Current Groups

book group 86: September 1 - 30, 2015

Janet Falon: Remembrance of Meals Past: Writing Your Life Story Through Food

Food memoirs, such as those by MFK Fisher, Calvin Trillin, Laurie Colwin, and Ruth Reichl, are extremely popular, and for good reason: Food is a wonderful "skewer" around which to tell the stories of our lives.

In this class you will identify both the theme of your food memoir as well as the component stories. You will discuss specific writing techniques and approaches that will support you as you begin to write in this popular genre. You can choose to produce a couple of short vignette pieces of food-memoir writing and maybe one longer one, and if there's interest, we can discuss how you'd continue this writing project once the class is finished. If you already know what you'd like to write about, that's great, but you certainly don't need to have an idea in advance. No writing experience or expertise is necessary!

Every weekday throughout September group leader Janet Falon will send out a "lesson" containing suggestions for appropriate writing exercises, self-editing tips, and readings. We will have an ongoing conversation about food writing and about personal essays and memoirs, good-writing tips, and responses to your questions. An important part of this class will be reading each other's work and commenting in supportive ways. You're welcome and encouraged to participate every day, but this is not necessary; whether you decide to share your writing with the group is always up to you (but of course, we hope that you will!).

Janet Falon, MLA, has been an award-winning writer and writing teacher for nearly 40 years. A former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, Janet is the author of four books—including The Jewish Journaling Book—and has taught writing at many different venues at The University of Pennsylvania for three decades. Working with both with students and staff at Penn, she has led classes in journaling, personal essay, creative process and overcoming writers block, writing food memoirs, business writing, etc. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Philadelphia Inquirer and many other publications; additionally, she wrote several projects for WHYY-TV, one of which was awarded a local Emmy. Janet also teaches writing at a continuing-care facility for older adults, cancer-support organizations, and at various businesses and organizations. She works with individual writing clients, and leads a non- fiction writing group.

book group 87: October 19 - 28, 2015

Victoria Ford: Motherless Child: Contemporary Black Women Writers and the Search for the Self

How do contemporary African-American writers reconcile the intersecting definitions of themselves in light of sex, race, class, and culture? In what way does womanhood become more nuanced when coupled with the black woman’s considerations of geography, displacement, identity, sexuality, and the self? Through collective reading and gifting of ideas, this discussion group will read the work of contemporary black female writers Warsan Shire, Janet Mock, and Nayyriah Waheed. By focusing our discussion on the diverse voices of black women, we will study these questions regarding black women’s search for and discovery of the self and home through the lens of poetry and memoir.

Victoria Ford is a recent graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her B.A. in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing. While at Penn, she was a program assistant at the Kelly Writer's House. She also was a member of a spoken word collective, The Excelano Project and the director Penn's V-Day Movement and Vagina Monologues. Victoria is dedicated to promoting women and girls' rights, education, intersectional feminism, and the arts. She’s a Southern barbecue lover and calls Greenville, South Carolina home.

book group 88: November 16 - December 16, 2015

Julia Bloch: The Poetry of Douglas Kearney and Margaret Christakos

During this month-long book group, we will explore the work of two poets whose work deals with polyvocality, parenthood, and visuality: California-based poet, performer and librettist Douglas Kearney, whose "performative typography" and online performances explore what he has called "the crossroads" of race, politics, and perception, and Toronto-based poet and visual artist Margaret Christakos, whose work on gender, motherhood, sexuality, and identity ranges across recombinant, procedural, and multimedia practices. *Note that Margaret Christakos will be reading at Kelly Writers House on February 9.*

Julia Bloch is the author of Letters to Kelly Clarkson, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and Valley Fever, published in 2015. She is working on a book in literary studies devoted to gender and the long poem in twentieth-century North American poetry. From 2006 to 2011 she cocurated the Emergency reading series at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, where she completed a PhD in English literature; from 2011 to 2013 she taught in the Bard College Master of Arts in Teaching program in Delano, California. She now directs the creative writing program at the University of Pennsylvania.

book group 89: December 3 - 17, 2015 [break for holidays and new year] January 4 - 18, 2016

Al Filreis: The Poetry and Prose of Eileen Myles

This discussion group will look closely at poems - and some prose - by Eileen Myles. We will collaborate on close readings of a selection of Myles’s poems, one poem at a time. Copies of the poems will be provided. We will also read several essays and possibly a selection of pages from Myles’s semi-autobiographical fiction. During our discussions of the poems we will mix in poems by “second-generation New York School” poets who influenced Myles when she came to New York from Boston in 1974 (among them Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley) and “first-generation New York School” poets (such as Frank O’Hara). Participants need not have any experience with Myles’s writing, nor with the New York School mode.

