Spring 2009 Creative Writing Courses

English 010.301 Creative Writing: Space, Place, and Character in Playwriting and Fiction Greg Romero R 1:30-4:30
English 010.302 Creating Possibilities in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry Tom Devaney MW 2:00-3:30
English 010.303 Creative Writing: Fiction and Non-fiction Stephanie Reents W 2:00-5:00
English 010.601 Creative Writing Lynn Levin W 5:30-8:30
English 110.301 Writing at Writers House Jessica Lowenthal T 1:30-4:30
English 111.301 Poetry and Poetics: Writing Practice of the Avant-Garde Rachel Levitsky R 1:30-4:30
English 111.401 Experimental Writing Charles Bernstein W 2:00-5:00
English 112.301 Fiction Writing Workshop Karen Rile M 2:00-5:00
English 112.302 Fiction Writing Workshop Diane McKinney-Whetstone R 1:30-4:30
English 113.401 Poetry Workshop Herman Beavers W 2:00-5:00
English 114.401 Playwriting Staff M 2:00-5:00
English 115.301 Advanced Fiction Writing Max Apple T 1:30-4:30
English 115.601 Advanced Fiction Writing Kathryn Watterson R 5:30-8:30
English 116.401 Screenwriting Kathleen DeMarco T 1:30-4:30
English 116.601 Screenwriting Marc Lapadula M 5:00-8:00
English 117.301 The Arts and Popular Culture Anthony DeCurtis R 1:30-4:30
English 118.301 Advanced Poetry Workshop Gregory Djanikian T 1:30-4:30
English 121.301 Writing for Children Elizabeth Van Doren M 2:00-5:00
English 130.401 Advanced Screenwriting Kathleen DeMarco M 2:00-5:00
English 130.402 Advanced Screenwriting Mark Rosenthal R 3:00-6:00
English 135.301 Creative Non-Fiction Writing Lorene Cary R 1:30-4:30
English 135.302 Creative Non-Fiction: Writing Your Travels Marion Kant Cancelled
English 135.303 Creative Non-Fiction Robert Strauss M 2:00-5:00
English 135.305 Peer Tutor Training Valerie Ross TR 10:30-12:00
English 145.301 Advanced Non-Fiction Writing Paul Hendrickson T 1:30-4:30
English 145.401 Writing in Concert Lorene Cary T 1:30-4:30
English 155.301 Documentary Writing Paul Hendrickson W 2:00-5:00
English 158.301 Advanced Journalistic Writing Dick Polman W 2:00-5:00
English 158.302 Journalism and Science Peter Tarr W 2:00-5:00
English 159.301 Political Commentary: Blogging
About the New Presidency
Dick Polman M 2:00-5:00
English 170.301 Advanced Projects in Popular Culture Anthony DeCurtis F 2:00-5:00
English 415.640 Convention and Innovation: Writing Short Stories Courtney Zoffness T 5:30-8:10

Spring 2008 Creative Writing Course Descriptions

English 010.301 Creative Writing: Space, Place, and Character in Playwriting and Fiction Romero
This course will take a close look at the relationships of space, place and character in the effort to illuminate, appreciate, and explore the differences and similarities in Playwriting and Fiction. Weekly writing exercises will allow you to look as three-dimensionally and as actively as possible at various physical spaces, using them as a ground to form your short plays and short fiction. Through writing assignments, we’ll ask what is a "theater" space? How do different uses of space change the writing, and vice versa? What kinds of writing/language do specific spaces inspire? What kinds of character?

Coursework will also involve readings of plays, short fiction, and articles/manifestos/dialogues about writing and space. Through in-class and out-of-class assignments, students will generate a large volume of work, turning in a 20-25-page portfolio of their own short plays and fiction at the end of the semester.
Time: R 1:30-4:30

top

English 010.302 Creative Possibilities in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry Devaney
The workshop will focus on creative nonfiction and poetry. Creative nonfiction is essays, memoirs, literary journalism, and related writings. Student work is the focus of discussion in this workshop, along with analysis of selected readings. Modes of creative nonfiction, narrative, structure, aspects of style, and other elements of craft are studied. Our focus in creative nonfiction includes writing about people and places as well as inventive approaches to the essay. In the section on poetry, the relationships between poetry and prose are explored, as well as writing “mini-essay” list poems; haiku (as an editing tool for prose and poems); and prose poems. We will explore the art and craft of writing and will attempt to push the boundaries of what can be done story-wise and otherwise. Students will keep a journal and will complete a final portfolio of 12-16 pages of revised work.
Time: MW 2:00-3:30

top

English 010.303 Fiction and Nonfiction Reents
This course--which is an introduction to creative nonfiction and fiction writing --will emphasize close reading along with writing.

