, "I’m guessing that the closest comparison for working as an apprentice with me is a film executive “assistant” – minus the phone-throwing and dog-walking requests, of course. I say this because my interests are varied and reflected in my creative efforts – currently three screenplays in various stages of development, and a middle grade, quasi-fantastical book series loosely centered on climate change, the Jersey shore and pizza (just because I love it). There would be no “typical” day – some time I would ask for research about climate change; other times I may need help with my website, or a troublesome section of a new script, or plain old basic organization for a person stretched a little far. Collaboration is the beating heart behind all my work, which would translate to a lot of … I think the official term is “spitballing.” I travel to NY frequently to meet with my agent and my editor at Dial Books for Young Readers (a division of Penguin), and it would be terrific to have my apprentice along for the ride. (This would also hold true for any meetings with film executives during the spring.) I suspect that this apprenticeship would be useful to students interested in the entertainment and/or publishing realms, especially since during the spring semester I teach a course where professionals from both industries make the trek to Philadelphia for my class and my apprentice could have a front row seat to these events.

Must haves for this apprenticeship? A sense of humor and a love of reading fiction. Would-be-good-to-haves? Great time management skills (to impart to me) and a particular affinity for Pixar movies, especially Finding Nemo."

Gwyneth Shaw's apprenticeship (Jesse Yackey)

Gwyneth writes, "Super-small versions of familiar ingredients are turning up in a broad array of consumer products, from silver as an anti-stink secret weapon to titanium dioxide as a way to make “natural” sunscreens clear. These “nanomaterials” are a booming industry, touted as a possible way to revolutionize some medical treatments or boost the flavor of a low-fat food. A growing body of scientific research -- some from the government’s own scientists -- shows troubling evidence that nanoparticles can penetrate skin, lodge in organs, and get into water, soil, and plant life. But U.S. government regulators are largely sitting on their hands.

For more than three years, I’ve been writing about these materials, their increasing prevalence, and the scrambling of researchers to keep up with what’s already on the market to make sure these products aren’t hurting people, animals, or the environment. Now, I’m turning my focus to a book examining what’s known, what’s not, and what the government is -- and isn’t -- doing about it.

I’m looking for an apprentice with an interest in investigative journalism and the chops to conduct research and interviews, as well as help me keep up with the fast-moving sphere where industry lobbyists and government policymakers interact. Expertise in science or government is not required, but a strong sense of curiosity is."

Peter Tarr's apprenticeship (Alex Brown)

Peter writes, "I would like an apprentice to help me bring a multi-year writing project across the finish line. In 2009, I benefited from the editorial insights of an outstanding Penn undergrad, Aaron Walker, who discovered ways to streamline an ungainly historical narrative line. Now I need help with research, as I’ll explain after telling you that the story concerns the cultural odyssey of 14 young Americans lured to the far side of the planet in the first years of the twentieth century. Their improbable mission: to change the language of a foreign people. Those people, to use the revealing language of the American government of the time, were the “occupants” of the Philippine Islands. The U.S. recently had “acquired” the islands and their people from moribund Spain, which had ruled for over 300 years. The Filipinos then fought their new colonizers, the Americans – who dispatched, in addition to soldiers, several thousand school teachers, to “civilize” them. That meant teaching the youngest generation of Filipinos to speak English. The army viewed this educational effort as a branch of counterinsurgency. I would like an apprentice to help me: 1) close the narrative loop on 7 of my young American subjects who are at the focus of this historical narrative. I have taken their stories up through about 1913. I need to know what happened to several of them in later years. This will require excellent research skills and persistence; 2) open the narrative to a possible chapter-length extension, which will involve comparing the Philippines experience of American teachers with experiences of 1960s – 1980s Peace Corps volunteers who taught English in various countries (including the Philippines!). The apprentice would help me determine the availability of letters home from specific Peace Corps volunteers, and could help me retrieve them; 3) thicken the narrative richness of the existing text by helping me to discover whether an archival treasure trove in Carlisle, PA contains any letters from U.S. soldiers who served briefly in the Philippines and Cuba, ca. 1898, as English language teachers. The apprentice will meet with me WEDNESDAYS at KWH between ~12:30 and 1:45 pm."

