Current Groups

Discussion Group 119: October 22 – November 20, 2019

Mike Hennessey: Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

Caitriona Lally made headlines last year when her debut novel, Eggshells (2014), which won the prestigious Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. That’s newsworthy in and of itself — the prize committee hailed the book as “a work of impressive imaginative reach, witty, subtle and occasionally endearingly unpredictable” — but even more so when one learns that she was currently employed as a janitor by Trinity College, the school that bestows the award.

Indeed, Lally’s life seems every bit as charmed as that of her protagonist, Vivian Lawler, an eccentric and unemployed young Dubliner who lives amidst the clutter left behind by her great aunt. She’s obsessed with language and list-making, keeps quirky habits in regards to food and fashion, and spends most of her days rambling around the streets of the city in search of “thin places,” or portals to another world. That’s because her deceased parents managed to convince her that she’s a changeling from another world who replaced the real Vivian — not to be confused with her sister, who also happens to be named Vivian — as a child. Her other main pursuit is finding a friend, specifically one named “Penelope,” which is why she’s posted signs around the city (sorry, Pennies need not apply). All this sets the groundwork for one rollicking journey that’s conscious of the parallels to both Joyce and Homer, though Viv is so very different from their heroes. To be certain, Eggshells is hilarious, but it’s tender as well. You won’t regret taking a chance on it.

This group will read and discuss the book in its entirety, participants should have access to their own copy of the text.

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 120: November 6 – November 15, 2019

Lauren Yates: Written in the Stars: Poets Who Love Astrology

More information coming soon!

Lauren T. Yates is a writer from Oceanside, CA. In 2012, Lauren earned her B.A. in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis from the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in ANOMALY, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Rust + Moth. For more information, visit laurentyates.com.


Discussion Group 121: December 2 – 16 [break for the holidays] January 2 – 16

Al Filreis: The Poetry of Wallace Stevens

This group will read and discuss the poetry of Wallace Stevens, collaboratively reading one poem at a time. Stevens is of course a modernist poet, and he was obsessed with the imagination/reality complex. We will look at many of his shorter poems from his early efforts of the 1920s through his somber late poems of the 1950s. Everybody has something to bring to this discussion, so Wallace Stevens experts and novices alike are welcome to join in.

All texts will be provided for you, and this session will be conducted inside the ModPo site. Those not already enrolled in ModPo can do so here: www.coursera.org/learn/modpo Please note that this group begins in December, takes a break for winter holidays, and continues on in January.

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 122: January 28 – February 6, 2020

Lily Applebaum: The Haunting of Hill House

Can a house be designed, from the very first moment of its construction, to contain evil within? What happens when you ignore all signs of danger, when you leave all of your earthly obligations at the door and willingly submit yourself to a haunting?

This ambitious group will read the entirety of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel The Haunting of Hill House published in 1959. We’ll be reading at a rapid clip, but I promise you won’t want to put the book down once you begin!

We’ll be reading and discussing about 20 pages a day, but this rather compliments the feverish pitch at which this absolutely spectacular novel operates. Sprinkled into our discussion here and there will be some clips from the 1963 film The Haunting (these will be provided for you). We won’t be looking at the recent Netflix series at all during this discussion, but of course if you enjoyed that series, you’ll love this closer look at the source material. Jackson is a master of horror and the innerworkings of a mind amidst a haunting, this is a must read! So please, join the group whether you’ve never read the book, or you’ve read it one hundred times, there’s so, so much to discuss.

We’ll be discussing the book in its entirety, so participants should have access to their own copy (e-copies are just fine).

Lily Applebaum works at the Kelly Writers House as the Assistant to Faculty Director Al Filreis. She received her BA in English and Environmental Studies in 2012 from Penn, and the 2018/2019 school year marks her 11th (!) year of involvement with this community. Through her work at KWH, she coordinates the Kelly Writers House Fellows program, serves as a TA for ModPo, and for 8 years coordinated the Brodsky Gallery in the first floor of the house, among many other projects. If you see her at the House, say hello and ask her about today's weather.

Discussion Group 123: February 16 – February 25, 2020

Victoria Ford: Black Writers and the Politis of Futurity

More info coming soon!

Victoria Newton Ford is a poet and essayist from the South. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015 with a B.A. in English and a concentration in creative writing. A 2018 Lambda Literary Poetry Fellow, Victoria's writing has appeared in Sojourners, Connotations Press: An Online Artifact, Literary Hub, and elsewhere. She is currently based in Washington, D.C.

Discussion Group 124: May 6 - May 15, 2020

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 and 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.

Prospective Student Group: late June

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

**For Prospective Students Only!** preference given to rising high school seniors; please write to whbook@writing.upenn.edu for specific dates

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 a key member of 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.