Most writers are avid readers, and while they may devour books like any reader who wants to escape to an imaginary world or learn something new, they also read as writers, paying close attention to the choices another writer has made to produce certain effects. In this class, you will be encouraged to bring together your emotional side (How does this make me feel?) with your analytical side (What formal choices has the writer made that could explain the way I'm feeling?). You'll develop a vocabulary for talking about these formal choices--or what is often called "craft" in the writing world.

Of course, all of the reading you do is designed to strengthen your own writing, and over the course of the semester, you'll write often. Weekly writing assignment and in-class exercises will give you lots of chances to experiment and discover the stories that you're dying to tell and the ideas that you want to dig into. Since we'll be reading contemporary fiction and nonfiction, we'll also investigate the connections between the two genres, discussing such issues as the role of narrative techniques in nonfiction and the use of research in fiction. For most of the semester, we'll divide our time between discussing published work (in light of a particular aspect of craft), workshopping your assignments, and completing in-class writing exercises. You'll (hopefully) come away from this class having learned that writing stories and essays is extremely hard, but also joyful, invigorating, and addictive.
Time: W 2:00-5:00

top

English 010.601 Creative Writing Levin
This workshop-style class is an introduction to the pleasures of the writing process. Students will benefit from in-depth readings and constructive critical support in a class that fosters a community of writers. We will spend half the semester writing poems, and the other half writing fiction. Some of each meeting will be devoted to reading poems or a short story by established authors, with the emphasis on reading as writers rather than scholars. Experimentation and revision will be encouraged. Class participation and attendance are vital. We will have some brief in-class writing exercises and a variety of take-home assignments designed to help students generate and shape work. Students will turn in a final portfolio of 15 or so pages, which will include both poetry and prose. We will also write some brief (up to one page) responses to work read and written in class.
Time: W 5:30-8:30

top

English 110.301 Writing at Writers House Lowenthal
"Writing in the Writers House" will be just that: a creative writing workshop that invites students to engage with writers visiting the Kelly Writers House. Students in this course will explore issues and trends in contemporary writing -- especially poetry -- by reading and responding to the work of authors featured in the Writers House events calendar, including New Zealand poet Wystan Curnow, experimental novelist Robert Coover, and local writer Frank Sherlock. Weekly writing assignments will encourage class participants to experiment with form, to expand possibilities for writing sources, and to develop their writing practice in relation to the work of visiting authors. Expect to attend several evening events and to engage with members of the Writers House community.
Time: T 1:30-4:30

top

English 111.301 Poetry and Poetics: Writing Practice of the Avant-Garde Levitsky
In this writing workshop we will take cues from the most exciting hybrid poetries by contemporary poets. Like Lila Zemborain, we will tell our story in one ever-expansive sentence, circling back and folding in toward closer examination. Like kari edwards, Carla Harryman and Leslie Scalapino we will write works notable for their quick quotidian movement and complex intellectual and emotional register. Like Rachel Zolf, M. Norbese Philip and Tisa Bryant we will cull language, image and thinking from multiple outside sources as a method in which one may both complicate and maintain an ethical position. And like Dodie Bellamy, Robert Glück and Etel Adnan we will tell it as it is, in straightforward and deeply intelligent prose. We will practice approaching our writing through a variety of ‘other’ fields such as science, philosophy and visual art. As a part of this workshop, students will edit and amplify each others’ work through publication and performance. Additionally, some of the authors we read will be visiting the campus for lunch talks and after-class visits.
Time: R 1:30-4:30

top

English 111.401 Experimental Writing Bernstein
This is a nontraditional "poetry immersion" workshop. The workshop will be useful for those wanting to explore new possibilities for writing and art, whether or not they have a commitment to writing poetry. The workshop will be structured around a series of writing experiments, intensive readings, art gallery visits, and the production of individual chapbooks or web sites for each participant, and performance of participants' works. There will also be some visits from visiting poets. The emphasis in the workshop will be on new and innovative approaches to composition and form, including digital, sound, and performance, rather than on works emphasizing narrative or story telling. Each week, participants will discuss the writing they have done as well as the assigned reading. Permission of the instructor is required. Send a brief email stating why you wish to attend the workshop (writing samples not required) to charles.bernstein@english.upenn.edu
More information at http://writing.upenn.edu/bernstein/syllabi/111-intro.html
Time: W 2:00-5:00

top

English 112.301 Fiction Writing Workshop Rile
This class is a workshop, which means that most of what you produce will be considered work-in-progress, and that your active participation is essential. Come prepared to roll up your sleeves and work!