2013 apprenticeships

Anthony DeCurtis' apprenticeship (Jess Bergman)

Anthony writes, "I am a working journalist based in New York, who is blessed and cursed with juggling a variety of projects and assignments, often on short notice and mostly to do with popular music. Here the harrowing truths of such work will be revealed -- the corners cleverly cut; the disasters deftly avoided; the mounting deadlines nudged imperceptibly into the realm of the possible. The apprentice's task will be to heroically assist in those processes while revealing nothing about how closely the abyss loomed at all times. For students who have worked at the Daily Pennsylvanian or 34th Street this will, of course, be familiar terrain, though such experience is not at all required. The work itself will typically involve research, and possibly some transcription and fact-checking. Excellent research skills, reliability, and a passion for accuracy are therefore essential virtues. Top-notch computer abilities would be a plus as well. Because I live in New York and likely won't be around campus much in the spring, the ability to travel to New York from time to time would be valuable, though, again, it's not a deal breaker. I will routinely be available by phone, email, Skype, whatever, and, needless to say, conversations about the ever-changing journalistic world would be a central part of this experience. This apprenticeship would probably be most useful to students who are considering journalism as a career, or who foresee writing in popular settings along with whatever else they might be doing later. The apprentice will be welcome to participate in my work as deeply as time, distance, and common sense will allow."

Beth Kephart's apprenticeship (Alice Ma)

Beth writes, "Not long ago I read about an ultimately debilitating disease that is rare, extraordinarily heartbreaking, and, in its earliest manifestations, eerily beautiful. For a new young adult novel to be written for Philomel, a division of Penguin, I will be researching this condition and easing it toward a story based in a European city (the particulars of which will also require ingenious research). I’m looking for a partner in this—a student who loves to unravel mysteries, who isn’t afraid of science or foreign places, and who would like to see, first-hand, how what is known is transformed into something imagined. Some of the leading authorities on this condition are based in Philadelphia. Research will therefore include time spent in the library with dust-encrusted books, Google explorations, medical searches, and in-person interviews. The book now being planned will be my eighteenth, and my third for Philomel."

Sabrina Rubin Erdely's apprenticeship (Arielle Pardes)

Sabrina writes, "I’m a Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone, where I write long-form narrative feature articles with an investigative bent. The topics run the gamut, but always tend towards the dramatic, with complex characters or issues at their cores. Recent examples include articles about the FBI’s entrapment of five Occupy activists; a femme fatale con artist/marijuana smuggler; and a Midwestern gay teen suicide cluster, which revealed the local school district’s intolerance. Many of my articles have won writing awards or been anthologized in books, and several are in development as Hollywood films. One trait my articles share is that they’re drenched in facts. As such, this apprenticeship will be a research-oriented one. I’m looking for someone with good research skills (or willing/able to learn them), including the art of tracking down all manner of documents; sifting through paperwork in search of the salient facts; locating people for interviews; and telephoning strangers. My apprentice should be curious, enterprising, a stickler for accuracy and someone who believes—as I do—that the answers are out there, waiting to be found. Regular visits to my Center City home office will be required. Altogether, you’ll have a behind-the-scenes look at the absorbing, sometimes maddening, always surprising process of creating a feature article for a national magazine."

Taije Silverman's apprenticeship (Salomon Moreno-Rosa)

Taije writes, "This apprenticeship is an opportunity to co-teach a writing workshop at Project H.O.M.E., a homelessness outreach program that helps house, educate, and employ thousands of homeless people in Philadelphia every year. Once a week we will meet at the Honickman Learning Center in Northeast Philadelphia to run a creative writing workshop for those who live either independently or in a group residence for formerly homeless adults. Classes will be split between discussions of published work (by figures like Rita Dove, Naomi Shihab Nye, Richard Wilbur, and countless others) and in-class writing assignments inspired by students’ personal experience. We’ll experiment with forms (haiku, litany, dramatic monologue) and voice. The class will culminate in a final public reading from work produced during the semester.

The apprentice would help develop the curriculum, choosing reading material and creating writing assignments according to the interests and skills of the students. We’ll meet outside of class each week to discuss its progress and to plan future lessons. I’ll also ask that you keep a notebook every week, writing either creative or analytic reflections on the lessons and on your sense of the course. This apprenticeship will offer unique and practical experience in both education and social services; ultimately you will be given the tools to teach such a course independently, and you’ll come away with a strong understanding of the role that arts can play in community."

2012 apprenticeships

Jay Kirk's apprenticeship (Zoe Kirsch)

Jay writes,"I think I can say with certainty that I am now embarked on the strangest writing project so far in my career: a project that took me, in 2011 alone, from Transylvania to the Arctic Circle—and then back again to the music department archives at the University of Pennsylvania.

