Current Groups

Discussion group 93: October 1 - 30, 2016

Mike Hennessey: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

"I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time."

In February 1945, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. — a twenty-one year old American POW — was one of the lucky few to survive the Allied firebombing of Dresden, which is estimated to have killed as many as 25,000. Returning to the states after the war, he married, made a failed attempt at grad school, and worked as a journalist and a publicist for General Electric, before quitting to devote his full time to writing in 1950. He confesses that, "when I got home from the Second World War twenty-three years ago I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen," however it wasn't quite that simple. Dresden would obliquely inform his early novels — from struggles with authoritarianism and the spectre of nuclear annihilation, to questions of self-determination and the redeeming role of culture in a frightening world — but it wasn't until 1969's Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death that he was able to squarely and honestly address his experiences. The end result, widely recognized as his finest work, has captivated audiences ever since. Over the course of October we'll consider Slaughterhouse-Five within the context of Vonnegut's entire writing life, framing it through supplemental readings from his 1945 letter home to his family from a Red Cross camp to later reflections on the novel's impact and its lessons that contemporary readers still sorely need to hear. We'll also briefly explore the character of Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut's fictional alter ego, who pays a major role in this novel and many others. While this all might seem like an overwhelmingly bleak read, rest assured that Vonnegut is one of America's finest social satirists and black humorists, capable of handling the heaviest topics with an effervescent grace. Likewise, if you've already read Slaughterhouse-Five, this reading group will be a great opportunity to reconnect with the text in a different way.

**Please note: participants will need to have access to their own copy of Slaughterhouse-Five**

Michael Hennessey is the editor of both PennSound (an online poetry audio archive) and (with Julia Bloch) Jacket2 (a journal of poetry and poetics), both of which are part of UPenn's Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. He also teaches at the University of Cincinnati on a variety of topics from the Beats to Baseball Literature, including a popular semester-long course on Kurt Vonnegut's life and writing. His critical writing has appeared in The Journal of Electronic Publishing, Interval(le)s, English Studies in Canada, MELUS, Jacket2, as well as in several books; creative work has been published in EOAGH, Jacket, Cross Cultural Poetics, Zen Monster, Moss Trill, Jupiter88, Elective Affinities, and Noon, among others.

Discussion group 94: October 17 – 26, 2016

Victoria Ford: We are drowning here: blackness, language, and citizenship?

What does racist language do to us? And in what ways does it disassemble how we are required to navigate the world? Through collective reading and a close study of the artwork depicted throughout Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric, this book group will discuss the effect microagressions and racist language have on the black body in America and how we define ourselves in order to survive. Rankine's collection locates itself in the belly of many histories, people, and memory—offering personal accounts on the tragedies inflicted to the black body, as well as stripping down the historical events of recent memory—such as Hurricane Katrina, the Jenna Six, Serena Williams, the murder of Trayvon Martin, the inauguration of President Barack Obama, and more.

**Please note: participants will need to have access to their own copy of Citizen by Claudia Rankine**

Victoria Ford is an editor and writer living in Washington, D.C. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing. While at Penn, Victoria was a program assistant at the Kelly Writers House, an intern at Makuu: Black Cultural Center, and a member of the Excelano Project. Since graduating, she spends most of her days reading, drinking water, tweeting, and teaching herself how to cook.

Discussion group 95: November 1 – 10, 2016

Julia Bloch: The Poetry of Ross Gay

During this 10-day book group, we will explore the poetry of Ross Gay, whose contemporary odes and elegies invokes worlds of objects and slowly peel back the layers of their history; we will read selections from his three collections and consider how they use lyrical forms to ask questions about intimacy, political cross-currents, sustainability, and knowledge. Gay's recent collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award; . *He will be reading at Kelly Writers House on November 7: click here for details.*

Julia Bloch is the author of two books of poetry, Letters to Kelly Clarkson, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and Valley Fever, both from Sidebrow Books, and several chapbooks, including Hollywood Forever (Little Red Leaves) and Like Fur (Essay Press). She has published essays on twentieth-century US poetry and is working on a book in literary studies devoted to gender and the long poem. 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; 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.