Each week will bring a new technical topic and a writing prompt designed to illuminate it. You will write every week and present your writing to the workshop for group critique many times throughout the semester. Readings from selected contemporary short stories will be discussed over the class email list and, as necessary, during class. In addition to assigned writing prompts, each student writer will have at least one opportunity to present a complete, independently-conceived short story to the workshop for detailed critique.

The most important reading assignments will be the work submitted by your fellow students. In this course, the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of your criticism is as crucial as the quality of the written work you produce.

Admission to this class is by instructor permit. Please email work samples to: krile@writing.upenn.edu.
Time: M 2:00-5:00

top

English 112.302 Fiction Writing Workshop Diane McKinney-Whetstone
This is a course for students interested in serious fiction writing--literary or genre or somewhere in between--but always seriously and always with a mind to perfecting the work at hand. To that end, we will read short fiction from an anthology and some--very little--"instructional" material. We will discuss the fiction primarily as writers, as opposed to literary "analyzers." We will talk about why the stories engage us and why not. We will identify their "prime movers," that is, the elements in a narrative that urge us--or not--through them. Are the characters interesting and consistent (where this question applies, usually to conventional, realistic fiction as opposed to metafiction, where the question is often irrelevant)? Is there sufficient movement (action, plot, story)? Can we appreciate the art of the narration's technique? Is there a discernable style that we can appreciate?

We will ask the same questions of student work during workshops, which will begin early in the term. Workshop pieces can be revised--you are expected to revise everything, particularly your major assignments--and then submitted as your graded writing assignments. Every student will take at least one turn at serving as an editor for the workshop piece under discussion, and the editor will write an informal "response" to the work to be given to the writer and to the instructor.

There is one major writing assignment of 20 pages. Ideally, this should be a single story. If, however, you must "write short," two or perhaps even three fictions of shorter length and totaling 20 pages will do.

Throughout the term, students will be required to write three brief scenes, length open, all of which can be used--reworked, let's hope--in the longer requirements. These are due: 4th week, 7th week, and 10th week. Naturally, a scene can be dialogue-driven (almost all dialogue) or, at the other extreme, completely exposition (no dialogue). If the scene does not come at the beginning of a narrative, then you will need to write a brief set-up as an introduction to the scene. Email a writing sample to whetstones@comcast.net

Class participation is vital and expected.
Time: R 1:30-4:30

top

English 113.401 Poetry Workshop Beavers
This workshop is intended to help students with prior experience writing poetry develop techniques for generating poems along with the critical tools necessary to revise and complete them. Through in-class exercises, weekly writing assignments, readings of established poets, and class critique, students will acquire an assortment of resources that will help them develop a more concrete sense of voice, rhythm,prosody, metaphor, and the image as well as a deeper understanding of how these things come together to make a successful poem. In addition to weekly writings, students will be asked to produce a final portfolio of poems and to participate in a public reading.

Students who wish to participate in this workshop should submit 3-5 poems (none longer than 30 lines) to Herman Beavers, 127 Bennett Hall/6273. In addition to your name, please provide a phone number or e-mail address where you can be reached. Permission of the instructor is required for registration in this course.
Time: W 2:00-5:00

top

English 114.401 Playwriting Staff
This class is designed to introduce students to the basic components required for the creation of a play. By the end of the course students will show an ability to recognize and apply the following: dramatic tension, characterization, exposition, and rhythms. Students will also be exposed to the realities behind writing for the theater, which include stage time vs. real time, the differences between writing for theater and writing for film, realistic expectations for actors, and the working relationship between playwright and director.
Time: M 2:00-5:00

top

English 115.301 Advanced Fiction Writing Apple
The class will be conducted as a seminar. Every student will write three 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. Please submit a brief writing sample to: maxapple1@comcast.net
Time: T 1:30-4:30

top

English 115.601 Advanced Fiction Writing Watterson
This workshop will will explore the elements of fiction, from the focus on details to reveal the larger world of the story, to character development, dialogue, point of view, style and voice. We will mine a deeper understanding of the craft by reading short stories and excerpts from a wide range of writers. In addition to in-class writing, students will be asked to maintain writing journals, participate in workshop discussions and peer review, and write and revise work on a weekly basis. Please submit a brief writing sample to: kwatterson@sas.upenn.edu
Time: R 5:30-8:30