The bulk of my apprentice’s time will be engaged in helping to prepare this narrative nonfiction book project, titled Bartok’s Monster. It involves the theft of a manuscript, a lot of detective work, some vampire stories, at least one gypsy funeral, and concerns itself, intellectually, with themes of originality, preservation, derivation, variation, and the anxiety of influence in art. A section of this narrative will be published, in the spring, by Harper’s Magazine. So, in addition to helping with the larger and more rigorous work of book research, the apprentice will also get a chance to become familiar with the workings of a national magazine. Tasks will likely include tape transcription, fact-checking, proofreading, the hunting down of obscure articles, and possibly the conducting of an interview or two. Since my first book, Kingdom Under Glass, named one of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2010 by the Washington Post, will also be newly out in paperback, the apprentice will also get to witness the final stages of publication and publicity. I won’t yet go into the reasons I traveled to the Arctic, save to say, in the words of Victor Frankenstein’s monster, that “the desert mountains and dreary glaciers are my refuge.”

Sam Apple's apprenticeship (Leslie Krivo-Kaufman)

Shelf Life Press, a division of the The Faster Times, is creating new media editions of literary classics for e-book readers and tablets. Our editions will include images, original videos, and text links for readers interested in learning more about the work in question and the historical period from which it emerged. Together with a team of editors and academics, the apprentice will assist in every aspect of book production, from background research to video production.

Shelf Life Press and The Faster Times were both founded by Sam Apple, a creative writing instructor at Penn. Apple, the author of Schlepping Through the Alps and American Parent, will directly oversee all apprentice projects.

Rick Nichols' apprenticeship (Victoria Fienga)

Rick writes, "The chocolate in those elegant gift boxes and, more universally, the candy rack at Wawa had to start out somewhere. If you see the words "local chocolate," don't believe it: The bean it comes from only grows in a slender band around the equator, a little south of it and a little north. It is called cacao. And for most of human history, it has played roles both sacred and profane, offering refuge to songbirds, and unleashing destruction on vast forests; providing a living for Costa Rican small-holders, wielding the whip on enslaved boys in Africa; candy, one minute; cage, the next.

More than a decade ago, I flew over the Andes in Peru to see if cacao-growing -- as advertised by U. S. officials -- might wean farmers in the high jungle from their embrace of coca, the raw material for crack and cocaine. And I traipsed through a "germplasm" plantation in Trinidad, to see the work of a long-dead British botanist credited with rescuing chocolate when it appeared headed -- in certain tropical precincts -- for near-extinction. It is that man's story -- and how it plays into the larger story of chocolate's own conflicted biography -- that I've long itched to tell. Tales of treks in the Amazon and Papua New Guinea, and that precious Fort Knox of cacao that endures to this day on an overlooked island off the coast of Venezuela.

Most Penn apprenticeships have attached to works in progress: Not this one. There is a question that first needs answering: Has the botanist in question left enough of a paper trail (letters, scientific papers, diaries) to allow us to bring him back to life? Where might there be contemporaneous accounts (newspapers, archives, colleague's reflections) to give his context richness? Is chocolate even today a bellwether; fresh climate studies suggest that by 2050 entire regions of Ghana and the Ivory Coast -- the countries where 60 percent of the world's chocolate is grown -- may be rendered too hot and rain-challenged to sustain the cacao crop?

I'm looking for a junior partner in this quest. An apprentice should be agile with research tools, and not just on-line. Are there old journals there? Critical maps? Artifacts? Hand-written field notes? Original manuscripts? Agricultural documents? In the stacks? In repositories, here or abroad? An apprentice should be savvy, persistent and creative in sniffing out original material: Got an idea for where the treasure is buried, I'm all ears. In the end, ideally, the work should yield a compelling book proposal. So, it is not a work in progress so much as a work about to commence. You've got to start somewhere."

2011 apprenticeships

Paul Hendrickson's apprenticeship (Jessica Yu)

Paul writes: "I envision a writing apprentice helping greatly with the numerous galley-reading and fact-checking and other chores involved in the process of "making a book." The book to be made-- which is to say produced, published--is entitled Hemingway's Boat. I have been working on it for something like seven years, writing it for five. There was a time when I thought I'd never complete it. It is now done, or all but done. Knopf, my long-time publisher, known for its extremely high and Mercedes-Benz-like design and production values, plans to bring out this 160,000-word nonfiction work early next fall--so roughly a year from now. The apprentice will have a unique bird's-eye perspective of watching a process unfold at ground-level. Some of the chores to be done as the book makes its way to press will be quite tedious; others will be pretty exciting, that is, if you love books, and everything connected with books. For a Penn student out there dreaming someday of his or her OWN book-length work of fiction or nonfiction coming to such fruition, this might be an unparalleled opportunity. In essence, you'll get to see how some of it happens while you're still very young. In essence, you'll be able to get glimpses of the baby being born. I am honored to say that two previous KWH writing apprentices--Jessica Lussenhop in 2005 and Allison Stadd in 2008--hugely helped on the project, in both spirit and substance. So this third apprentice in the long making of Hemingway's Boat will be standing on some large shoulders. Should it be any other way?"