Al Filreis is Kelly Professor of English, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House, Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, Co-Director of PennSound, Publisher of Jacket2 magazine, and creator and lead teacher of ModPo, a massive open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry. Among his books are Modernism from Right to Left, Stevens and the Actual World, and Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-60.

book group 90: February 17 - March 17, 2016

Lily Applebaum and Max McKenna: Black Ice by Lorene Cary

Over the course of this month-long group, we will read and discuss alumna and Penn professor Lorene Cary's memoir Black Ice. In addition to daily guiding questions and discussions of our reading of her memoir, we will hear from Lorene herself in conversation with Lily and Max, recorded at the Writers House's Wexler Studio, about her writing process, the book, its themes and its legacy and more.

From the blurb for Black Ice: "In 1972 Lorene Cary, a bright, ambitious black teenager from Philadelphia, was transplanted into the formerly all-white, all-male environs of the elite Saint Paul's School in New Hampshire, where she became a scholarship student in a "boot camp" for future American leaders. Like any good student, she was determined to succeed. But Cary was also determined to succeed without selling out. This wonderfully frank and perceptive memoir describes the perils and ambiguities of that double role, in which failing calculus and winning a student election could both be interpreted as betrayals of one's skin. Black Ice is also a universally recognizable document of a woman's adolescence; it is, as Houston Baker says, 'a journey into selfhood that resonates with sober reflections, intelligent passion, and joyous love.'"

Note: as we will be reading the book in its entirety, participants will be responsible for procuring their own copy before the group starts.

Lily Applebaum is the assistant to Al Filreis, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House. She received her BA from Penn in 2008 and is now in her fourth year working at the Writers House. At KWH, she coordinates the Writers House Fellows program and the online discussion groups, and works as teaching assistant to both face to face courses and the massive online open course ModPo, where you may know her as the person who answers the phone during live webcasts. Lily is also in her sixth year as coordinator of KWH's Brodsky Gallery, located throughout the first floor of the house. She can be reached at

Max McKenna is a third-year PhD student in English at the University of Chicago. He received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania and, for three years after graduating, worked as an administrative assistant at the Kelly Writers House where he continues to assist on select projects, like the ModPo MOOC. He has published fiction in several Philadelphia-based literary journals, and a number of essays on modern and contemporary literary culture, both in-print and online. He can be reached at

book group 91: May 12 - 21, 2016

Al Filreis and David Roberts: Two Short Stories

This group will discuss two different short stories over the course of our ten days. The text of both stories will be provided to participants -- please check back soon for more details!

Al Filreis is Kelly Professor of English, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House, Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, Co-Director of PennSound, Publisher of Jacket2 magazine, and creator and lead teacher of ModPo, a massive open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry. Among his books are Modernism from Right to Left, Stevens and the Actual World, and Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-60.

David Roberts is a member of the Kelly Writers House Advisory Board, a denizen of the KWH book groups and when he is not reading, works in Manhattan in the investment business. He is a 1983 graduate of the University Of Pennsylvania.

book group 92: Summer 2016, dates TBD

Jamie-Lee Josselyn: Narrating Your Self: an exploration of writing by Penn faculty

**For Prospective Students Only!**

How do writers create and render themselves on the page? Is it the writer's job to transport her reader into an alternate time and place through the creation of scenes and the genesis of thoughtful reflection, or, instead, to make her reader aware of the constructed nature of writing itself? Is it possible—or even preferable—to achieve all of this at once? We will spend the first part of our time together looking at excerpts from beloved Penn nonfiction writing instructor Beth Kephart's recent book, Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir to give ourselves a framework through which to consider personal narrative writing. Next, we will read and discuss excerpts from memoirs by Lorene Cary and Paul Hendrickson who are also much-loved nonfiction writing teachers at Penn. Just when things start to make sense, we will transition to writing by Kenneth Goldsmith, who is called "experimental" by some and "uncreative" by others—and who is also adored in the Kelly Writers House community.

This special 10-day group is a chance for prospective undergraduates to read and think together while exploring the amazing variety of writers who teach in our Creative Writing Program. Consider this a glimpse into what four years at Penn can be.

Jamie-Lee Josselyn is the Associate Director for Recruitment at Penn's Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, a nonfiction writing instructor in the Creative Writing Program, and has worked at the Kelly Writers House as the Assistant to the Faculty Director and Coordinator of the Writers House Fellows Program. She has taught creative nonfiction writing at St. Paul's School's Advanced Studies Program in Concord, New Hampshire, at the Wharton School's Advanced Management Education Conference, at the New England Young Writers Conference, and in the Philadelphia public school system. Jamie-Lee has a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from Bennington College where she was the nonfiction editor of The Bennington Review. Jamie-Lee is currently a Senior Fellow at Penn’s Hill College House.