top

English 116.401 Screenwriting DeMarco
This is a workshop-style course for those who have thought they had a terrific idea for a movie but didn't know where to begin. The class will focus on learning the basic tenets of classical dramatic structure and how this (ideally) will serve as the backbone for the screenplay of the aforementioned terrific idea. Each student should, by the end of the semester, have at least thirty pages of a screenplay completed. Classic and not-so-classic screenplays will be required reading for every class, and students will also become acquainted with how the business of selling and producing one's screenplay actually happens. Students will be admitted on the basis of an application by email briefly describing their interest in the course to kathydemarco@writing.upenn.edu
Time: T 1:30-4:30

top

English 116.601 Screenwriting Lapadula
This course will look at the screenplay as both a literary text and a blue print for production. Several classic screenplay texts will be critically analyzed (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, DOCTOR STRANGELOVE, PSYCHO, etc.) Students will then embark on writing their own scripts. We will intensively focus on: character enhancement, creating "believable" cinematic dialogue, plot development and story structure, conflict, pacing, dramatic foreshadowing, the element of surprise, text and subtext and visual story-telling. Class attendance is mandatory. Students will submit their works-in-progress to the workshop for discussion.
Time: M 5:00-8:00

top

English 117.301 The Arts and Popular Culture DeCurtis
"Writing About the Arts" 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. Students will be doing a great deal of writing throughout the course, but the main focus will be a 3000-word feature story about an artist or arts organization in Philadelphia (or another location approved by the instructor) that will involve extensive reporting, interviews and research. Potential subjects can range from a local band to a museum, from a theater group to a novelist -- all of which students have written about in previous classes.

Class meetings will include detailed discussions of the students' own writing, as well as that of the instructor and other writers whose work appears in magazines, newspapers and journals. A considerable effort will be made to have the course be as professionally focused and "real time" as possible, so current stories in the media will frequently be the subject of class discussion and critique. A number of writers, critics, journalists, editors and other media types will visit the class to share their work and experiences with the students, and to participate in the discussions. It should be emphasized that, in discussing the work of fellow students, courtesy and respect will be as much required as candor.

Those interested in taking the course should email as soon as possible one or two samples of their best prose to Anthony DeCurtis at ADeCurtis@aol.com. Applicants can also mail their work directly to the instructor at: 875 West End Avenue, Apt 10G, New York, NY 10025. Also include your name, undergraduate class, and the telephone number where you can be reached. Permit from the instructor is required. Time: R 1:30-4:30
Time: R 1:30-4:30

top

English 118.301 Advanced Poetry Workshop Djanikian
This workshop is designed for those of you who desire advanced study in poetry writing. The hope is that by semester's end, through revision, you will have a portfolio of poems which are for the most part consistent in voice, form, and/or thematic concern. Discussion and constructive peer responses to student work will be the primary focus of the course so your participation is essential. We'll read essays about writing, and individual collections by at least 6 contemporary poets. Students will also be asked to submit written responses of each other's poems, as well as on the assigned collections and essays. Please email me three sample poems at djanikia@writing.upenn.edu
Time: T 1:30-4:30

top

English 121.301 Writing for Children Van Doren
This is a course for students who have always thought it would be easy, fun, interesting, or rewarding to write a children's book. In the class we will discover that it is anything but easy, definitely fun and interesting, and ultimately rewarding to do so. The class will be conducted as a seminar, using a wide variety of published children's books in all genres -- picture books, chapter books, young fiction, older fiction - as examples of successful and maybe not-so-successful books for young readers. We will discuss the major question of what makes a good book for children and the importance of creating compelling characters, a good plot, excellent pacing, a distinctive voice, and an appropriate theme with the goal of each student refining an existing project or beginning work on a new one. There will be at least one reading and one writing assignment each week. Exercises will include writing picture books for the very young as well as stories for older readers. No previous experience in writing for children is required but students will be admitted on the basis of an application by email that includes a brief description of their interest in the course and a writing sample of no more than five to ten pages. Please email applications to Mingo Reynolds at mingo@writing.upenn.edu
Time: M 2:00-5:00

top

English 130.401 Advanced Screenwriting DeMarco
This is a workshop-style course for students who have completed a screenwriting class, or have a draft of a screenplay they wish to improve. Classes will consist of discussing student's work, as well as discussing relevant themes of the movie business and examining classic films and why they work as well as they do.