Stephen Fried's apprenticeship (Katie Sanders)

Stephen writes: "I am the author of five nonfiction books, a writer for a variety of national magazines and an adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (where I teach longform narrative nonfiction reporting and writing). So I am looking for a student who is interested in the truly multidisciplinary worlds of reporting, writing and publishing in media that are rapidly changing, focusing on balancing time-honored skills with those newly invented and appreciated. (I also do most of my own promotion.)

The apprenticeship will involve working on proposals for my next two books, one historical narrative set on the east coast, another a more contemporary crime narrative; the paperback publication of my latest book, Appetite for America; an exciting new publishing company venture; and magazine work for several national titles, including investigative and narrative work in health care, science, sports, popular culture, etc. You’ll also get intimately involved in the process of trolling for new ideas.

I’m also very interested in having my apprentice help me upgrade and diversify my various online presences and my new media strategies. So a major part of the apprenticeship will be exploring the expanding role of social media, blogs and old-fashioned websites in both new journalistic projects and older ones that still make an impact. So, I’m looking for someone with good computer and social networking skills, who wants to learn what they don’t already know."

2010 apprenticeships

Kenny Goldsmith's apprenticeship (Thomson Guster)

Kenny writes: "For the past five years, I have been working on rewriting of Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project, whose tentative title is Capital. Benjamin's book is a 900-page epic work of note-taking on everything that was written about Paris in the nineteenth century; mine uses Benjamin's identical methodology, applying it to New York in the twentieth century."

For this internship, you will be required to intimately acquaint yourself with The Arcades Project, its scope, its methodology, its histories and the critical apparatus surrounding the English publication of the book just a few years ago; you will also be expected to acquaint yourself with Benjamin's other key works. Once you have fully oriented yourself to Benjamin, you will assist me in my research, collection, transcription and editing of materials from a variety of sources including the library, old newspaper articles and the internet.

Kitsi Watterson's apprenticeship (Katie Sanders)

Kathryn Watterson loves stories-she loves to read them, write them, tell them, and elicit them from you. As her apprentice, you will be working with a writer who has won the Christopher Award, had three books listed as New York Times Most Notable Books, and is a celebrated newspaper reporter, editor, free-lance writer, essayist, short-story writer, novelist, and author of creative nonfiction books. Currently, she is completing a novel set in the 1950s; putting finishing touches on The North's Most Southern Town: An Oral History of African American Princeton, 1900-2000; and writing/revising short stories and essays. She writes lyrics, sings and drums with PLP TheUnity, a performance arts ensemble. Her apprentice will research events that occurred in the 1970s for a novel-in-progress that explores the human condition, racism, interracial relationships, and the prison system.

This project and others may include some interviews and transcriptions. She also wishes for help with the nuts and bolts of the writing business, including letters regarding permissions and submissions; proofreading; editing; fact-finding, and fact checking (sometimes on the spur of the moment for a political commentary). The ideal apprentice will enjoy having fun and searching for gems in the assigned research, be well organized, thorough, flexible in terms of the scope of the work, and interested in matters of social justice.

Michael Hennessey's apprenticeship (Jeffrey Boruszak)

PennSound's first apprentice will work closely with Managing Editor Michael S. Hennessey, building a strong foundation in the technical skills necessary to keep the site running (site-specific methodologies, audio editing, file transfer protocols, webpage building), before assuming more administrative duties, such as workflow management, fact-checking and research, correspondence with poets and archivists, site promotion through Twitter and Facebook, and writing copy for the site. Final goals will include independent oversight of several small projects and writing several short features for the PennSound Daily column. For the ideal candidate, this apprenticeship will be an excellent opportunity to develop useful communications skills while indulging a fervent interest in contemporary poetry and poetics.