Discussion group 96: December 1 – 15, 2016 [break for winter holidays] January 3 – 17, 2017

Al Filreis: The Short Stories of Lydia Davis

This month-long group will focus intensively on the brilliant, dizzying short stories of Lydia Davis. Davis is known as a master of the genre, often writing "flash fiction" or very brief stories that are wildly experimental and impactful. Whether you're a veteran reader of Davis's stories or have never encountered her work before, there will be something for you here in this group. All of the stories for this discussion will be provided, but participants may be interested in purchasing The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (Picador, 2010), from which most if not all of the stories discussed will be drawn. In April 2017, Lydia Davis will visit the Kelly Writers House as a Fellow. Please click here for more details about the program and write to Fellows program coordinator Lily Applebaum at in order to attend both of Davis's public programs, or to find out more about Fellows generally.

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.

Discussion group 97: February 1 – 10, 2017

Lauren Yates: The Use of Persona in Performance Poetry

A persona poem is a poem written in the first person perspective as someone other than the author. In a persona poem, a writer can take on the perspective of a historical figure, a family member, a household object, or even a cartoon character. In this 10-day online writing group, we will explore how poets combine writing and performance to become a new character, and what their motives may be for doing so. How can taking on identities other than our own enhance our writing? How can we take on new voices while remaining three-dimensional and not stereotyping the personas that we choose to portray? We will be exploring these questions through the work of Rachel McKibbens, Danez Smith, Angel Nafis, and more.

Lauren Yates (CAS '12) holds a B.A. in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis from the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has been published, or is forthcoming, in APIARY, Whiskey Island, Paper Darts, and the 2015 Bettering American Poetry Anthology. Lauren is currently a M.Ed. Candidate in Counseling Psychology at Temple University. In 2016, Lauren led a therapeutic writing group at the Mazzoni Center titled "Writing for Survival: Speaking Identity into Existence." Her research interests include multiculturalism and identity formation within LGBTQIA+ community. Both Lauren's writing and her clinical work take an intersectional, social justice-oriented approach.

Discussion group 98: March 22 – April 20, 2017

Lily Applebaum and Max McKenna: Celebrating 100 KWH discussion groups

During the 2016-2017 season, Kelly Writers House will offer -- and exceed – its 100th discussion group! To celebrate this milestone of one of the KWH community's most treasured projects, this group will take some time to revisit and recontextualize some of the subject matter of past groups. Max and Lily will curate a selection of readings, audio recordings and viewings from the previous 100 discussion groups, and put together four week-long modules of readings that fit together perhaps thematically, based on genre, background of the writer, etc. This will be a fun and dynamic month together, with a wide variety of readings. If you're a veteran of our discussion groups, your memory or insight into what the conversation was like in a former group around one of the texts will add a really interesting dimension to the discussion here. But absolutely no experience or familiarity with our group offerings is necessary – just an enthusiasm for reading, discussing and exploring!

Lily Applebaum has lived in Philadelphia since 2008, when she started as a freshman at Penn and first became involved in the Writers House community. As the assistant to Al Filreis, Faculty Director of Kelly Writers House, she is the coordinator of many things, including but not limited to: the Fellows Program, online discussion groups, and Poem Talk. Lily graduated from Penn in 2012 with a B.A. in English and Environmental Studies.

Max McKenna 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 received his MA in English from the University of Chicago. 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

Discussion group 99: May 11 – May 20, 2017

David Roberts and Al Filreis: Two short stories

This group will pair and discuss two short stories, to be announced soon. Text of the stories will be provided to participants of the group. Each story will be discussed an analyzed on its own, but also each story will influence how we read and make meaning from the other story. A great group for all who love the form of the short story, regardless of whether or not you're familiar with the work of the two authors we'll be comparing here!

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.

Discussion group 100: June 1 – June 10, 2017

Sarah Arkebauer: The Turn to Language: Close Reading Avant-Garde Poetry and Rap Music

This discussion group is an exploration of the affinity between contemporary poetry and contemporary rap music. Participants will close read poetry by Harryette Mullen, Christian Bok, Patricia Lockwood, Bernadette Mayer and others alongside recent rap recordings and music videos in order to see connections in constraint-based practices, technological format, sampling and appropriation. As evidenced in the reading material, the pairing of rap music with contemporary poetry of the American avant-garde is not an accident of chronology, but rather a rich and rigorous investigation of the ways these two art forms respond to similar political and economic issues through innovative language experiments.

Sarah Arkebauer graduated from Penn in 2011 with a degree in English. While at Penn she worked as the development assistant at the Kelly Writers House where she also produced "Oulipolooza" — a celebration of the writings of the Oulipo — and co-directed a staged reading of Bob Perelman's poetry play The Alps. She is currently a PhD candidate in Columbia University's English and Comparative Literature department at work on a dissertation about the emblem as a device for reading postwar American poetry.