Classic and not-so-classic screenplays will be required reading for every class in addition to some potentially useful texts like /What Makes Sammy Run?/ Students will be admitted on the basis of an application by email. Please send a writing sample (in screenplay form), a brief description of your interest in the course and your goals for your screenplay, and any relevant background or experience. Applications should be sent to kathydemarco@writing.upenn.edu
Time: M 2:00-5:00

top

English 130.402 Advanced Screenwriting Rosenthal
Writing for the screen has been called an "architectural" skill. The writer creates a narrative by framing a structure. This course will be a workshop in which writers can try out this very particular and peculiar craft. (Along with sharing gossip with professional screenwriters and discussing good movies!)

At several points during the semester, students will meet with visiting screenwriters, who will also make public presentations at the Kelly Writers House.

Note: This is a special writing workshop with an eminent screenwriter. Students wanting to enroll should consult Mark Rosenthal's faculty bio here: http://writing.upenn.edu/cw/faculty.php. Students will be admitted on the basis of an application: by email, send a writing sample, brief description of your interest in the course, and any relevant background or experience. Applications should be sent to screenwriting@writing.upenn.edu.

Time: R 3:00-6:00

top

English 135.301 Creative Non-fiction Writing Cary
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.
Time: R 1:30-4:30

top

English 135.302 Creative Non-fiction Writing Kant
In this course students will learn to observe and record what they see when they travel. They will explore a popular form of writing and practice it in their own daily activities. The familiar will become strange and new as they return home, walk through the campus, visit Center City or explore an ethnic community in order to write accounts of what they see. They will, in the process, learn about themselves but without that preoccupation with the self alone that marks much student writing. They will see themselves in the mirror of "the other". The course will explore famous works by travelers who visited the USA as a means to see the familiar through foreign eyes, such works as Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" (1835), Charles Dickens' "On America and the Americans" (ed. Michael Slater), G.K. Chesterton's "What I Saw in America" (1922). Jonathan Raban's "Old Glory: An American Voyage" (1981) and the expatriate who returns like Bill Bryson's "I am a Stranger here myself: Notes on returning to America after twenty years" (1999).
Cancelled

top

English 135.303 Creative Non-fiction Writing Strauss
Do you feel you have a fresh perspective on life's goings-on? Did you look at a building today and wonder what's going on inside? Is there an event, a person, an idea that you think has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, under-appreciated? If so, come and investigate with me. We will spend the semester doing our best to write out of that paper bag that is made up of our curiosity, our observations and our prejudices. The best creative non-fiction explains, but it also makes us run to learn more about the subject. We will have a special emphasis on humor, perhaps the most difficult type of writing to pull off. We'll look at different definitions and styles of humor, from Woody Allen's to Mark Twain's to, with good fortune, your own. We will be reading some of the best magazine and newspaper writing of the last century, and hopefully be writing some stuff like it as well. We will talk about essays, arts reviews, general features and even sportswriting. Students will be required to write at least two pieces of magazine length (2000 words or so) and several shorter pieces. The longer pieces will be presented to the class for workshop criticism.
Time: M 2:00-5:00

top

English 135.305 Peer Tutor Training Ross
This course is intended for capable writers who possess the maturity and temperament to work successfully as peer tutors at Penn. The course emphasizes the development of tutors' own writing through the process of collaborative peer-criticism, individual conferences, and intensive sessions on writing, from mechanics to style. The class meets twice weekly; tutors also work two hours weekly in the Writing Center or elsewhere, and confer regularly in small groups or one-on-one meetings with the instructor. Tutors are required to write five short papers, eight one-page peer reviews, and two responses to readings. Additionally, students keep a journal and give two class presentations. CWIC-affiliated course. required.
Time: TR 10:30-12:00

top

English 145.301 Advanced Non-fiction Writing Hendrickson
This is an intensive course in creative nonfiction--both the reading and practice of it. It's seeking to look at fact as literature. Think of it as the art of fact: using reportage and some of the literary techniques of fiction in the service of compelling, true, real-life stories--sometimes your own story. The core goal is to get a circle of student writers writing, and have them willing to share the work aloud in class. Implicit in this is the willingness to suffer some gentle slings of criticism. We will be examining models of nonfiction from present and past word masters: Annie Dillard, E.B. White, Joan Didion, James Baldwin, Michael Herr, Tim O'Brien, John Hersey, James Agee, George Orwell, Thomas Lynch. Ever heard this last name? Lynch is a Michigan undertaker. He writes like a dream. Good writing is where you find it; sometimes it will be about the art of taking folks under.