2009 apprenticeships

Elizabeth Van Doren's apprenticeship (Heather Schwedel)

Elizabeth Van Doren is Editor-in-Chief of a small, illustrated book publisher in New York. She juggles a full-time job as well as teaching creative writing at Penn. She needs the help of an apprentice in working on several huge book projects that are overwhelming in their schedule, exciting in their scope, and require various skills from research to editing the manuscript, writing captions, seeking permissions, photo research, creating an art log, proofing pages, etc. The apprentice will have the opportunity to become part of a publishing team, learn how books are acquired, edited, illustrated and made, and to contribute to the making of one or several books to be published in 2009 by performing a variety of tasks research to organizing material to writing. For anyone who thinks they might be interested in pursuing a career in publishing, this is a rare opportunity to work with an experienced editor in a fast-paced professional environment. Since the company is in New York, it would be ideal if the apprentice could come to New York occasionally to work in the office.

Dick Polman's apprenticeship (Emily Schultheis)

Dick Polman, national political correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, describes the apprenticeship he is hosting as follows: "I have a demanding journalistic routine, writing a political blog - called 'The American Debate' - that is read by as many as 35,000 people a day, and I write other political commentary as well. All these duties require a lot of research, and a constant updating of fresh ideas. The work requires great discipline, but the rhythms are also very unpredictable, because of the need to react quickly to the news. I'm not sure what the writing mix will be like during the spring semester, but there will always be much to do. I'd require a good-humored, political-junkie apprentice who works fast and efficiently, who has a talent for news research, and who can contribute fresh story ideas. The work circumstances would vary - sometimes we would be communicating via email, sometimes face to face in my Penn office, sometimes informally in Penn coffee shops. In short, a semester-long dialogue. Any help in making my writing better would be greatly appreciated. And the helper will undoubtedly gain much practical journalistic experience."

Peter Tarr's apprenticeship (Aaron Walker)

Peter Tarr is completing a book project (A Certain Blindness) that focuses on the U.S. government's first official effort to change the culture of foreign peoples beyond American shores. He refers to the astonishing attempt by U.S. officials and several thousand ordinary American public school teachers to establish English-language public school systems in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba. These places came under direct U.S. rule following the "Spanish-American War" of 1898. Logistically improbable and culturally aggressive, the educational project of the American conquerors was explicitly designed to de-hispanize (i.e., Anglicize) peoples long ruled by Spanish monarchs and influenced culturally by the Roman Catholic Church. Peter's strategy has been to tell the story for the first time from the perspective of the American teachers -- many of whom were young people just out of college, and some of whom wrote hundreds of letters home. He welcomes the assistance of an apprentice interested in helping him make substantial edits in a historical narrative he has constructed after a six-year period of archival research. Useful contributions will depend on the apprentice's interest in narrative strategy and skills as a close reader and editor. In addition to helping Peter streamline the story-line -- which follows seven young men and women who taught in the Philippines between 1901 and 1910 -- the apprentice also has the opportunity to make a significant contribution to a portion of the final narrative yet to be written: a section comparing the American educational and cultural enterprise of 1900 with that of the Peace Corps, founded in 1961 by John F. Kennedy. The apprentice has an opportunity to collect primary data -- letters from the "field" written by Peace Corps volunteers -- at archives in Washington D.C. An additional opportunity at primary-source gathering and assessment, as well as narrative reconstruction, exists if the apprentice is able to travel to Carlisle, PA. There, letters may (or may not) reside, containing descriptions by American soldiers in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines of their experiences dispensing English-language instruction to "natives," an activity conceptualized by American generals ca. 1900 as a form of counterinsurgency.

2008 apprenticeships

Robert Strauss' apprenticeship (Sherene Joseph)

"My journalistic life is a hectic one, and mostly solitary, but it is a varied one. I write a Friday entertainment piece each week out of Atlantic City for the Philadelphia Daily News and will be starting a weekly outdoors column for the Philadelphia Inquirer. I write almost weekly for the New York Times either in Metro, New Jersey, sports, travel and special sections like automobiles and retirement. I do entertainment stories for the Los Angeles Times and national stories out of Philadelphia for the Washington Post. I do business analyses for the Wharton School, write about tech for PC Magazine, and do features for a trade publication called Today's Machining World. It's a bit of this and a bit of that. One big project I will need help with is a book I have a contract for with Rutgers University Press, an oral history of the suburbs of the 1950s-1960s. It uses as its main subject Cherry Hill, New Jersey, from which I have several dozen taped interviews I will need transcribed. I would also like the apprentice to do some more interviews, which should be fun and educational as well. I work out of my house in Haddonfield and am two blocks from the train to Philadelphia so a car, while helpful, isn't a necessity. An willingness to learn a little of everything and a good sense of humor - I use a lot of bad puns - is."