We will attempt different forms of creative nonfiction, starting with the personal essay or family memoir. Then we'll move on to something deeply reported and/or researched--something that's essentially outside oneself. For this piece it's likely a student will travel into the nearby world and observe something: or interview someone (or several someones). The piece--and these are always to be thought of as "pieces," not as "papers"--could be a profile of a local personality or athlete. It could be an extended scene, say, of a jazz club, or of a hospital emergency room, or of a homeless shelter, or of the Reading Terminal Market. The student will have the primary say in what he or she wishes to tackle. But the instructor will approve the story idea and will monitor and help guide its development. Although not a direct aim of the workshop, it's slimly possible someone will emerge with a piece of nonfiction that any professional magazine or newspaper editor in his or her right mind would be proud to publish. This has happened in previous workshops.

Those interested in taking the course should submit as soon as possible one or two samples of their best prose (paper copies only, no electronic submissions will be accepted) to Paul Hendrickson, Fisher-Bennett Hall, Room 234 (please slide work under the door if no one is in the office). Also include your name, last four digits of SS#, undergraduate class, e-mail address and telephone number where you can be reached. Permit is required by the instructor.
Time: T 1:30-4:30

top

English 145.401 Advanced Non-fiction Writing Cary
Writing in Concert comprises two parts: teaching a common text and writing about the experience using memoir, reportage, and criticism. This year’s text will be Mitchell & Ruff, by best-selling author William Zinsser.

William Zinsser began his career as a journalist for the New York Herald Tribune, and has long contributed to major magazines. In the 1970’s he taught writing as Yale University, and then, from 1979 to 1987, served as executive editor of the Book-of-the-Month Club. His 17 books include On Writing Well; Writing to Learn; and Mitchell & Ruff (originally published as Willie and Dwike.) Zinsser’s work encourages and demonstrates economy: “...writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it.”

Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff have been playing jazz together since they met in the U.S. army in 1955. They took jazz to the Soviet Union during the cold war, and to China’s Shanghai conservatory in advance of our recent close relations with that country. Of Zinsser’s account, the New York Times Book Review wrote: “...Though its contents are entirely factual, [Mitchell & Ruff] concerns lives that give the sense of being but fatefully, imaginatively, arranged, and it constantly suggests improvisation—that is, ‘something created during the process of delivery,’ as Mr. Ruff explains the term to the Chinese...He also tells them that improvisation is the lifeblood of jazz.’ William Zinsser’s book reminds us that improvisation is the lifeblood of life, too. [This book is] about difficult passages that end in victorious arrival...”

English 145 students will study the common text in close reading, discussion and preliminary essay exercises. The idea is first to develop an intimate relationship with a text and learn about yourself as a writer from your responses to it. Then, by creating a mini-course syllabus and lesson plans from the excellent curriculum guide provided by Paul Dry Books, you will learn how to help readers at different stages in life and literacy find their own ways to explore the text. Learning the work takes three to four weeks. We will meet the publisher, interview a Temple professor who studies community literacy, and visit the Rosenbach museum. We will also read Zinsser’s On Writing Well, the Ur text of economic writing, and Writing to Learn, as well as Willie’s Ruff’s own autobiography.

Teaching the book (or excerpts of it) requires four to five weeks. We focus on issues of learning and teaching to prepare students to teach at several urban learning sites, each with its own challenges and charisma: high school English classes, a church-based book group, adult education centers, a recovery house, a homeless shelter. Teaching, learning, and experiencing the work are all subjects of short journal and prompt assignments throughout the term, along with the writing of other, focused writing such as syllabi, and lesson plans.

On Wednesday, April 15th, at 10 a.m., readers from the various sites in Philadelphia and the region come together to attend a performance by Mitchell & Ruff, and co-sponsored by Art Sanctuary; the Multi-cultural Resource Center of regional independent schools; the School District of Philadelphia; and the Department of English, the Center for Africana Studies, the Urban Studies Department, and the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing here at the University of Pennsylvania.

That afternoon, Wednesday, April 15th, at 4 p.m., Penn students and teachers from the region will attend a “Writing to Learn” workshop by William Zinsser.

Together, the two events and the classes that preceded and follow it make deep connections among the academy, literature, writers, readers, and learners.

The final essay will reflect each student’s experience with the reading, teaching, and the Reading in Concert performance. The course requires that each student submit the essay, or an excerpt for publication, and to post it on the Art Sanctuary website. Clearly, the emphasis during the term is on focus, practice, learning, relationships, revision, and language. It comes at you from all sides, a literary bum’s rush meant to dislodge comfortable writing habits and push you toward intense, carefully thought, and deeply-felt nonfiction prose.

Here's a taste of what some Reading in Concert students have written:

Community grows me. This is the point I must make here. If I don't start by saying it I'll try to convince myself otherwise. The praise of community is a painful admission for me. I don't want to have to need people. I don't want to admit that community is far more powerful than my own devices. I cannot harvest myself. I cannot truly grow without other people. Every point of my life affirms this need for others. I have never thrived on my own. Yet I can't shake the notion that maybe, if I just give solitude enough time, a break through will come. For some reason I keep my expectations of the future separate from my experiences of the past. I expect to be able to accomplish great things on my own but it has never happened that way. I expect to be disappointed or misunderstood by others yet this has rarely been the case. I expect that teaching Sonia Sanchez will require an outpouring of my intellect and wisdom, yet my most profound moments of learning have come through community experiences. --Josh Macha

As the class dissected Sanchez's words, I realized that I hadn't truly appreciated "Poem No. 8" until that moment. I was more engaged with the text then than I had been at any earlier point in the semester. Sitting at my desk and pulling out my hair while trying to memorize a passage or write a haiku, I had wasted my time battling my inner demons. But there was no time for my inhibitions at this moment; I needed to be present for my students and inhabit the literature with them. For the first time, I let go of my fears, and rose to the occasion. --Rebecca Sherman
Time: T 1:30-4:30

top

English 155.301 Documentary Writing Hendrickson
This offering in advanced nonfiction writing will function as a workshop, with a select group of students. It's a course that will honor the spirit and tradition of "documentary" writing. The word "documentary" has meant many things over time. Here, it means a kind of nose-close observation and reportage. It means a level of being with one's subject matter in a way that other creative writing courses don't allow because of their format and structure. In English 155, a student writer at Penn will dare to "hang" with his topic--a girl's high-school basketball team; a medical intern in a HUP emergency room; a cleaning lady doing the graveyard shift in a classroom building; a food-truck operator crowding the noontime avenues; a client-patient in the Ronald McDonald House near campus; a parish priest making his solitary and dreary and yet redemptive rounds of the sick and the dying in the hospital--for the entire term.

Yes, the whole term. And at term's end, each writer in the course will have produced one extended prose work: a documentary piece of high creative caliber. This is our goal and inspiration. The piece will be 30 to 35 pages long.

Some people tend to think of the "documentary" genre (whether on film or in words) as work devoid of emotion--just the facts ma'am. But in truth, emotion and deep sensitivity are prerequisites for any lasting documentary work. The nature of documentary, true documentary, implies moral and social scrutiny; means detailed fact-based reporting, depends on personal response to that factuality. This course will draw on specific literary and journalistic interests of the instructor that go back about 30 years.

The core reading models will be James Agee and George Orwell--Specifically, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by Agee and The Road to Wigan Pier by Orwell. Separately, across oceans, in 1936, in the belly of the Depression, these two incomparably gifted journalist/authors--one an American, one an Englishman--entered some damaged lower-class lives and proceeded to produce literary classics of the form. Agee went to Hale County, Alabama, to live with sharecroppers. Orwell traveled to the industrial grit of north England to observe coal miners.

Under the instructor's guidance, the students will choose within the first three weeks. Choosing the subject is crucial. Access will have to be gained, cooperation assured. Within five weeks, rough drafts will begin to be produced--scenes, sketches, captured moments--and these will then be brought in to be read aloud to the group. This will be a way of finding the piece's eventual form as well as making sure all participants are working at a level of continual intensity. The final product will be due at the 13th or 14th week of the term. Throughout the term we will constantly be consulting the various documentary reading models, even as we are concentrating on our own work.

Those interested in taking the course should submit as soon as possible one or two samples of nonfiction prose (paper copies only, no electronic submissions will be accepted) to Paul Hendrickson, Fisher-Bennett Hall, Room 234. Please slide the work under the door if no one is in the office. Also include name, last four digits of SS#, undergraduate class, e-mail address and telephone number where you can be reached. Permit is required by the instructor.
Time: W 2:00-5:00

top

English 158.301 Advanced Journalistic Writing Polman
This is a how-to course for talented aspiring writers--how to write well in the real world; how to hook the reader and sustain interest; how to develop the journalistic skills that enable a writer to gather, sift and report information. The instructor will share his own real-world experience, as a full-time working journalist for the past three decades. He will be joined on occasion by eminent journalists- including several star journalists from the New York Times--who will address the class and appear at mandatory forums to be held at the Kelly Writers House.