Robert Strauss' apprentice will be Sherene Joseph. Sherene is a junior majoring in English and Psychology with minors in South Asia Studies, Gender Studies and Sociology. At Penn, she has been involved with several cultural and minority organizations, including the South Asia Society (SAS), the Asian Pacific Student Coalition (APSC) and the United Minorities Council (UMC). She loved her "non-creative fiction writing" workshop with Robert Strauss and is looking forward to working with him.

Mark Rosenthal's apprenticeship (Hillary Levine)

"I'm looking for an apprentice who can help me survive the bipolar disorder of writing screenplays for Hollywood studios. The motto: 'More Art Faster.' At any one time I might be researching a new project, while finishing a first draft, while doing a re-write on an old project -- and they might all be due 'yesterday'. Disaster always looms and the zombies are eternally at the door. I need someone who not only has sharp research skills but also the imagination to understand how to extract 'facts' that are relevant to each film. This might involve gleaning dramatic moments from historic incident, constructing sequences, or fine-tuning dialog. The intern will learn how the architecture of a script differs from novels and plays. He/ She will soon grow comfortable with the myriad day to day tasks of a working screenwriter, such as: throwing around concepts to discard dead end ideas, uncovering punch lines, finding analogous moments in earlier films, uncovering hip slang for characters, finding out the latest army weaponry, or discretely 'borrowing' from other screenplays. Since I am on campus only once a week in the spring, the ability to get up to Bucks County (either by train or car) would be a plus -- though not a deal breaker. High energy is good. Cockiness better. Most of all, the applicant should beware that Hollywood dreams are infectious and can inspire risky behavior that might preclude Penn Law or Med School to disastrous effect."

Mark Rosenthal's apprentice will be Hillary Levine, a junior majoring in Cinema Studies. She has taken several writing courses including Advanced Nonfiction Writing, Creative Nonfiction Writing and "Writing the Personal Essay/Writing Fiction." She hopes the apprenticeship will help her decide if screenwriting is a career for her.

Paul Hendrickson's apprenticeship (Allison Stadd)

"Since late 2003 I've been engaged in a nonfiction book, under contract to Alfred A. Knopf publishers, about Ernest Hemingway. The book is tentatively titled "Hemingway's Boat." It is trying to be less a conventional work of biography than a narrative concept, a storytelling idea, that's a little tricky to explain. Basically, the project is trying to think about Hemingway through the prism and lens of something that was deeply beloved--and that still exists, on a hillside in Cuba--and that belonged to him for the last twenty-seven years of his complex life. This marks the second time I'll be pleased to work with a CPCW writing apprentice on the project: in 2004, Jessica Lussenhop, now enrolled at Columbia University graduate school of journalism, helped greatly with early stages of the research. The writing is in full swing; I'm approximately half-way through, at least in terms of a first-draft manuscript. I'm now looking for a literary-minded, self-starting creative-writing student who'll be able to work closely with me on several knotty research problems that are up ahead. It should be a good learning experience for both of us."

Paul Hendrickson's apprentice will be Allison Stadd, a Junior at Penn from Bethesda, Maryland. She has a keen interest in Hendrickson's current book-length project on Hemingway. She has alread taken his writing workshop on writing from photographs. Allison plans to pursue a career in writing.

2007 apprenticeships

Kathleen DeMarco's apprenticeship (Malek Lewis)

Fiction writer Kathleen DeMarco is under contract with Harcourt to write her first childrenís novel, Drizzle, targeted towards readers between eight and twelve years-old, (although, in a perfect world, it would be accessible to readers of all ages). Drizzle tells the story of an eleven year-old girlís discovery that she has inherited a genetic ability to make it rain...or drizzle, as the case may be. [She is also, not-coincidentally, determining whether she should follow the path of her aunt, who represents all things sophisticated and creative, or her mother, who is much less dazzling, and much more interested in showing respect to people and cleaning the house.] Although this book does not need to be scientifically precise, it must be familiar with, among other things, genetics and meterology. Her apprentice should be familiar with - if not passionate about - childrenís literature, and willing to research weather patterns and the science of genetics. All aspects of writing a novel under contract will be observed, including editing the novel-in-progress with Ms. DeMarco, open-ended conversations about the narrative, discussion of the publisherís notes of the first draft, and working under a deadline. An ancillary responsibility will be the creation of a website for this novel with Ms. DeMarco, and all that such a site would entail (including teaching Ms. DeMarco how to maintain the site).

Herman Beavers' apprenticeship (Jason Saunders)

Herman Beavers will be working to develop a book project he is currently co-editing with poet, Honoree Jeffers from the University of Oklahoma entitled, Changing Chords: Performing African American Poetics in the 21st Century, which will consist of essays by both established and emerging African American poets dealing with the state of black poetry in the African Diaspora. He is also working with poet Elizabeth Alexander to plan a major conference on African American poetry and poetics to be held in Philadelphia (with a number of events hopefully taking place at Penn) in 2007-08. The apprentice will assist Professors Beavers and Jeffers to compile a bibliography of essays written in the last decade dealing with American poetry and poetics, as well as to help with the logistics for planning the conference, which may include developing a website for the conference, corresponding with potential participants, and working to develop sites off-campus for readings and receptions. The apprentice will be privy to as many discussions on both projects as possible in the hope that s/he will provide substantial input. Because these projects involve long-range planning, a sophomore or a junior is preferred so that they might be able to see both projects along, either into the late stages or to completion.

Anthony DeCurtis' apprenticeship (Matt Rosenbaum)

"I am a working journalist based in New York," writes Anthony DeCurtis of this apprenticeship, "who is blessed and cursed with juggling a variety of projects and assignments, often on short notice and mostly to do with popular music. Here the harrowing truths of such work will be revealed - the corners cleverly cut; the disasters deftly avoided, the mounting deadlines nudged imperceptibly into the realm of the possible. The apprentice's task will be to heroically assist in those processes while revealing nothing about how closely the abyss loomed at all times. For students who have worked at the Daily Pennsylvanian or 34th Street, this will, of course, be familiar terrain, though such experience is not at all required. The work itself will typically involve research, and possibly some transcription and fact-checking. Excellent research skills, reliability and a passion for accuracy are therefore essential virtues. Top-notch computer abilities would be a plus as well. Because I live in New York and likely won't be around campus much in the spring, the ability to travel to New York from time to time would be important. I will routinely be available by phone and email, however, and, needless to say, conversations about the ever-changing journalistic world would be a central part of this experience. This apprenticeship would probably be most valuable to students who are considering journalism as a career, or who foresee writing in popular settings along with whatever else they might be doing later. The apprentice will be welcome to participate in my work as deeply as time, distance and common sense will allow. After this, I promise, nothing will surprise you."

2006 apprenticeships

The three writing faculty members who agreed to take on an apprentice during the spring of 2006 were:

Kenneth Goldsmith's apprenticeship (Matt Abess)

Kenneth Goldsmith is under contract to co-edit an anthology of Conceptual Writing, the most recent cutting-edge development in experimental writing circles. The book will be an overview of Conceptual Writing, from its inception during early modernism to the present day. It will be an extension of The UbuWeb Anthology of Conceptual Writing (http://ubu.com/concept) and the apprentice's work will be engaged on the screen as well as on the page. The apprentice's tasks will include editing, correspondence with historic figures, textual and audio conversions, garnering permissions, and extensive research into the past, present and future conditions that have made this one of the most important trends in writing today.

Beth Kephart's apprenticeship (Moira Moody)

Award-winning literary nonfiction author Beth Kephart is currently focused on a book-length narrative that draws its inspiration from the natural and social history of Philadelphia. Her apprentice will gain exposure to the annals of Philadelphia history, participate in the cataloging of key events, and engage, with Kephart, in conversations about the always-alchemical process of transforming historic fact into poetic possibility. Her apprentice will also gain exposure to Kephart's award-winning communications firm, a writing and design company serving some of the area's largest organizations in the creation of commemorative books, annual reports, and special publications. Read about the outcome of this apprenticeship in Beth's blog!

Lorene Cary's apprenticeship (Partrick Morales-Doyle)

Lorene Cary's apprentice will work with her on the product side of writing, first, by working on publicity details of the January publication of Free!: Great Escapes from Slavery on the Underground Railroad, a nonfiction middle-school book likely to be used in Philadelphia schools. Because the book is being published jointly by two independent presses, Ms. Cary has more to do than usual with marketing, and will need an apprentice who is fast, smart and literary to work with her on appearances, web site linking and updating, complimentary distribution, postcard announcements, databases and the like. The apprentice will work with Ms. Cary on the final editing, proofing and checking research for Blackface, an adult novel that she has just finished writing. Blackface takes place between 1936 and 1954. It tells the story of three generations of the Needham family whose patriarch is lynched in South Carolina. This post-creation work will give an apprentice a look at the writer's writing life in process. Although definitely not the fun part, publicity, editing, research and proofing are all necessary to do well to protect a writer's work and career.