Even though students will read and critique some famous practitioners of non-fiction writing-among them, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Michael Herr, Truman Capote and Richard Ben Cramer--along with contemporary newspaper storytellers that include the instructor (a national correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer), the emphasis will be on the students' own writing.

The goal is to inspire students to tap their own potential, gain fresh insights, and feel comfortable enough to share their assigned work-both short and long pieces-with others in the class over the span of the semester. Students will write all kinds of non-fiction pieces, from personal memoirs to long-form features about anything from the Philadelphia scene to campus issues and events. The topics are less important than the craftsmanship; anything can be a great read if it's written and reported well.

Journalistic issues, both practical and ethical, will also be addressed--among them: how to decide who to interview, and how to handle an interviewee; how to use (and not use) the Internet; when to use (or not use) anonymous sources.
Time: M 2:00-5:00

top

English 158.302 Journalism and Science Tarr
This nonfiction workshop will address the problem of writing about science and technology for a public that has grown skeptical of science’s role in shaping the future. With the sobering atomic-era lessons of Hiroshima and Chernobyl now deeply embedded in human consciousness, a new set of science-centered subjects such as mammalian cloning, genetically modified foods, and emissions-driven climate change present challenges of comprehension for the general public and political leaders alike. Members of our workshop will be asked to engage in a semester-long reporting project whose subject matter requires them to move between the two cultures of "science" and "societal values," and identify where they intersect. We will explore a post-futurist paradigm of science writing in which the skeptical writer plants a foot in both worlds in order to provide critical perspective on difficult subject matter often opaque in its societal implications. A partial list of potential subjects, in addition to those already mentioned, includes: stem cell research; the science and politics of AIDS vaccine research; technologies affecting end-of-life care; nano-biotech and synthetic biology; safety of our food and water supplies; the challenge of “clean energy”; the evolution/creationism debate; artificial intelligence and the human interface; the future of reading in a “webified” world; science in service of “national security” objectives, etc. This being a writing course, our stress will be on selecting a suitable topic, devising a realistic research and interview strategy; and techniques for bringing it all together in the form of an extended article suitable for magazine or web publication.
Time: W 2:00-5:00

top

English 159.301 Political Commentary: Blogging About the New Presidency Polman
A primer on writing about U.S. politics, in an era of major technological upheaval and serious voter polarization. Today's 24/7, wi-fi'd, blogging environment - along with the rise of new conservative media - are changing the ways that writers cover politics and deliver the information. The course will put all these trends in a historical context, tracing the changes that have occurred during the four decades since Theodore H. White wrote "The Making of the President 1960." Students will write in different formats, including: the traditional straight story, commentary, and blogs. Outstanding and controversial work, from writers such as author Richard Ben Cramer and Hunter S. Thompson, will be studied. The course, taught by a veteran reporter of four presidential campaigns, is also valuable for followers of politics who want to become more discerning readers.
Time: M 2:00-5:00

top

English 170.301 Advanced Projects in Popular Culture DeCurtis
This advanced course in writing about the arts and popular culture is limited in enrollment (by permission of the instructor) and intended for students who wish to concentrate on specific aspects of their writing -- whether as critics, essayists or profile writers. 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 larger individual projects that will constitute the course's main work. Ideally, applicants will have already taken 117.301 with the instructor, but that is not a firm pre-requisite and other students should absolutely feel free to apply.
Time: R 1:30-4:30

top

English 415.640 Convention and Innovation: Writing Short Stories Zoffness
What makes a story? Moreover, what makes a story *satisfying*? In this course, we?ll dissect the craft of short works by inveterate authors Joyce, Cheever, Nabakov and Lorrie Moore, as well as formally unconventional fiction by writers such as John Barth, Tim O?Brien, Lydia Davis and Aimee Bender. The workshop-style seminar will explore the range of this multi-faceted, ever-evolving form, ultimately focusing exclusively on student work. You?ll consider questions like: What type of structure and point of view and narrative style best suits the story you wish to tell? Assignments include two original short stories, one extended revision, typed critiques of each workshopped story, and a brief presentation. You?ll also complete in-class writing exercises. Active participation is required and expected. Write the instructor if you have queries: zoffness@mac.com
Time: T 5:30-8:10

top