2005 apprenticeships

The three writing faculty members who agreed to take on an apprentice during the spring of 2005 were:

Paul Hendrickson's apprenticeship (Jessica Lussenhop)

Paul Hendrickson has been working for about a year on what will be his next nonfiction book project, tentatively titled "Hemingway's Boat," and under contract to Alfred A. Knopf. Like his previous nonfiction books, it is a conceptual project, using Ernest Hemingway's life and work to consider some thorny cultural and literary and political issues as America struggles into the twenty-first century. The work is still in the research stage; much has been done; much remains to do before the writing can begin--starting, Hendrickson hopes, in the spring of 05. A student apprentice would help the author with some specific research areas, including plans for travel to Cuba. An apprentice would also lend his/her insight to the narrative structure now jaggedly in place--and yet always in need of new youthful eyes and ideas.

J. C. Hallman's apprenticeship (Julie Fishman)

J.C. Hallman is nearing the end of "The God Variations," a book to be published by Random House. "The God Variations" is a survey of new religious movements in the United States, told in the spirit of William James's book Varieties of Religious Experience, but in the narrative journalism style of Bruce Chatwin or Barbara Ehrenreich. The book explores movements such as Wicca, the Monks of New Skete, Atheism, the Christian Wrestling Federation, and a pair of UFO cults. An apprentice will read the manuscript to help shape some of its core thematic threads and arguments, as well as assist in some of the detail work that arises in a manuscript close to completion.

Thomas Devaney's apprenticeship (Ilena Parker)

Tom Devaney is editing The Use of the Useless: Selected Prose, to be published by Fish Drum Press. The book is a collection of Devaney's work, a survey of the landscape of contemporary poetry. It will contain his essays, talks, reviews, and interviews, originally published in a variety of publications including The Boston Review, The Poetry Project Newsletter, and Poets & Writers Magazine. The Use of the Useless charts both established and newly-discovered American writers: Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, Fanny Howe, Lyn Hejinian, Robert Creeley, Peter Gizzi, Eileen Myles, Sparrow, and others. It is a collection governed by a passion for and a curiosity about writers and writing, and it enters into the long-standing conversation and bond among critical writing, poetry, and art. An apprentice will be involved in all aspects of the creation of this book, helping compile, edit and make decisions about individual sections and chapters of the manuscript and provide editorial feed-back on the selections themselves. Tom Devaney hopes to find an undergraduate apprentice who is excited and deeply curious about writers and the process of writing.

2004 apprenticeships

The three writing faculty members who agreed to take on an apprentice during the spring of 2004 were:

Max Apple's apprenticeship (Ariel Djanikian)

Max Apple will work with an apprentice on the art of fiction writing. His stories and essays are widely anthologized and have appeared in Atlantic, Harpers, Esquire, and many literary magazines and in Best American Stories and Best Spiritual Writing. The chosen apprentice will work closely with him on his or her own fiction project and will receive advice about placing the work in magazines and journals.

Gregory Djanikian's apprenticeship (Emily Hsu)

The poet Gregory Djanikian is currently writing a book of poems about genocide--an emotionally complex, deeply personal kind of writing (as well as historical). His apprentice will work closely with him on this project and, in a sense, will be a focused study on, as he puts it, "how does one write about what is unspeakable without diminishing its enormity"? At the bottom of this page you will a full description of this project.

Greg Djanikian adds: "My project for the last two years has been writing poems about the Armenian genocide of 1915 and the diaspora that ensued, sending Armenians emigrating to all parts of the world. That genocide, during which a million to a million-and-a-half Armenians died, is regarded as the first genocide of the 20th Century, and in some ways, it paved the way for succeeding genocides and ethnic cleansings. Writing about such a cataclysm is difficult for many reasons. It raises, for instance, questions of aesthetics--how does one write about what is unspeakable without diminishing its enormity? It brings into play feelings that one has to resolve, suppress or manage without repeating the savagery of the event itself. It forces us to ask for whom the poems are being written, for the victims of the genocide, intending to pay them honor and sacralize their lives, or for the poet or readers who, for peace of mind, may want to contain the unholy brutality of such events in something as shapely and fastidious as a work of art. Finally, it tries to discover how, by focusing on particular events, it might embrace a whole range of human feeling that is not reserved to a particular time or community."

Charles Bernstein's apprenticeship (Erin Sweeney)

This apprenticeship will involve the making (and conceptualizing) of a stupendously comprehensive digital poetry archive. It is called "PennSound," and will feature freely shared MP3 files of poets reading their own poems. Prospective apprentices should look at the PennSound web page.